Athens (Brussels Morning) For years, the European Defence Agency (EDA) has been working on programmes to modernise the technological capabilities of EU member states’ military. EDA Chief Executive Jiří Šedivý closed the Agency’s 2021 Annual Conference devoted to ‘Innovation in European Defence’, stating that: “Either we innovate in defence or we will become defence irrelevant”.
Where market response is lacking or weak, the European Defence Fund (EDF) has also stepped in to help. They have even successfully helped shape the European market and industrial agenda in terms of new technologies, one step at a time.
What is missing though, is a common policy, a long term strategy that will not only allow companies to harmonise their lines of prodection, but also lower the costs of EU demand.
The speed of societies’ and, indeed, individual lives is being dictated by ever-faster technological transformation. This is no different in the area of defence. The ability of a state or a group of countries to embrace and employ technological innovation is directly proportionate to the level of security they can provide their inhabitants.
A full stakeholder in defence innovation
The EDA’s magazine, European Defence Matters, recently conducted a very interesting interview with Jean-Pierre Maulny, the Deputy Director of the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs (IRIS), who also head s the Armament Industry European Group (ARES Group). Among other salient insights that he shared, he stated:
“So we need to talk about the reform of the defence innovation model at the European level, otherwise we will have difficulty cooperating within a European framework. The defence ministries need to talk to each other about the issue and the EU can arrange this dialogue.”
It is understandable that it is difficult to arrive at agreement on a common pattern. Greece, for example, has completely different military priorities than the Netherlands. So what the EU should set out to do is to achieve an innovation technology that can be used by all, and be sold to others.
“Maybe the EU should become a fully-fledged stakeholder in defence innovation rather than simply putting up the funds, as the European Commission will do with the European Defence Fund. Maybe it should become a true client and structure the shape this innovation will take. If we decide to go ahead with this change, the EDA will have a role to play.”
The key-point is to share a long-term vision with the continent’s traditional defence companies. If the proposed plan is beneficial for the combined agendas of all the various parties, companies, managers and politicians involved, then they will cooperate. The French, understand this and work on that pattern. Comments by Dr. Emmanuel CHIVA Director of the French Defence Innovation Agency (AID) were also reflected in the EDA magazine.
“The French ‘historical’ defence companies have already understood the need to grab innovation from sources that are external to our traditional ecosystem. Regarding this aspect of innovation, the governmental mission carried out by the AID is to broaden this detection and facilitate its incorporation so that it could be of benefit both to the start-ups and the main defence companies.”
Military, not Industry-led projects
Estonia’s is one of the foremost inventive economies, not just in Europe, but globally. It could be a smaller version of the European economy, having experienced turbulence since 2009 from the serious compression resulting from the course of the worldwide monetary emergency. So the country’s political authorities chose to change the state trade financing arrangements and grasp development.
Estonia has opted for cost-effective innovation procurement targeting high-end technologies, applications and services that are already available on the market, rather than investing in complex and mostly costly long-term research and development programmes. This makes for a sensible option based on the country’s military capability, though it may not be suitable for a future European Army.
The Dutch have chosen a hybrid approach that incorporates both old and new trends, recognising the unstoppable rise of newly emerging and disruptive technologies (EDT). The EDT approach can indeed be used in defence, but the Dutch military leadership understands that full operational integration into existing high-end military platforms (weapon systems, frigates, planes, and so on) will take years, if not decades.
Auke Venema, Head of the Dutch MoD’s ‘Knowledge & Innovation’ Department, and Colonel Pieter van Broekhoven, Chief Innovation Advisor and Head of the ‘Future Relevant Operations with Next generation Technology’ (FRONT) Centre at the Dutch MoD also shared their views on the matter in the EDA magazine:
Their conclusion was as follows. “The Dutch defence innovation strategy acknowledges the need to adapt to the innovation pace of the outside, civil world. It is clear that civil developments will not wait for the military to catch up. It is also clear that our adversaries will use those civil developments even if, in the first place, they were never meant to be used in armed conflicts.”