PARIS — The European Commission is looking for companies to develop new technology worth nearly €1 billion starting in 2023, with a semi-autonomous naval vessel and space-based early warning capabilities topping the list of demands.

The Commission’s directorate-general for defense industry and space (DG DEFIS) last week released its call for proposals for the European Defence Fund’s 2022 work program. The package is worth a cumulative €924 million ($969 million), François Arbault, leader of defense industry efforts at the directorate, said during a June 14 briefing at the biennial Eurosatory trade conference outside of Paris.

According to his presentation, the Commission is looking for solutions in 33 topic areas as part of this year’s EDF round. Among some major planned investments, the office has earmarked €65 million ($68 million) to develop a semi-autonomous vessel and an equal amount to “naval collaborative surveillance.”

The Commission is looking to invest a cumulative €150 million ($156 million) in space-related assets, to include €90 million ($94 million) in a space-based early warning capability, €40 million ($42 million) in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities, and €20 million ($21 million) for research efforts related to a responsive space system. About €70 million ($73 million) is set aside for cyber capabilities, including an information warfare toolbox and improved resiliency systems.

In ground and airborne matters, the Commission has earmarked €50 million ($52 million) to develop “collaborative ground combat” solutions, and €40 million ($42 million) for airborne electronic warfare solutions. There are also opportunities on the research side to support undersea warfare solutions, sensor development, and disruptive technologies such as adaptive camouflage.

Consortia made up of eligible entities based in the European Union and Norway can begin submitting their bids on June 21, and the deadline for submissions is Nov. 24. More information on the envisioned capabilities can be found on the EDF website.

The Commission is looking not only for consortia made up of traditional defense players, but is interested in “massively” lowering the barrier of entry for non-traditional industry partners and startup companies to contribute to European defense efforts, Arbault added.

“That will hopefully also result in more joint procurement by the member states, and step by step, we’ll have a more streamlined industrial base, which is what we absolutely need to be on par with our major partners in the world,” he said.

The EDF team is “almost forcing” EU member states to get together and jointly define their capability needs to inform the annual core proposal form that will be shared with industry, he added. “It’s already quite a breakthrough to nudge member states into sitting at the same table to define jointly what it is that we see as our top priorities.”

The European Union has allocated €8 billion ($8.3 billion) to the EDF to spend between 2021 and 2027. Of that amount, €5.3 billion ($5.5 billion) is meant to support collaborative capability projects, and complement national contributions, while €2.7 billion ($2.8 billion) should be dedicated to defense research projects to address emerging and future challenges. The first round of EDF-funded proposal selections will be announced in July, and will comprise over €1.2 billion ($1.25 billion) of investment, per the Commission.

Only “collaborative projects” that involve at least three firms from at least three member states or Norway are eligible to receive EDF funding. Arbault noted that calls related to “disruptive technologies” can be answered by a smaller consortium – involving at least two eligible firms from at least two member states or Norway – and that there are some exceptions available to include third-party participation on a case-by-case basis.

The main objectives of the EDF are to support collaborative and cross-border European research and development projects, Arbault noted. “We want states to team up to define their needs, and industry to team up to actually answer those needs by developing jointly … the capabilities of tomorrow,” he said.

Vivienne Machi is a reporter based in Stuttgart, Germany, contributing to Defense News' European coverage. She previously reported for National Defense Magazine, Defense Daily, Via Satellite, Foreign Policy and the Dayton Daily News. She was named the Defence Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2020.

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