Civil, defence and space industries pool to prop up EU’s technological edge

The Commission's Action Plan aims to build new synergies among EU programmes and instruments

Photo: EU Margrethe Vestager, on the left, and Thierry Breton.

With no new money, but with pooling current EU funding will be opened opportunities to reinforce European innovation by exploring and exploiting the disruptive potential of technologies at the interface between defence, space and civil uses, such as cloud, processors, cyber, quantum and artificial intelligence. On Monday, the Commission tabled an Action Plan on Synergies between civil, defence and space industries to further enhance Europe's technological edge and support its industrial base.

Taking office in December 2019. EC President Ursula von der Leyen tasked her Commission to "ensure cross-fertilisation between civil, defence and space industries" and "focus on improving the crucial link between space and defence and security". To this end, in March 2020, the Industrial Strategy announced "an Action Plan on synergies between civil, defence and space industries, including at the level of programmes, technologies, innovation and start-ups".

The new plan aims to build new synergies among EU programmes and instruments so that disruptive technologies can find concrete uses across civil, defence and space industries.

It also enables that defence and space technologies find concrete civil applications and facilitates the use of civil research and innovations into new European defence projects.

With the European Defence Fund we have a strong potential for synergies between innovation in space, defence and civil research and innovation, commented Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President for ‘a Europe fit for the Digital Age', noting that this is needed for a number of critical technologies.

According to her, this action plan is “a systematic and methodological approach to synergies in critical technologies across the three worlds”. The idea is for innovations to systematically reach multiple uses by design and to allow tapping into the huge innovation potential of researchers and start-ups, VP Vestager specified.

As Thierry Breton, Commissioner for Internal Market stressed, making the most of the European Defence Fund and ensuring strong synergies between defence, space and civil technologies will generate disruptive innovations and allow Europe to remain a global standard setter. It will also reduce our dependencies in critical technologies and boost the industrial leadership we need to recover from the crisis, he added.

The EU executive has indicated eleven targeted actions that focus on the interplay between civil, defence and space industries. They create a framework that enhances synergies and cross-fertilisation among all relevant EU programmes and instruments, for example in the field of digital, cloud and processors.

On the agenda is also preparing for the launch of three flagship projects with the potential to become game changers.  

The ‘EU drones technologies' flagship project will aim to identify, together with the industry and defence stakeholders, the technological challenges that need to be solved in order to further develop European drone capabilities, from a civil and military perspective. It will seek synergies in the development of civil and defence drones.

The ‘EU space-based global secure communications' flagship project is about providing critical services to European citizens, such as reliable, secure and cost-effective connectivity for governmental and commercial communications, as well as ubiquitous high-speed broadband availability throughout Europe.

The ‘Space Traffic Management' flagship project refers to developing an EU approach for space traffic management (STM). The project will develop STM standards and rules, which are needed to avoid collision events that may result from the proliferation of satellites and space debris and could lead to catastrophic events for EU assets in space.

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