The first ever European Defence Innovation Day, organised by the European Defence Agency (EDA) under the auspices of the French EU Presidency, took place today in Brussels. The event allowed a 500-strong audience - in the conference room and remotely - to listen to interesting and lively speeches and panel discussions, to visit the onsite European Defence Innovation Exhibition, and to take part in a series of separate thematic ‘Tech-Talks’. The Defence Innovation Day marks the official launch - and first activity - of the Hub for European Defence Innovation (HEDI) which was established within EDA following a decision by Member States’ Defence Ministers on 17 May.
Jiří Šedivý, EDA’s Chief Executive, welcomed the conference speakers and attendees by thanking the French EU Presidency for supporting and co-organising this “landmark event” which is meant to be the first of a long series of future European Defence Innovation Days to come. He reminded the audience of the strategic importance of disruptive defence technologies which, he said, has made of defence innovation “a factor that shapes the international security environment” and the balance of power: “The brutal Russian war of aggression in Ukraine vividly shows why we need to urgently strengthen European defence, and also why defence innovation is essential”. While innovation has always been a centrepiece of EDA’s activities, the EU and its Member States “need to do more, and more together” because joint innovation activities, done in collaboration, “provide better value for money than today’s fragmented efforts”, said Mr Šedivý. The creation of the Hub for European Defence Innovation in EDA is an additional sign that Member States are ready to take European defence innovation to the next level, in cooperation with the European Commission but also NATO. “EDA’s collaboration with NATO, were both organizations are engaging each other in Innovation Prizes and Challenges events, will continue to expand in pace with developments in both organisations”, he concluded.
Bertrand Le Meur: “France will work side by side with EDA to raise up HEDI”
Representing the French EU Presidency, Bertrand Le Meur (Director for Defence Strategy, Counter-Proliferation and Strategic Foresight at the Directorate General for International Relations and Strategy of the French Ministry for the Armed Forces) stressed the strategic importance of defence innovation and the capacity to develop and produce high-end capabilities which, especially in the current times of conflicts and uncertainties, “play a central role in preserving our interests”. “Innovation is essential for improving our defence capabilities and keeping military superiority (…) Therefore, remaining competitive in innovation is a key for the credibility and efficiency of our defence”, he said. The challenges in this domain are manifold, Mr Le Meur continued. First, the defence sector needs to open to civil, non-traditional tech players and companies which are essential for new defence applications. Second, the public-private cooperation must become leaner and smoother than it is today. Third, developers and producers need to consider the end-users’ perspective from a very early stage of the innovation process. And finally, there needs to be a culture-change in the Ministries of Defence who need to adapt to much shorter and quicker innovation and development cycles than they are used to so far. On all those challenges, Member States’ national innovation stakeholders and agencies need to work together, “not in competition one against each other, but in complementarity”. HEDI, EDA’s Defence Innovation Hub, will have an important network function to play in this context by connecting the dots between Member States and being a “catalyst and amplifier” of national innovation efforts. France, a strong supporter of HEDI, “will be side by side with EDA to raise up this Hub” and make it a success, Mr Le Meur concluded.
Defence Innovation Exhibition: 26 stands to showcase national and EDA projects
The keynote speech was followed by the official opening, by EDA Research, Technology & Innovation Director Jean-François Ripoche, of the first European Defence Innovation Exhibition which was accessible to all conference attendees onsite. The exhibition featured a total of 26 stands of which 19 were sponsored by Member States to showcase national innovation strategies and projects, while 9 were representing the results of projects developed in EDA’s capability technology groups (‘CapTechs’). Two stands were informing visitors about other innovation activities underway at EDA. The exhibition topics ranged from Artificial Intelligence (AI) applications in defence and new developments in the cyber defence domain to space-based innovative technologies and the use of 3-D-printing (additive manufacturing) in the defence supply chain.
Keynote speech and panel discussions
The afternoon session was opened by a technical keynote speech on ‘Quantum Technologies’, delivered by Tommaso Calarco who is the Head of the Institute Quantum Control at University of Cologne.
It was followed by a first panel discussion, moderated by Daniel Fiott (Defence Editor at the EUISS) on ‘How to bridge civil and military worlds in innovation?’. The session featured François Arbault (Director of Defence Industry, Directorate-General for Defence Industry and Space, European Commission), Petter Bedoire (Chief Technology Officer, Saab), Marja Eijkman (Managing Director Defence, Safety & Security, TNO), Brigadier General Dieter Kohl (Special Advisor, NATO Allied Command Transformation) and Olli Ruutu (EDA’s Deputy Chief Executive).
“How to cultivate a European defence innovation ecosystem?” was then the topic of a catching ‘Fireside chat’, moderated by Panagiotis Kikiras, EDA’s Head of Technology and Innovation, that brought together Emmanuel Chiva, the Director of the French Defence Innovation Agency, and EDA Chief Executive Jiří Šedivý. There was a general agreement among the speakers on the need to enhance cooperation in defence innovation across Europe and increase uptake of innovation to ensure long-term effectiveness and resiliency of the Armed Forces.
Josep Borrell: “EDA has a key role to play in defence innovation”
High Representative Josep Borrell, the Head of EDA, closed the event by recalling that the war in Ukraine, “a tough wake-up call”, has dramatically demonstrated why our Armed Forces must be always ready to defend our citizens, values and interests. To ensure that, “we must invest more in defence and make up for years of budget cuts and underinvestment (…) The message is clear: we need to reduce fragmentation and invest more together, starting now”, he said. Member States now clearly acknowledge the importance of it, as today’s European Council meeting in Brussels (30/31 May) has shown, where leaders discussed European defence, based on the defence investment gaps analysis the HRVP/Head of EDA presented together with the Commission on 18 May. While the focus of the EU leaders’ discussion was mainly on the short-term needs, i.e. the replenishment of stockpiles, “we should also look at the future and longer-term needs. For this we need innovation to modernise our armed forces. We either innovate or we risk becoming irrelevant in the field of security and defence”, Mr Borrell said. To retain an edge over competitors and potential adversaries, Europe must make full use of emerging and disruptive technologies to develop capabilities across the full spectrum. “EDA certainly has a key role to play in defence innovation. It has been dealing with innovation since its creation in 2004. And it has already delivered. Successful examples include projects on drone swarms; technologies for electromagnetic railguns; or new clean energy technologies to lower the carbon footprint and decrease energy dependencies in the defence sector. These are all initiatives developed at EDA”. “I’m proud” of EDA’s work on innovation so far, “but we have to do more”, the Head of the Agency said, insisting on a close cooperation with the European Commission and its European Defence Fund (EDF), as well as with NATO “because we have the same purpose”. Today’s official launch of HEDI is not only an important first delivery of the Strategic Compass, but also a crucial step towards a more innovative European defence, Mr Borrell concluded.