What is the EUMC’s view on the operational use of unmanned capabilities such as RPAS in the framework of CSDP missions and operations?

Back in 2013, the then High Representative/ Vice President (HR/VP), Ms. Catherine Ashton, pointed out that “RPAS are very likely to constitute a key capability for the future” and that they offer “a broad spectrum of capabilities that can contribute to various aspects of EU-led military and civilian operations”. In line with this, the EUMC tasked the European Union Military Staff (EUMS) to draft a concept for the operational employment of RPAS in the framework of EU-led military operations. With input from several Member States, EU institutions and agencies, and in cooperation with the NATO Joint Air Power Competence Centre, the EUMC agreed in March 2014 on the “Concept for the contribution of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems to EU-led Military Operations”. The document provides a conceptual framework for the use of RPAS in EU-led military operations. 

Noting that RPAS have been used by armed forces for three decades as effective operational capabilities, the concept describes the features of RPAS and underlines their potential to contribute to various aspects of EU-led military and civilian operations. The document also refers to the potential dual-use benefits of RPAS which can also be useful in conflict prevention and peace-building civilian activities. In accordance with the EU Treaties, the remit of CSDP will cover the whole spectrum of crisis management ranging from peace enforcement to post-conflicts tabilisation operations. Within this framework, the use of RPAS is envisaged for a wide variety of tasks where military means might be considered in order to address a crisis, from the separation of fighters by force to assistance with humanitarian operations. 

In your view, which are the most important operational benefits that unmanned systems such as RPAS can provide to CSDP military missions and operations, today?

The global landscape evolves and information is more and more critical. Thanks to their broad capability spectrum and long endurance, RPAS can effectively contribute to EU-led military and civilian operations and missions. Regarding payloads and missions, RPAS are flexible and adaptive and, therefore, can be employed in multi-task roles or be easily re-tasked within the same single sortie. RPAS can operate as local tactical assets or at long range for prolonged periods of time. Additionally, RPAS are not technically limited by human performance or physiological characteristics and some of them may potentially perform tasks in high threat environments or contaminated areas where the use of manned aircraft would constitute an unacceptable human risk.

Situational awareness in crisis management missions and operations requires clear and concise information and intelligence on all aspects of the air, ground and sea situation within an area of operation. This requires reliable, permanent and persistent surveillance. Especially long endurance RPAS, able to carry out Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance (ISR), Imagery Intelligence (IMINT) and Target Acquisition (TA) from an airborne platform can contribute to early warning, operational assessment, situational awareness and target intelligence. This supports the decisionmaking process, as well as the planning and execution of CSDP missions and operations at all levels of command.

Information superiority has also become a key concern in crisis management. EU forces can benefit from airborne assets like RPAS operating as a force multiplier and complementing other assets in providing permanent, all weather coverage with high quality sensors.

Additionally, we expect European-led military forces to face more and more asymmetric tactics and strategies. For example, the increased use of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in conflicts. Equipped with specific sensors for IED detection, RPAS could effectively contribute to the protection of ground forces, providing vital information to counter IEDs.

In accordance with the EU Concept for the contribution of RPAS to EU-led military operations, these systems are expected to operate over both land and sea. On maritime missions and beyond the littoral, RPAS can effectively conduct ISR missions, in support of naval operations, for instance anti-terrorism and anti-piracy missions. 

Looking ahead, where do you see the biggest potential for future unmanned platforms like RPAS in CSDP military operations? And the biggest challenges?

A broader and more intense operational use of RPAS will open new possibilities for quality information gathering, especially in the field of surveillance and reconnaissance. In view of that, a common understanding, along with common standards for the operational planning and employment of RPAS, should be developed.

Additionally, an extensive use of RPAS in CSDP operations would result in greatly increased data gathering (videos, radar pictures and so on), which in turn requires thorough and time-consuming analysis. This will be a real challenge for operation commanders as it will involve more experienced analysts and dedicated software – not currently developed to the extent that it could replace a human in conducting the full processing of data.

