The European Defence Agency (EDA) announced on 14 November the approval of 22 capability development priorities to reflect the military realities observed in Ukraine and support EU defence objectives.

Lessons from the war in Ukraine were recently spelled out in clear detail by William Kaplan of the Institute for the Study of War on 15 November, drawing on an assessment from Ukrainian Commander in Chief General Valery Zaluzhnyi. For many points of the EDA priorities, these lessons can be used as a prism to elucidate the motivation for the due attention. However, there are key lessons that do not appear to have gained corresponding attention from the EDA.

For example, Russian defensive measures, which have been carefully planned and implemented over an extended period, include robust defensive works and strategically placed minefields that pose challenges to swift mechanised manoeuvrability. While the EDA focuses on naval mine-warfare, no mention of land-based defensive or anti-mine capabilities appear.

Precision strike a central priority

However, the EDA priorities broadly recognise key lessons learned from Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, and identify the need for full spectrum land forces that are agile, mobile, interoperable, technologically advanced, energy efficient, and resilient.

The EDA acknowledges that the kill chain for future kinetic engagement with precision fire effects will rely on Electronic Warfare (EW) effects on the adversary. Consequently, the priorities include a focus on naval EW systems, and in the air domain on improved weapon systems for targeting adversary EW capabilities and updating air-based EW systems, as well as some consideration given to making land-based, very long-range, and indirect fire support capabilities resistant to EW, but no specific reference is made to a land-based EW effector.

This is concerning because of the prevalence and effectiveness of Russian EW in Ukraine, including the disruption of GPS signals and drone communications, that has presented challenges for Ukraine in fully utilising precision munitions provided by Western allies, which heavily rely on GPS. It has also impacted the effectiveness of Ukraine’s own drone systems.

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The EDA sets a high priority on land-based precision engagement, learning from the difficulties Ukraine has endured with limited long-range strike capabilities, limitations that pose challenges in achieving the desired operational-level interdiction to effectively isolate the battlefield from Russian operational and strategic reserves.

Both sides of the conflict in Ukraine have developed reconnaissance-strike systems that combine drones with artillery and other long-range weapons, making it highly risky to gather vehicles in visible concentrations, and the widespread use of reconnaissance drones greatly reduces the element of surprise in large-scale operations.

Logistics come to the fore

The EDA is prioritising integrated air and missile defence systems, recognising that Ukraine’s limited air defence capabilities have resulted in Russian manned aircraft being able to provide close support to front line units and target Ukrainian tactical reserves and logistics nodes.

Due to limited numbers of tanks and armoured vehicles, as well as concerns about future replacements, Ukraine is strategically managing its mechanised forces by prioritising their preservation rather than engaging in concentrated assaults on the current battlefield. The EDA priorities give weight to the need for agile and sustainable logistics, including shared stocks and common warehousing, logistics footprint, and strengthening maintenance requirements to deal with extreme weather conditions. If synergies are found between this and the EDA priority to develop and upgrade Main Battle Tanks, Infantry Fighting Vehicles, and Armoured Personnel Carriers, European forces may avoid such quandaries over the attrition of platforms in a peer-to-peer conflict.

Seabed warfare has also appeared within the attention of the EDA, which seeks to enhance these capabilities within the naval domain, as well as prioritising anti-submarine capabilities and advanced autonomous underwater vehicles. The vulnerability of national infrastructure to seabed interdiction was made clear in September 2022 when the Nord Stream pipelines were destroyed in a series of powerful explosions. Comprehensive underwater situational awareness and maritime domain are now a high priority EDA capability target.