OCCAR: from A (400) to PPAs. Interview with Admiral Matteo Bisceglia

(To Andrea Cucco)
27/01/21

For over a year we have had a compatriot in charge of a leading international organization. We are not dealing with a travet of politics placed as needed, but of a "technician" of level who, before his post, was director of naval armaments at the general secretariat of defense / national armaments directorate.

We are talking about Admiral Matteo Bisceglia, an officer we met a few years ago during the delivery of the fifth FREMM to the Navy (v.video). On that occasion we appreciated his professionalism and honesty. We take advantage of these qualities to let us tell - today - a reality, in our opinion, little known and appreciated.

Admiral, what is OCCAR, Organization Conjointe de Coopération en matière d'Armement?

OCCAR, Organization Conjointe de Coopération en matière d'Armement or in Italian Joint Organization for Co-operation in Arms Matters - is an international organization whose core-business is the management of co-operation programs for weapons systems throughout their life cycle.

The organization was established in 1998 with the signing of the so-called "Convention" (OCCAR Convention) by the defense ministers of France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom. The Convention has the value of an international treaty and was ratified by the parliaments of the four founding nations in 2001, giving OCCAR its own legal personality. In 2021 it will be operational for 20 years and we plan to organize seminars at the level of the Ministers who are members of the Board of Supervisor.

The four aforementioned founding countries were joined by Belgium and Spain respectively in 2003 and 2005, bringing the OCCAR Member Countries to six.

A fundamental feature of OCCAR is the openness not only to member countries but also to all European and non-European countries that intend to entrust the management of the Weaponry Programs to the Organization by accepting its rules and these, within the framework of the single program, have the same rights as participating Member States.

We currently have 6 Non OCCAR participating countries: Holland participates in the BOXER program together with Lithuania, Turkey participates in the A400M program, Poland and Finland participate in the ESSOR program (Sweden in Phase 1 of the program). OCCAR manages the procurement phase on behalf of the NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA) in the MMF Program.

We also have OCCAR Program Observer Countries including Brazil in the Italian-French LSS (Logistic Support Ship) program, Belgium in MALE-RPAS and Australia in BOXER.

Today OCCAR manages 15 Programs, destined to increase in the short term with the completion of the integration process of the Near Future Submarines NFS (IT), Light Weight Torpedo LWT (IT-FR-DE-AU) and other initiatives with the Union European. Currently, OCCAR has an order book of around 80 billion euros and an annual operating budget (referring to the programs) of 4 billion euros.

He has been managing the organization for over a year. An opportunity also for our country?

Each Staff member and therefore also the Director, by joining OCCAR swears loyalty to the Organization and loses its national connotation. However, as an Italian I am proud to see how Italy is strongly committed to international cooperation and present in OCCAR. In particular, Italy is one of the six member countries and the four founding countries of OCCAR. Furthermore, it participates in 7 programs managed by the Organization: FREMM, PPA, LSS, MALE RPAS, ESSOR, MUSIS and FSAF PAAMS and it is expected to participate in at least two others, LWT and NFS, in the integration phase.

In my opinion, international cooperation in general and that in the defense field in particular is the only possibility for nations to face the important investments necessary to keep the military instrument updated and efficient in line with current international geopolitical scenarios. The Cooperation, in fact, allows not only the sharing of non-recurring development costs among the various participating states and significant economies of scale linked to the number of systems acquired, but also the development of advanced technologies by exploiting the excellence of each nation. Obviously, the economic return for the national industries that support government bodies in the implementation of projects is also relevant and a fundamental role in promoting cooperation comes and I hope I will come more and more from the industrial sector which is very clear about the future difficulties linked to continuous cuts in national defense budgets.

The competitive advantage of OCCAR compared to other similar organizations operating in military cooperation, consists in being a lean and efficient organization with just over 300 employees. OCCAR combines a structure dedicated to the management of the single Program, the so-called Program Division, with a Central Coordination Office that brings together all the "recurring" functions of an organization such as Finance, Human Resources, legislation for Program Management and Site Support and ICT, reducing overhead costs for operation but ensuring high standards of performance for Program management.

In the naval field you are a "technician". Does your staff also enter into the merits of multinational programs or is it more a coordination activity?

OCCAR is able to manage Programs throughout the life cycle of a weapon system from preparation in collaboration with states or other organizations such as the European Defense Agency (EDA), to alienation, with core business in the definition phases, development, production and in service support.

The Program Division (PD) that I have already mentioned, evolves and adapts over time to the needs of the management of the individual Program and researches and acquires the skills in each sector. Each PD covers four main areas: Program Management, Technical, Finance / Legal, Logistics.

