On 29 April 2021, the European Parliament approved the European Defence Fund (EDF) for 2021-2027, with a budget of €7.9 billion. The EDF is the European Commission’s flagship programme for the support of defence capabilities in Europe through cross-border collaboration.
RHEA Group’s Chief Solutions and Innovation Officer, Arne Matthyssen, explains what happens next for EDF and how methodologies like RHEA’s concurrent design can benefit collaborative EDF projects, promote security-by-design and enable governments and agencies to ‘buy smarter’.
What stage is the EDF at now?
The European Defence Fund is not new, having been launched by the EC in June 2017. But the approval of €7.9 billion by the European Parliament for the next stage of the EDF was a vital seal of approval for this pan-European strategic instrument.
In reality, European governments and defence agencies have already been carrying out assessments and planning their future requirements with the support of businesses and other organizations – a stage that will continue until the middle of this year (June/July). Many have also been working on pilot defence research and development projects under the auspices of the Preparatory Action on Defence Research (PADR) and European Defence Industrial Development Programme (EDIDP); both part of the earlier EDF programme.
How will EDF funding work?
During 2021-2027, the Fund will work by directly financing total costs for approved defence-related research projects. It will also co-finance up to 20% of the cost of development of prototypes (with the rest funded by Member States) and up to 80% of certification and testing activities.
There are a number of important caveats around the funding; for example, the EDF will only co-finance development where Member States intend to buy the final product and where there are at least three participants from at least three Member States (or associated countries). Around 4-8% of the budget will support innovative disruptive technologies for defence.
What are the benefits of collaboration in defence capabilities?
The benefits of reducing fragmentation in defence across Europe are made startlingly evident in an EC document that compares the situation in Europe with that in the US. In Europe we have 178 types of weapon systems in use compared with 30 in the US; 17 main battle tanks vs 1; 29 types of destroyers/frigates vs 4; and 20 types of fighter planes vs 6.[i]
Some level of collaboration between countries is clearly desirable, especially as systems grow ever more sophisticated. Collaboration will also support innovation within the European defence industrial base and make it more competitive.
We already see examples of the benefits of collaboration in Europe in the Benelux countries, for example, where Belgium will adopt the same design of new frigate being developed by the Netherlands Ministry of Defence. Many aspects of the design and development of the new Anti-Submarine Warfare Frigates are being covered in a 3-year programme where RHEA is supporting the Dutch MoD’s Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO) with concurrent design expertise. (You can read more about this in our DMO case study and an interview with the DMO’s Director of Projects.)
Involving all stakeholders from the start is extremely powerful for complex projects involving multidisciplinary teams, which is the case for many defence projects. The Dutch DMO is open about the fact that using concurrent design has not only improved processes directly related to the design of the new frigate, halving the time needed for the project, but has also enabled security-by-design. They also note that it has made the DMO into a ‘smarter’ buyer by supporting other aspects from the beginning, such as reviewing programmes of requirements.
What other expertise is valuable for defence projects?
One other area where collaboration will bear fruit for defence projects is by pulling in expertise in space. Almost every country now has a defence roadmap that includes space capabilities. And given that security is a top priority for defence, being able to call on experience and expertise across both space and security will be vital.
We are currently applying our space systems engineering skills and our expertise in both concurrent design and security to the EDIDP-funded Low Observable Tactical Unmanned Air System (LOTUS) programme, which is developing, prototyping and testing the next generation of tactical remotely piloted aircraft systems (TRPAS). For LOTUS we are leading all the cybersecurity-related activities, including using our Security Aware Concurrent Design Platform (SACDP), while the concurrent design work makes use of COMET™, our concurrent design platform powered by CDP4®.
LOTUS is funded by the Greek Ministry of Defence and we are being supported in our role by the Dutch MoD, with Cyprus involved as a third Member State.
What is important for future international defence capability development programmes?
As projects become more complex, industrial and international collaboration will be vital, just as it is in the space sector. Countries will need to work with each other and with agile, multi-skilled companies, and use established, proven working practices such as concurrent design to complete projects efficiently, with security needs and all stakeholders’ requirements built in from the start.
The industry has to be a smarter designer and developer while the procurement agencies become smart buyers!
[i] European Commission; The European Defence Fund factsheet; April 2021