Brussels: The European Union is drumming up support among member States to provide support for two defence projects. The two projects involve developing a heavy transport helicopter and a next-generation satellite observation system from late 2008.
Support for the helicopter project, which already has 60 orders from the French and the Germans, would make the project commercially viable. For that to happen, the number of orders needs to double to 120 machines.
The satellite system would also need member states to club their existing efforts into a more broad based one.
According to Alexander Weis, head of the European Defense Agency (EDA), a body responsible for coordination between the EU''s national defence sectors, the helicopter project would involve bringing other EU member states into a Franco-German plan unveiled at Le Bourget air show in June in order to improve their transport helicopter capability by 2020.
France is due to take over the rotating presidency of the 27-member EU from July of next year, for a period of six months, and has already signalled its intent to add momentum to EU efforts for a common security and defence policy.
According to Weis, Germany was looking to replace some 40 of its transport helicopter fleet by 2020, with France in need of 20 machines. Such an order, however, would not by itself justify the two billion euros ($2.8 billion) development costs.
The satellite observation project would likewise enable other European states to join existing efforts, notably the six-nation "Musis" project involving France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Greece and Belgium and the German SARLupe satellite system.
Both those complementary systems are being developed for military use, unlike the cash-strapped Galileo satellite navigation system, which at this stage is intended for purely civilian use.
European officials are keen to have their own satellite observation system despite the existence of the Pentagon-developed Global Positioning System (GPS) because they want to ensure independent access to sensitive satellite data.
Weis, a former German deputy national armaments director, comes in as a replacement for Briton, Nick Witney, as the EDA''s chief executive this month.