STUTTGART, Germany — The European Union revealed last week the awardees of its first batch of European Defence Fund-supported projects, reflecting a cumulative €1.2 billion (U.S. $1.23 billion) going to 61 defense research and development projects.

For its initial EDF cycle, the European Commission received more than 140 proposals. Applicants were required to be consortia consisting of at least three firms from at least three EU member states or Norway. Nearly 700 companies from 26 member nations and Norway are represented in the selected projects, according to the commission.

The vast majority of projects selected relate to air combat, ground combat and naval combat capabilities — representing nearly €190 million, €158 million and €104 million in funding, respectively. Air and missile defense efforts will receive €100 million, while space, cyber, sensors, information superiority, and other such emerging and disruptive technologies should see about €227 million in cumulative funding.

The EDF is also supporting efforts related to medical responses; chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear responses; energy and environment; materials and components; force protection and mobility; and “non-thematic calls” for future defense solutions. France, Germany, Spain and Italy are all sizably represented, each with more than 100 national industry partners participating. About 70% of the funds are going toward capability development programs, and 30% toward research efforts.

Observers welcomed the considerable investment in this inaugural EDF round of awards. However, the large number of funded projects could potentially mean smaller and scattered investments, said Nicholas Nelson, a senior fellow with the Transatlantic Defense and Security program at the Center for European Policy Analysis.

“These investments need to be fewer in number, but greater in size,” he told Defense News. What’s more, while 43% of the awards went to small and medium enterprises, only 18% of the total dollar amount went to such companies.

“Europe significantly lags the U.S., China and even the U.K. in venture-backed defense and dual-use tech startups and [small and medium enterprises], and needs to put larger, concentrated bets into these companies if they want to close the gap, rather than favoring national champions,” Nelson said.

That approach would help accelerate company growth directly, while also incentivizing private capital to encourage technology development. It could also help attract new entrants into the European defense technology market, breed greater competition, and foster “greater research and development spending and strategic focus on the security and defense markets,” he added.

A number of these awarded projects build upon ongoing efforts funded by the EDF’s predecessor, the European Defence Industrial Development Program, or EDIDP.

A consortium that includes Finland’s Patria and France’s Arquus and Nexter will receive €95 million from the EDF to develop new land combat capabilities for Europe. Through the Future Highly Mobile Augmented Systems 2, or FAMOUS2, companies will work on new technologies and upgrades for the next-generation of European ground vehicles, including all-terrain vehicles, light armored vehicles, and the main battle tank in development by KNDS, a joint business made up of Krauss-Maffei Wegmann and Nexter Defense Systems.

FAMOUS2 builds upon the consortium’s ongoing work funded by the EDIDP. The total program value is estimated at €122.4 million. The EDF will fund a four-year phase that includes studies, design, prototyping and testing for “future modular ground vehicles and enabling technologies, including green technologies.” The consortium includes industry partners from 15 nations, including Finland, France, Austria, Germany, Spain, Greece, Belgium, Norway, Latvia and Denmark.

Another recipient of EDF support is the MBDA-led consortium developing a beyond-line-of-site missile capability. The Modular Architecture Solutions for EU States, or MARSEUS, program will receive €25 million from the EU out of an estimated total €27 million program cost over 36 months. It follows the multinational team’s efforts to demonstrate a beyond-line-of-site capability centered around MBDA’s Akeron missile family, under the EDIDP. The capability need was identified by the EU’s Permanent Structured Cooperation organization.

“The selection of MARSEUS is a second step in the technological and industrial implementation of this capability development project,” MBDA said in a release following the EDF award announcements. MBDA is jointly owned by Airbus, BAE Systems and Leonardo, and the project management team includes 22 partners and subcontractors from 11 EU countries.

The EU is moving quickly to launch the next round of funding. European Commission officials revealed a capability wish list for the EDF’s 2023 round of funding last month at the Eurosatory defense trade show outside Paris. That package is worth a cumulative €924 million, and desired capabilities include a semiautonomous naval vessel, multiple space-related assets, and a variety of ground, air combat and disruptive technologies.

The call for proposals from industry consortia opened June 21 and will run through Nov. 24.

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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