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EU’s support for defence research discreetly gets off the mark


BRUSSELS – The EU’s ambitious plan to enter the field of defence research, with all that implies for policy and capability development, quietly shifted into gear in mid-April as the European Commission nailed down the plan’s legal and budgetary details, and its first year’s tendering intentions. The dual-use ramifications of this are significant, since nearly all of the defence research and development projects to be supported by the plan – and future EU spending in this arena – could be spun out to civil security applications as well.

Little noticed by the press, the decision was signed into law on 11 April by Elżbieta Bieńkowska, European Commissioner for the internal market. It ringfences EUR 25 million from the EU’s budget for the first year of the EU’s new “Preparatory Action on Defence Research” (PADR).

PADR will test the political and technical feasibility of spending EU money on defence R&D. Its projects must lead to capabilities that add value at EU level, meaning no duplication of capabilities that already exist or are in development at national level. Above all, they must support the Union’s common security and defence policy (CSDP) objectives such as crisis management or expeditionary missions.

The 2017-2019 initiative will have a total of EUR 90 million for its three-year lifetime. Afterwards its results will be evaluated and, if deemed successful, are expected lead to a permanent set-aside of around EUR 500 million per year for defence R&D in the EU’s general budget after 2020. No single defence ministry in Europe currently spends that much.

“This will be a sizeable source of funding for our industry, and PADR is the door to that,” a French industrial source told SECURITY EUROPE on 12 April. “It needs to be carefully massaged – and it will be.”

Two percent of PADR’s EUR 25 million allocation for 2017 will cover administrative and managerial costs, with the European Defence Agency overseeing the programme on the Commission’s behalf.  The balance of EUR 24.5 million will be spent on three research actions.

Though a formal call-for-proposals for the topics will be released in May, the broad technical requirements that PADR frames for each of the actions are laid out in an annexe to Bieńkowska’s decision.

The first and biggest action entails a first-phase technology demonstrator. It must use a family of unmanned air, surface and underwater systems to enhance naval situational awareness for persistent wide area surveillance and maritime interdiction, and will have to show its first preliminary results by late 2019.

According to the annex, the demonstrator must address a very wide range of technical capabilities such as platform protection in contested environments and anti-jamming and electronic counter-measures. It will have to prove the drones’ launch and recovery from manned platforms in severe weather conditions, for example, and their ability to transport and drop off cargo and other payloads. The action also calls for integration of situational awareness data via multi-sensor information fusion to produce a single predefined tactical picture – all in secure real-time or near real-time communications.

The lion’s share of PADR’s 2017 budget – up to EUR 16 million – will support this first phase. However, more will be spent on the demonstrator’s second phase during PADR’s two following years, with the Commission estimating the total cost to be EUR 36 million.

The second research action involves force protection and soldier systems in three areas. One is the definition of a generic open soldier systems architecture that covers electronics, voice and data communication, software, human interface devices, sensors and effectors.

The other two entail the development of “adaptive camouflage” and customised technologies that protect personnel against blast, ballistic and CBRN (chemical, biological, nuclear, radiological) threats. For example, the call will lean toward proposals whose ballistic and blast protection technology solutions offer “at least” a 20-percent reduction in weight compared to existing commercial solutions, according to the annex.

The 2017 budget earmarks up to EUR 1.5 million for the architecture topic, and up to EUR 3 million for the other two, though it will select only one project from the other topics for financing during 2017.

PADR’s third and final action for 2017 seeks a “scoping” study to carry out foresight analysis of defence technology trends and Europe’s future capability needs.  This will help identify the kinds of defence R&D to be financed by the EU after 2020. PADR will spend up to EUR 1 million on the study.

     THE UPSHOT: While PADR is officially structured for defence end-users and lays down strict guidelines to ensure that research is suitably oriented to military-grade requirements, it nonetheless holds out huge dual-use potential for Europe’s civil security end-user communities.
     For example, among the naval demonstrator’s technical requirements for its unmanned platforms is the specification that they be swarm-capable and able to swap information with each other and human operators for purposes of anti-area/access-denial operations. These are exactly the same capabilities that Europe’s civil security players, from police forces to SWAT teams to border authorities, are just starting to explore as well.
     The same applies to PADR’s wish-list for force protection technologies. Here it seeks flexible and modular protection designs that integrate novel materials into body armour for CBRN detection and protection. So do Europe’s civil first-responders.
     Moreover, PADR’s action for a defence R&D scoping study recognises “the growing relevance of the civil technologies for defence and the need to include the developments in the civil sector in the exercise.”
     But for that to happen, the walls of secrecy that separate military and civil research in Europe need to fall – and fast.


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