The European Commission has adopted the first European Defence Fund (EDF) annual work programme with the launch of 23 calls for proposals for a total of €1.2bn of EU funding. Two projects, including the development of a totally European unmanned aircraft and a secure software defined radio, receive €137m immediately to develop key ‘homegrown’ systems.

The Eurodrone programme, led by Airbus Spain with Leonardo of Italy and Dassault Aviation of France receives €100m. This is seen as a ‘lighthouse’ programme for Airbus and the entire European aerospace industry, creating 7,000 high tech engineering jobs and forming the basis for future defence programmes such as the next European fighter aircraft (FCAS).

Airbus says Eurodrone will be “based on nearly 100% European technologies” and will use a Digital Design, Manufacturing and Service (DDMS) logistic system to cut the development time and cost with simulation and digital twin technology to allow training to start during the development phase.

The Eurodrone contract is currently being negotiated, with the first flight planned for 2026 and the first aircraft delivered in 2029. 

At the same time the European Secure Software-defined Radio (ESSOR) will receive €37m to create a European standardisation for software radios. This will work with other project such as quantum key distribution and optical point to point communication between military platforms for tactical networks, with more than €48m invested in secure communication systems.

There is also €220m of funding for civilian research programmes in space (€50m), medical response (€70m), and digital and cyber (€100m). This aims to foster cross-fertilisation, enable the entry of new players and reduce technological dependencies.

“The European Defence Fund now plays a key role in making defence industrial cooperation in Europe a permanent reality,” said Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President for a Europe Fit for the Digital Age. “This will foster the EU’s competitiveness and contribute to achieving our technological ambitions. With significant participation of companies of all sizes and from across the EU, the Fund provides great opportunities to foster innovation and cutting edge capabilities. 30 percent of funding going to small and medium sized enterprises is a very promising start.”

“In 2021, the European Defence Fund is coming to life,” said Thierry Breton, Commissioner for Internal Market.” With the EU’s first-ever dedicated defence programme, European cooperation in defence will become the norm. Public authorities will spend better together, and companies – big or small – from all Member States will benefit, resulting in more integrated European defence industrial value chains. In 2021 alone, the EDF will finance up to €1.2bn in high-end defence capability projects such as the next generation of aircraft fighters, tanks or ships, as well as critical defence technologies such as military cloud, AI, semiconductors, space, cyber or medical counter measures.”

During the first year, the EDF will co-finance large-scale and complex projects for a total of €1.2bn using the 2021 EDF budget of €930m and a ‘top-up’ of €290m from the 2022 EDF budget. €700m will go to the preparation of large-scale and complex defence platforms and systems such as next generation fighter systems or ground vehicles fleet, digital and modular ships, and ballistic missile defence.

Around €100m will be dedicated to critical technologies, which will enhance the performance and resilience of defence equipment such as artificial intelligence and cloud for military operations, semiconductors in the field of infrared and radiofrequency components.

The Fund will allocate €120m to disruptive technologies in quantum technologies and additive manufacturing as well as specific open calls for SMEs and startups.

In particular, 26 new projects with a budget of more than €158 million were selected for funding, with a major focus on surveillance capacities (both space-based and maritime capacities), resilience (Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear detection, Counter-Unmanned Air System) and high-end capabilities (precision-strike, ground combat, air combat).

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