At present, there are considerable limitations to the operation of RPAS in non-segregated airspace. The aim is to operate RPAS in a similar way to today’s manned aviation, based on the regulations applied to manned aircraft. The integration of RPAS in European airspace is a complex task, and requires close cooperation between civil and military actors. In the framework of the EU RPAS Steering Group (ERSG), the relevant stakeholders have set up a roadmap for the integration of civil RPAS into the European aviation system addressing, in particular, regulatory aspects. The same ERSG framework could be used as a basis to help establish the process of integrating military RPAS into the non-segregated Air Traffic Management (ATM) environment.

It should be noted that, despite the inherent potential, the current survivability characteristics of RPAS do not necessarily allow them to be used in high-threat environments. It is preferable that RPAS equipment and procedures are developed cognisant of expected threats.

Another challenge ahead relates to data links, which include all means for both communication between the RPAS and the control station (ground or airborne) and data transfer. The operational range of data links is still affected by different factors like the location and altitude of the RPAS and the ground control stations, as well as the orographic and atmospheric conditions. Technological improvements are important in this respect as the loss or interruption of the data-link could result in degraded mission effectiveness or a mission failure.

Finally, a possible wider development of RPAS involves a more effective self-protection capability, as well as a higher level of resilience to cyber threats, from jamming to capturing data transfer, taking them down or over by malicious actors. In this context, effective counter measures will have to be envisaged when planning and executing future CSDP operations. 

As the new Chairman of the EUMC, what are your main ambitions and priorities for the years to come? 

Today, we are facing many conflicts and crises directly or indirectly connected to Europe’s security. Threats like terrorism, violent extremism, migration or the need to provide sustainable development and cyber security can only be addressed by an integrated approach from all actors and EU institutions. The EU Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy (EUGS) provides the guiding principles for the way ahead.

We have already made real and visible progress in the field of security and defence. Today, the EU has a set of security and defence tools and initiatives at its disposal. The EUMC, ‘custodian’ of military expertise, is determined to maintain the momentum, to preserve what has been achieved and to move forward in accordance with political guidance. 

Let me give you some good examples. 

One very prominent upcoming project is the revision of the Military Planning and Conduct Capability (MPCC) in order to further develop the EU’s Command and Control capability to achieve a more coherent, uniform and effective operational planning and conduct, as part of the EU’s integrated approach. 

To further enhance the effectiveness of EU missions and operations is another strategic goal. As an example, the three EU-led training missions deployed in Africa are aimed at laying the foundations for a sustainable, locally-controlled security and stability – a prerequisite for development. By doing this, they expand the security environment and provide a ‘forward and proactive’ defence, thousands of kilometres from European borders. In post-conflict reconstruction scenarios, CSDP EU missions and operations play an important role, and the military capabilities are particularly effective in supporting the stabilisation process. 

The EU has been taking several important actions to better deliver on its operational commitment by implementing more comprehensive tools both in the cooperative and financial areas. Firstly, the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) and the idea of establishing a comprehensive funding mechanism through the European Peace Facility (EPF). Also, military/civilian cooperation is another area of high interest, where I hope to achieve relevant improvements.

The EU-NATO partnership should continue, on various fronts, in a complementary and inclusive way. The EU and NATO have already agreed on a set of common actions, and this is also the case on key topics such as military mobility, counter-terrorism and ‘Women, Peace and Security’. In the field, the spirit of genuine cooperation is already in place as seen in Kosovo between EULEX and KFOR, or in the Mediterranean Sea where EUNAVFORMED Operation Sophia works closely with NATO’s Operation Sea Guardian. It is my priority to continue in this direction, with increasing determination. 

The solid EU Defence and Security package we have put in place together is active and moving forward in an ambitious and pragmatic way. As we continue on this journey, the EUMC and its Chairman are comitted to enhancing the defence aspect of the Global Strategy and ensuring the EU is able to cope with the new security challenges. According to the tasking we get from our political leadership, we will continue to provide our best advice and recommendations, based on our unique military expertise.

General Claudio Graziano

General Claudio Graziano took office as EUMC Chairman on 6 November 2018. He previously served as Italian Chief of Defence (since Feb. 2015) and Chief of Staff of the Italian Army (2011-2015). Other positions previously held by General Graziano include Chief of Cabinet of the Italian MoD (2010-2011) and UNIFIL Head of Mission/Force Commander (2007-2010).

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