V4 Joint Military Purchase: Small Munitions with Big Implications

  • Simone Neads
  • 2.3.2021 23:10

Combined military spending may be one way for the EU to cut down on duplication and waste. However, like all moves toward common defence, practical outcomes are always balanced by political will. The V4 shows one possible way forward.

Across the EU, individual member states spend unnecessarily high amounts of defence hardware. Many proponents of a common EU defence plan, or even EU army argue that individual budget and procurement processes have led to high spending for low results.

The Visegrad four have signed an agreement for their first joint military purchase, a long-anticipated step towards further cooperation and collaboration. The purchase, which was for training munitions, was not a large or relatively speaking important decision. However, it can be taken as an important signal that future military collaboration is possible.

Military integration is not an agreed upon issue in the region. Although Czech Republic and Slovakia have a history of close military cooperation, both Poland and Hungary have different military agendas. Poland has been strongly pro-NATO, and has historically preferred to manage military cooperation through the larger international organization. While Hungary has been more supportive of cooperation through the European Union, even advocating for the creation of an EU army. This has caused obvious obstacles in joint military cooperation. 

The Visegrad region has already started limited military integration through the EU Battle Group format, and performed exercises under the NATO Response Force program. The V4 battle group was first agreed upon in 2011, and was put on duty in the form of active standby in 2016 and 2019. When the battle group was established it was seen as a possible way to bring further cooperation to the region beyond just military, but to also help break down cultural and historical barriers.

Although the Battle Group is an EU initiative, it is protocol that equipment and command meet NATO interoperability. This is an area that the region has struggled with due to incompatible equipment and distrust about intelligence sharing. The V4 Battle group was able to bridge some of the divides through joint training and successful operations. However, military procurement was only finally reached this year.

The purchase of 300,000 rounds of training munitions is, in itself, not a large commitment towards integration. However, it does clear the way for further acquisitions now the procedure has been established. The letter of intent was signed by all four members on January 28th 2021. The purchase will now be completed through the NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA).

Blank ammunition with their distinctive blue tip for realistic training exercises. Photo: Steve Dock/MOD

The ammunition that was agreed upon is similar to paintballs, in that it contains red or blue dye and can be used for training as it is not lethal. Unlike paintballs however, the munition can be fired and loaded in real weapons so that it provides an accurate training environment.

The agreement on ammunition came after years of failed agreements on more specialized equipment such as radar. Dozens of failed negotiations during recent years clearly show that large jumps in integration can often become politically unfeasible.

In this light, the small purchase of training ammunition should be seen as a successful road map of how small steps in integration can be a successful way to break through years of political deadlock and move forward towards successful military spending. 

In the current era of rapidly changing security environments, it is impossible for any single member state to remain technologically up to date, and prepared for all possible threats. Joint purchasing and equipment sharing is a good way to avoid ineffective military spending, which has been a problem of both The EU Common Security and Defence Policy and NATO.

About author: Simone Neads

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