By BROOKS TIGNER
BRUSSELS – The European Commission will soon release its first annual call for proposals under its new three-year “preparatory action in defence research” (PADR).
After months of difficult negotiations with industry to iron out PADR’s intellectual property rights, the call’s topics – designed to support the EU’s common security and defence policy (CSDP) objectives – will seek a wide diversity of technologies, from blast-proof materials to the fusion of battlefield data. Many of these will have applications for civil security, though they will be driven by military requirements.
To be released in May, the call has a budget of EUR 25 million, and PADR will spend a total of EUR 90 million over its three-year 2017-2019. The initiative’s main policy aim is to test the plausibility of using EU money – a first in its 60-year history – to support the development of multi-nation defence capabilities. Though financed by the Commission, the proposals’ evaluation and managerial oversight will be handled by the European Defence Agency.
If deemed successful, PADR will provide the justification for the Commission’s planned set-aside of EUR 500 million for defence research in the EU’s next seven-year general budget of 2021-2028.
That sum roughly equals what Germany, France and the UK annually spend on defence research. As one Commission official said on 9 March, if the EU cannot offer “at least a few billion euros in the future, it will not be worth the effort because defence R&D is expensive. This is seen as the minimal amount needed to motivate stakeholders to participate [in future EU-funded defence research].”
Unlike the rules of the EU’s current security research, which allow EU partner countries to participate, R&D players from only one non-EU country – Norway – will be authorised to join PADR’s research consortia. Though that country’s defence industry has close ties to the United States, it is also highly integrated with that of Sweden and Finland and, moreover, has critical know-how in targeting, electronics, ammunitions, satellite communications, new materials and other technologies.
By contrast, EU research partner countries Switzerland and Israel were excluded. Though also high-tech, Switzerland’s defence sector was deemed too small while that of Israel “competes with Europe in too many fields, so that was a no-brainer,” said the official. For example, one of the EU’s central defence and dual-use research goals is to develop advanced long-endurance drone technologies, a sector long dominated by Israel, the United States and, now on the horizon, China.
The overall objective of PADR and any subsequent EU-funded defence research is to seek proposals up to a TRL – technology readiness level – of 6 but not higher. “These are things we would like to have in 20 years, meaning there would be a shift from research to development after 10 years,” said the official.
According to the Commission, the forthcoming call contains a number of topics with dual-use application for civil security. These include open architecture standards that promote and enable cross-border supply chains, maritime situational awareness via unmanned platforms, data-fusion technologies, digital-based “future soldier” systems that could flip over to first-responder systems, blast-proof materials and active/passive camouflage.
Most of these projects will produce classified results. Thus, parties interested in participating will have to security clearance/accreditation from their home-country authorities, including security clearance of any facilities involved in the research – tasks that “can take a lot of time, depending on the country”, warned the Commission official.
Once released in May, respondents will have three months to cobble together their proposals by the end of August. The winning consortia will enter into financial and technical with the EDA in early autumn 2017 to refine the objectives, with final signatures either by the end of 2017 or, more likely, in early 2018, said the official.
Often in defence, the paying party has strong control, or at least first-use rights, over the capability – particularly if the latter is subsidised at 100 percent, which will be the case with PADR. However, no one wanted the Commission placed in that position even though it is covering the whole cost.
Thus, it was decided that the IPR of PADR capabilities – and those of any future EU-funded defence research – will rest with the consortium. However, this comes with the proviso that, since the EU’s budget is involved, any member state will be able to get data about the technologies to carry that into their own programmes.
Neither the ministries of defence nor the Commission will have first-use rights over the technologies. “If an MoD is interested in a particular technology it will have to go to the post-consortium partner that owns the IPR on that technology and strike a deal. But we’re not expecting problems there,” said the Commission official.
As for ensuring that Europe’s defence companies don’t indiscriminately sell to foreign markets technologies funded 100 percent by Commission money, “we will use the EU’s rules on exports of sensitive technologies to control that,” he said.