With these skills, we have all the capabilities to enter into the merits of individual programs in depth by offering specialist analyzes to support the decision-making processes of participating states.

This is what the participating States which are our main stakeholders and, if they wish, customers, require OCCAR.

Do you also "supervise" and do you have the right to sanction partner companies of a program?

OCCAR acts as Contract Authority on behalf of the participating States. As in national contracts, it is one of the two parties to the negotiating agreement and monitors the correct execution of both administrative and technical clauses for meeting the time, cost and performance requirements indicated by the participating States.

In our operation, we perform audits at contracting companies and their sub-contractors to ensure compliance with contractual quality standards.

OCCAR has no sanctioning power except for the provisions of the contractual clauses as regards penalties or liquidated damages. The contracts we negotiate obviously also include clauses on early termination due to the will / fault of one of the two parties and the related duties.

Personally, I am convinced that in order to be successful in complex programs, it is necessary to collaborate with companies and jointly solve the problems that certainly arise in these activities, especially if related to the development of new systems.

Who defines the requirements for a weapon system? Does the same happen both abroad and in Italy?

Generally speaking, it can be said that the operational requirements are the prerogative of the States Participating in the Programs obviously through the General Staff of the Armed Forces concerned. The procedure is not very different between abroad and national, except that in cooperation there are more stakeholders involved and in a sense the constraints and requirements to be met.

Each Member State has its own decision making process, and approval of requirements. However, the role of OCCAR is fundamental in harmonizing the different requirements to achieve as much common configurations as possible that guarantee greater interoperability from the operational side and from a more technical point of view greater supportability with a significant reduction in maintenance costs in operation and in general over the entire life cycle of weapon systems.

When the requirements are harmonized and approved by all the States Participating in the Program, the negotiation procedure is initiated with potential suppliers according to the contractual procedures identified as most suitable for meeting the time, cost and performance requirements. Obviously in some cases, especially when challenging time constraints are requested by the Participating States, the involvement of the industrial counterpart can be anticipated by parallelizing the requirements definition and negotiation phases.

In November, the MALE RPAS program would take a step forward. Not only does it seem to have given up on solutions stealth, but it will have a propulsion (twin-engine turboprop) that will make it detect - even only acoustically - tens of miles away. A political, industrial or technical compromise?

The MALE RPAS will be certified to cover a broad operational spectrum which also includes operations at home (disaster relief, etc.) and will be a turning point for the defense of the countries involved thanks to its connectivity to air combat systems ( such as satellites, control centers, AWACS or tactical elements, etc.), its payload capacity, its growth potential and its integration into European air traffic.

As we have already discussed, the operational requirements are defined by the Participating States and their Armed Forces.

However, I can confirm that, as far as the stealth requirement is concerned, the States Participating in the Program immediately considered it not essential for the performance of their surveillance missions. Similarly, the acoustic requirement will be satisfied with particular technical measures despite the twin-engine propulsion, preferred for safety and airworthiness reasons, precisely in order not to limit the use of the MALE RPAS in operational theaters but also allow its use in commercial airways for the fulfillment of the aforementioned dual-use tasks.

Being a cooperation program between four nations, the harmonization of requirements was complex, especially with the intention of respecting the budget and time constraints for the delivery of the first specimens. The importance of the MALE RPAS Program goes beyond technical considerations. The MALE RPAS will be developed with ITAR-free components, ensuring for the first time total independence from third countries for the operational commitment of the system, significantly strengthening the strategic autonomy of the European Union and of all the States participating in the program. significant step in the context of a common European defense policy.

Italy is the creator of many programs, even outside OCCAR and even solo. Are economies of scale, in your opinion, adequately taken into account by governments?

The decisions to develop weapon systems in cooperation or not and secondly to entrust or not to the Agency that I have the privilege to lead are exclusively national prerogatives. Obviously, military / operational, political and industrial considerations weigh in these decisions.

As already mentioned, cooperation offers numerous advantages, first of all savings linked to economy of scale and cost sharing. The downside is that one must inevitably be willing to seek and accept trade-offs once again of various kinds, technical-performance, industrial etc.

All this is well known to the Armed Forces and also to the various governments who, in their choices, appropriately evaluate how the cooperation programs, which generally have durations that exceed individual government mandates, represent in fact international commitments that the country assumes towards other partners and the importance of honoring them over time by protecting Italy's credibility and reputation.

Photo: OCCAR / Bundeswehr / Navy / Airbus