When Jan Pie looks out of his Brussels office window, he sees a Swedish submarine. It is Saab’s A-26, which specializes in stealth missions in the particularly shallow Baltic Sea, explains the secretary general of the AeroSpace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD). Fortunately, it is only a model on the windowsill. He occasionally receives such gifts from ASD members and likes to keep them, he says.
Pie, a Helsinki-born Swede, heads an organization that has 20 major European companies and 21 national associations with headquarters in 17 countries. The last three years have been tough, he says. The pandemic has caused chaos in aviation. Now, huge orders are coming in to defense companies as European governments are suddenly massively increasing their defense spending. “They say they want 200 vehicles, and the next day they want 400 vehicles. Where is this additional production capacity going to come from?”
Still, and despite all the human suffering, he is convinced that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has accelerated needed changes in Europe. “Europe has had a significant investment gap for a long time,” he says. “What is happening now is just a catalyst for something that needs to be done anyway.”
Good relations between EU and defense industry
In the almost ten years he has been with ASD, the European defense landscape has changed significantly. That the fragmentation of defense production must be overcome through greater joint procurement in the EU has now become an accepted view. The European Defense Fund was a turning point. Moreover, relations between the EU institutions and industry are now closer, which he welcomes. Now the Commission is approaching industry representatives to get their views.
Pie came to ASD from the Swedish Security and Defense Industry Association. Before that, he worked for 15 years at SOS Alarm, a company specializing in emergency call centers. By training, however, he is a life insurance specialist. So, in a roundabout way, he ended up in the military industry. “Personally, I’ve never had a problem working for the defense industry. Overall, it’s an important prerequisite for us to be able to defend open and democratic societies.”
His goal: better communication
However, there are also cases of weapons falling into the wrong hands. “When I read about it, of course, I am personally affected. I think it’s a disaster and we should all have mechanisms in place to make sure that doesn’t happen.” However, ASD as an organization is not doing anything concrete about it, he concedes. Export licenses, after all, are subject to government control.
According to Pie, most EU governments supported arms exports because they allowed local defense companies to maintain their production capacity after the end of the Cold War. That could change in the next few years. Still, Pie doesn’t see an EU army looming on the horizon. “But I would like to see a lot more consolidation on the demand side of the EU defense industry.”
In the coming years, Pie wants to make sure ASD communicates better. “Both the aerospace and defense sectors struggle with public perception,” he says. “One is the polluter, the other sells weapons that end up in the wrong hands.” The ASD needs to “be out there, discussing and being transparent about what we’re doing”. Ella Joyner