Knowledge, skills, capabilities
To achieve strategic autonomy, the EU must also be able to master cutting-edge technologies and their integration into defence products. That’s why it is so crucial that it acquires, maintains and develops the technological knowledge and industrial manufacturing skills required to produce the defence equipment it needs.
Those Key Strategic Activities have to be preserved and strengthened if we want to turn the goal of strategic autonomy into reality.
EDA, which is the EU hub for defence innovation and collaborative capability development, has been involved in this critical work since several years. At the Agency, we identify critical research areas and other key strategic activities underpinning the EU’s strategic autonomy. The aim is to identify, and then support, ‘must-have’ technologies and industrial abilities without which strategic autonomy isn’t possible.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is only one example of such critical disruptive technologies that are reshaping defence. Although Europe still has a leading edge in AI (behind the US but ahead of China), it must raise its game to remain relevant. EDA also does its bit: the Agency’s network of research experts explores potential AI applications in defence to help industry develop them into usable military capabilities.
Besides that, there is a plethora of new technologies and components which, if fully mastered by our researchers and manufacturers, can contribute to building Europe’s strategic autonomy.
Gallium Nitride, for example, has been identified as a crucial component for satellite communications and various defence applications, such as radars. Member States invested some €100 million over 10 years through EDA to develop a complete European supply chain, helping to keep related skills and business in Europe. System on chip (SoC) and field-programmable gate array (FPGA) technology is another example. As military operations get increasingly digitalised, Europe must have capacities based on technologies such as advanced signal, digital processing (data fusion, big data, deep learning) and encryption.
Here too, Member States started investing through EDA, €25 million, with more to come. In the satellite communication domain, EDA is helping governments develop a common, European solution to better protect governmental and commercial SATCOM systems, for instance against jamming. Another example is air-to-air refuelling (AAR), a strategic enabler for military operations. As the future of AAR lies with automation, EDA works on harmonising the operational requirements to guide industry and help governments make the right investments.
Defence cooperation is not an option but a necessity for strategic autonomy. It’s through concrete action in defence spending, planning and technologies - not political or academic rhetoric - that we can progress towards it. At the same time, we must of course ensure coherence and avoid any unnecessary duplication with NATO which continues to be the cornerstone of collective defence for its members. This is not in question.
EU strategic autonomy is not just around the corner, but not unattainable either. The closer we get to it and the more additional defence cooperation it triggers, the better. We will be more able to stand up to our defence commitments, including, as regards collective defence with our allies.