This month, the European Commission announced the new selected European defence research projects and opened calls for new defence research proposals. The development of uncrewed systems plays a significant role in both the selected projects and call for proposals, which will all be funded by the European Defence Fund (EDF).

A new selected research project, which should be finished within 2 years, involves the development of a basis for a future European standard for military armed uncrewed systems (AUS). The future standard will give the European Union the opportunity to deploy AUS flexibly in different setups. The standard allows European countries to use armed drones or other AUS in singular use, but also in combination with crewed systems or as autonomous swarms, regardless of their organizational or national manufacturer.

The new call for research projects includes developing capabilities to detect and/ or counter uncrewed aerial systems in defence scenarios. A second project request focusses on developing an improved ability for defence maritime forces to detect and neutralize or avoid subsurface threats, by using for example uncrewed systems or crewed-uncrewed teaming. Additionally, there is a call to develop uncrewed systems, uncrewed (semi-) fixed platforms and drones to enhance Maritime situational awareness. Finally, a direct award may also be granted to the development of an armed Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) capability to support the fabrication of the European MALE Remotely Piloted Air System (RPAS).

The selected research project and the call for proposals fall in line with earlier projects the EDF has chosen to invest in. The development of drones and uncrewed systems always have had a prominent position within the European defence research. This is partly due to the defence industry having significant influence within the EDF, while the European Parliament has a limited capability to scrutinize the funded projects. This prevents open debates on how drones and uncrewed systems may be used and what risks they might bring. It is therefore crucial that discussion takes place about what the development of the European standard for UAS and the new proposals for the development of uncrewed systems will entail for international security and human rights.

More information on the role of uncrewed systems in the EU’s defence developments can be read in the report “Military Drones and the EU” from PAX.

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