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As the European Commission gives its official blessing to the European Defence Fund (EDF), a new chapter might be in prospect for European industry. On 30 June, the EU executive launched the fund’s first 23 calls for proposals, worth €1.2 billion, aimed at supporting collaborative defence R&D projects for 2021.

Approved after lengthy discussions, the EDF has a budget of €7,953 billion, of which €2.6 billion is reserved for research projects and €5.3 billion for defence capability's development. To win a share of the funds – which will be co-financed by participating countries – industry will need to submit proposals by December.

EDF is widely considered the ‘Copernican revolution’ of EU defence, fostering cooperation, reducing dependence on external technologies,  and providing substance for EU strategic ambition, as encapsulated by DG DEFIS' Head, Thierry Breton, who commented "With the EU's first-ever dedicated defence programme, European cooperation in defence will become the norm."

Calls for Proposals

Among the calls, air combat will receive the largest slice of the cake – some €190 million divided into three projects: the development of a "European interoperability standard for collaborative air combat," and an "enhanced pilot environment for air combat,” collectively worth €150 million – and €40 million for "next-generation rotorcraft technologies.” The first project might presage potential harmonisation between the Franco-German FCAS [Future Combat Air System] and British-Italian-Swedish TEMPEST programmes, both of which could access EDF funds. Air and missile defence will also have a substantial budget share, with €100 million to develop an "endo-atmospheric interceptor.”

Second place goes to ground combat, a sector seriously affected by overcapacity: €160 million will contribute to both "future modular ground vehicles and enabling technologies (including green technologies)" and the development of "unmanned ground vehicle technologies and beyond-line-of-sight collaborative close combat architecture," with a further €10 million allocated to research into "improved warheads.”

On the navy side, €60 million will be assigned to developing a "Multirole and modular offshore patrol vessel,” which might be of interest to the Naviris-Navantia European Patrol Corvette PESCO programme – and €43.5 million will go to research for "Ship Structural Health Monitoring.”

A big slice of the funding pie is also reserved for ‘green’ priorities, such as "Energy resilience and environmental transition," (€133 million), while the space and cyber domains will get €50 and €23.5 million respectively. Disruptive technologies, which include research on "Over-the-horizon radar," primarily oriented towards detecting ‘stealth’ targets, will reach €60 million.

EDIDP

The Commission also gave the green light to 26 new projects, with a budget of over €158 million, within the framework of the European Defence Industrial Development Programme (EDIDP). Undersea, maritime and combat projects lead the way, with €23.5, €21.5 and €13.5 million respectively.

Alongside the Preparatory Action on Defence Research (PADR) initiative, EDIDP served as a test-bed for the EDF. Worth €500 million over two years 2019-2020), EDIDP aimed at co-financing development of defence products and technologies, while PADR prepared the research window for the EDF.

Caterina Tani reporting from Brussels for MON

Thierry Breton, the EU’s Internal Markets Commissioner and Head of DG DEFIS. (Photo: European Commission)

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