Defense standardization in Europe is not a new phenomenon. From 1993 to 2004, the Western European Armament Group (WEAG) dedicated its time and resources to increasing the harmonization of requirements for equipment.

Relatedly, armaments standardization has also long been on the agenda of the European Commission. For example, in 1997 the Commission published a Communication on ‘Implementing European Union Strategy on Defense-Related Industries’, which stated that ‘setting up a European defense equipment market and consolidating Europe’s defense industrial base will call for an effort to rationalize the sets of standards currently being used by the defense ministries of the Member States’.

Interestingly, even in the late 1990s the European Commission recognized that ‘with increasing use being made of dual-use technologies in the military systems, the current trend is to make as much use as possible of civil standards.

On this basis, the Commission proposed three lines of action: i) inviting industrial circles to draw up a work programme for identifying standards; ii) a regular exchange system on standards between the EU and NATO; and iii) providing Commission support to standardization organizations while incorporating the specificities of the defense sector.

Following a study commissioned in 1999 (the so-called ‘Sussex Study’), the European Commission pushed for greater standardization efforts within the EU. One of the major conclusions and recommendations from the Sussex Study was that the EU should work with ESOs to develop a ‘European Defense Standardization Handbook”. The Commission took on board this suggestion and developed a Handbook on defense procurement that identified and compiled more than 10,000 relevant standards in specific technical domains. However, despite the creation of the Handbook the Commission soon turned towards ways in which standards could be taken up by Member European armaments standardization States.

Indeed, in its 2007 Strategy for a Stronger and More Competitive European Defense Industry, the Commission stated that in order to overcome fragmentation of the European defense market by reduced barriers to cooperation and avoiding wasteful R&D, it is necessary to ‘promote the use of common standards to facilitate the opening up of defense markets’.

This focus, and the maturation of the Handbook, saw the Commission transfer the initiative over to the EDA in June 2011. The Agency further developed the Handbook as an online database called the European Defense Standards Reference System. The EDSTAR database sat alongside another EDA initiative that had been developed in 2007 called the European Defense Standards Information System. As web-based platforms, the idea behind both EDSIS and EDSTAR is to exchange information on defense standards, to allow stakeholders to advertise relevant standards, to promote networking among these stakeholders and to effectively utilize published standards.

The key difference between EDSIS and EDSTAR is that EDSIS lists existing standards and it gives stakeholders the opportunity to amend existing or volunteer new standards, whereas EDSTAR is a platform that assists stakeholders implement and use existing standards. Since 2007, EDSIS has recorded 147 published defense-relevant standards and 89 standards are still active – of these 89 active standards, 20 are brand new whereas the remaining 69 are revisions of existing standards.

The standards registered in EDSIS range from a basic standard for cables and insulated wires to packaging for ammunition and explosives to standards for methanol fuel cell systems. While the EDA does not develop defense standards itself, the EDSTAR platform currently lists more than 2 400 defense-relevant standards ranging from high-resistant paints and varnishes to electro technical vocabulary.

As part of the EDSTAR initiative, the EDA’s participating Member States sit in the Materiel Standardization Group (MSG) format and the group is chaired by the EDA’s Armaments Director. The MSG oversees the state of play of defense standardization in an EU context and it has the opportunity to make new standardization requests and proposals.

EDSTAR is organized according to various technical domains including ammunition; armored land vehicle technology; camouflage; electrical interfaces; electromagnetic environments; lifecycle project management; military airworthiness; and many more. Finally, to aid the Agency’s work and to assist with the efforts of the MSG, there is an in-house body within the EDA called the Materiel Standardization Harmonization Team (MSHT), which provides advice and expertise to ESOs on defense standardization.

After the commissioning of the ‘Sussex Study’ and the development of the defense standardization handbook, the European Commission continued to develop a number of policy and legal instruments designed to enhance armaments standardization. For example, following the adoption of the directive on defense procurement (see 2009/81/EC) in 2009, the European Commission made clear in recital 38 of the directive that the use of standards and technical specifications are to be considered a precondition for defense procurement tenders.

