12 February 2021

How High? The Future of European Naval Power and the High-End Challenge

With increased great power competition and new challenges to European security, the ability to wield naval power is becoming increasingly relevant. The new CMS Report “How High? The Future of European Naval Power and the High-End Challenge” provides a forward-looking analysis of European naval power identifying major demand- and supply-side challenges. Based on this analysis, the report formulates a number of recommendations about how these challenges could be addressed by navies, large and small. The report is authored by Jeremy Stöhs, deputy director at the Austrian Center for Intelligence, Propaganda and Security Studies, and Non-Resident Fellow at the Institute for Security Policy, Kiel University.

Demand-side challenges

Great powers investing in high-end warfare capabilities create a number of demand-side challenges for European Navies: 1) The proliferation of advanced missiles and sensors as well as long-range precision fires make military units (including ships) vulnerable, 2) The application of disruptive technologies in the shape of artificial intelligence (AI) and increasingly autonomous weapons systems have a potential for the maritime domain, but financial, technological, conceptual and ethical considerations prevent European navies to keep pace with the development, 3) The need to be prepared for war at the high end of the intensity spectrum across and beyond the maritime domain put a pressure on command and control procedures and underscores the importance of interoperability and the integration of capabilities.

Supply-side challenges

European navies also face a number of already existing supply-side challenges, which are reinforced by the strategic environment and the increasing focus on advanced military capabilities: 1) Especially for small navies, it is a financial challenge to develop an appropriate mix of capabilities for high-end as well as low-end operations, 2) Choosing between entertaining a credible naval presence close to home and projecting naval power abroad is getting more difficult, while the risk of selecting the wrong priority has grown, 3) The persistent difficulty to attract and retain skilled personnel will continue to be a challenge as capabilities become more advanced. 


Based on the analysis, the report formulates a number of recommendations to help large and small navies address these challenges. European governments should plan for higher-end capability profiles, closely coordinated with U.S and NATO defense policies and strategies. When facing stronger rivals, European navies – especially the smaller ones – should follow a combination of symmetric and asymmetric strategies to close the existing capability gaps. International cooperation is crucial when dealing with the future modernization of European navies.  

Read all the recommendations in the report, which can be downloaded here.

In the corresponding CMS Memo (in Danish), you can read the most central points and recommendations from the report.