Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has highlighted the importance of a comprehensive defense capability against the full spectrum of military threats. Russia is deploying unmanned systems, ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and hypersonic missiles in Ukraine many times. This highlights the importance of an effective air defense capability to counter future threats.
With the European Sky Shield Initiative – ESSI for short – the European NATO countries want to better arm themselves against attacks by projectiles, missiles or aircraft. As of now, capability gaps exist in all areas of air defense. In particular, there is extensive pent-up demand in the short to medium range category. The short to medium range category also includes threats from drones.
With the help of the ESSI, these gaps are to be closed and existing capabilities strengthened and expanded. In the area of long-range air defense, the Bundeswehr already has the powerful Patriot weapon system. It is intended to maintain this capability until well beyond 2030. The project came about as a result of a German initiative. “Germany has thus assumed the coordinating role. The aim is to further strengthen the European pillar in the Atlantic defense alliance,” describes the Federal Ministry of Defense (BMVg). ESSI is not intended to replace the NATO missile shield, but to support the U.S. in its efforts to protect European citizens. The program is meant as an addition to existing air defenses. Consequently, NATO compatibility is a significant criterion of ESSI.
ESSI continues to grow
Meanwhile, the program’s appeal continues unabated. Denmark and Sweden announced their intention to join the alliance. This brings the number of participants to 17, including 15 Allies plus Finland and Sweden, which were invited. “Germany’s leadership role in the European Sky Shield Initiative, which leverages existing NATO cooperation frameworks, is a critical step in ensuring that NATO can defend itself effectively against air and missile threats,” said NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană. Part of the planned multinational procurement of ESSI will be conducted under NATO’s High Visibility Modular Ground-Based Air Defense project through a fast-track procurement track. Ten NATO defense ministers kicked off this project by signing a memorandum of understanding and corresponding funding commitments.