According to the Commission, the use of standards is a way of overcoming ‘incompatibility or disproportionate technical difficulties in operation and maintenance’. In particular, the Commission makes clear that ‘technical specifications shall afford equal access for tenderers and shall not have the effect of creating unjustified obstacles to the opening up of procurement to competition’. In this respect, the Commission sees the defense procurement directive as a way to enhance armaments standardization by challenging the principle of national discrimination during defense contract tendering.

Furthermore, the purpose of Directive 2009/43/EC on defense equipment transfers is designed to provide the market conditions for greater standardization while maintaining a level playing field in the European defense market.

The European Commission has long been an advocate for the use of civil standards in defense because it believes the use of civil standards creates economic efficiencies. Indeed, the EDA has concluded that the ‘product cost savings following a more intensive use of civil standards by the military sector range from 10 % up to 50 %’.

Building on this logic, on 24 July 2013 the Commission released a Communication spelling out how Europe could head towards a more competitive and efficient defense and security sector (see COM(2013) 542 final). In the Communication the Commission makes clear that it will develop a defense industrial policy based in part on developing hybrid standards to ‘benefit security and defense markets’.  

The Communication shows how most ‘standards used in EU defense are civilian’ but where ‘specific defense standards are required they are developed nationally, hindering co-operation and increasing costs for the industry’. On this basis, the Commission stated that one of the action points derived from the Communication is to promote hybrid standards for Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive materials (CBRNE), RPAS, airworthiness, data sharing, encryption and critical information communication technologies.

The Commission’s planned actions were further amplified following the 20 December 2013 European Council summit on defense. During the summit the EU heads of state and government endorsed the Commission’s and the EDA’s positions that ‘developing standards and certification procedures for defense equipment reduces costs, harmonizes demand and enhances interoperability’.

Following these conclusions, the EDA and the European Commission were tasked to develop hybrid standards for defense and the two institutions agreed to do this in cooperation with CEN, CENELEC and the ETSI.

As a first step in developing these hybrid standards, each of these organizations decided to form what is called the Defense Standardization Cooperation Group (DSCG) in order to give more structure and focus to the EU’s efforts. Formerly known as the CEN-CENELEC Stakeholder Forum for Defense Procurement Standardization (SFDPS), the DSCG does not develop standards itself but it aims to be the single interface between industry, governments and militaries in Europe.

The second step was deciding on what areas the DSCG would focus on and a collective decision was taken to concentrate on four specific technical areas including defense shields, impulse noise from military weapons, explosives and pyrotechnics and hearing protection. A year later in 2014, the Commission published yet another Communication calling for ‘A New Deal for European Defense’ (see COM/2014/0387) in which it reaffirmed its commitment to defense standardization.

Here, it set down a roadmap for a competitive defense industry based on greater standardization and certification in the areas of MIS and RPAS (European Commission, 2014b). By announcing that it would launch these two pilot areas as case studies to display the added-value of hybrid standards, the Commission set in motion a process that would see the DSCG begin to focus on tangible results.

To this end, the Commission’s 2015 progress report on its defense roadmap highlighted how the Commission had been carefully studying the role of the EASA in relation to civil aviation standards and their possible application to the defense sector. EASA was established in 2002 as an EU agency to promote the use of aviation standards and to certify and approve products and organizations in areas such as airworthiness. In fact, the Commission used its progress report to state that ‘recent submissions by the industry of applications for EASA certification of dual-use [RPAS] show that EASA in close cooperation with the Commission and the Member States has a significant contribution to make in this domain’.

Source note:

The information provided in this section is part of the Study on “European Armaments Standardization' - EP/EXPO/B/SEDE/FWC/2017-01/01 EN October 2018 - PE 603.872 – European Parliament - Directorate General for External Policies of the Union - Policy Department for External Relations. The “European Armaments Standardization” Study can be found here