Europe's 5 Most Lethal Weapons of War

Europe may no longer be the global force it was in centuries past, but its armed forces operate potent instruments of hard power.

For roughly four centuries, world affairs centered around Europe. Much of Europe’s centrality was based on its superior military power.

Through the middle of the 20th century, Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, and others controlled vast stretches of land in Africa, Asia, and the Americas; some possessions dwarfed all of Europe in size and population. Only two world wars, at the cost of tens of millions of lives, exhausted Europe’s world-dominating military capabilities.

The recent dysfunction in the European Union obscures the continent’s impressive military legacy. Even after the United States eclipsed Europe as the principal Western military power, NATO members developed sizeable arsenals to counter the threat of the Soviet Union and its proxies. With the collapse of the U.S.S.R., Europe’s governments dramatically cut their defense spending. The rise of non-Western nations like China and India further displaced Europe’s global position.

Still, many countries in the European Union, and particularly NATO members, field some of the world’s most advanced military technologies. Some countries, like France, Britain, Germany, and Sweden, maintain domestic arms industries. Many governments benefit from state-of-the-art American technologies like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Europe may no longer be the global force it was in centuries past, but its armed forces operate potent instruments of hard power. Below are five formidable European weapons of war:

Eurofighter Typhoon

The Eurofighter Typhoon is the product of a four-nation consortium including the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, and Spain. Eurofighters are multirole combat aircraft, capable of performing a range of missions. Entering service in 2003, the Typhoon promises to remain a staple in both European and non-European militaries until the 2040s.

Twin EJ200 Turbofan engines give the Eurofighter a combat radius of up to 1,389 km, and Typhoons can reach speeds as high as 2,125 km/hour. A special “supercruise” feature allows the jet to maintain speeds above Mach 1 without using its afterburner.

Although the Eurofighter is a fourth generation aircraft, it carries some fifth generation capabilities, including certain stealth attributes. For example, the airplane has a low frontal radar cross section and a shape that reduces its overall radar signature. Because the Eurofighter carries many of its weapons externally, its stealth technology is not as advanced as fifth generation models. Still, these features give the Typhoon an edge over its fourth generation peers, many of which remain in service to this day.

The Eurofighter has 13 hardpoints to carry weapons. It can be configured for air-to-air and surface attack missions. Typhoon jets can carry both Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missiles (BVRAAM) and Short Range Air-to-Air Missiles (SRAAM). For ground strikes, the Eurofighter can carry Enhanced Paveway EGBU-16 laser guided bombs and advanced anti-armor systems. The Typhoon’s speed and versatility make it an attractive option for states in Europe and beyond. In addition to the initial four countries that sponsored the Eurofighter project, Typhoon jets have entered service in Austria and Saudi Arabia, and several other governments are considering purchase the aircraft.

Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carrier

Great Britain’s Royal Navy once reigned supreme on the world’s oceans. Although the United States Navy eclipsed its prowess, the United Kingdom still maintains one of only three blue water fleets in the world. Although London recently decommissioned its Invincible Class aircraft carriers, the Queen Elizabeth models will soon take up the Invincible’s role. The first vessel, the HMS Queen Elizabeth should be commissioned in 2016 and will enter service in 2020. A second carrier, the HMS Prince of Wales, is also under construction.

Queen Elizabeth Class ships will be significantly larger than previous British models. Each carrier will have a displacement of 70,600 tons and a length of 283 meters. Propelled by two Rolls Royce MT30 gas turbines and four Diesel Generator Sets, the Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales will be able to reach speeds of up to 25 knots.

London’s new carriers are built to support the latest military aviation technology, including up to 50 fixed wing and helicopter aircraft. Queen Elizabeth Class vessels can carry a compliment of up to 36 F-35B Short Take Off/Vertical Landing (STOVL) planes. Further into the future, these ships may also support operations for the navalized F-35C variant.

French Aircraft Carrier Charles de Gaulle

France, along with Britain and the United States, is one of three countries that presently possess a blue water navy capability. The Marine Nationale fields the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier in order to protect French interests worldwide and support allied combat operations. The Charles de Gaulle entered service in 2001, but France initially planned to build a new aircraft carrier similar to the British Queen Elizabeth Class. However, these plans were discarded in 2013. Thus, the Charles de Gaulle remains an integral component in Paris’s sea operations, and will for years to come.