The EDA has successfully supported Member States in accessing European Structural Funds (ESF) for dual-use research and development technologies.
In February 2014 “Project Turtle” – a proposal from a consortium of Portuguese small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs), research institutes and universities to research ascent and descent energy-efficient technologies for robotic underwater vehicles – became the first of seven dual-use research initiatives supported by the EDA to access European Structural Funds (ESF).
ESF are financial instruments that provide for “the implementation of EU Cohesion Policy to reinforce economic and social cohesion within the EU”. The potential benefits for Europe’s defence industry is considerable from accessing this source of finance are considerable .The new programming period, 2014-2020, contains more than €379 billion in European Regional Development Funds (ERDF), one of the ESF funds under which research and innovation activities can be supported. According to Vassilis Tsiamis, who manages the ESF project within EDA nobody had, until recently, seriously considered the application of this type of funding for dual-use research and technology (R&T). “The real issue was to challenge the perception of eligibility,” he said. “It wasn’t just a question of ‘can do’ – but much more a question of can we do it, and what, precisely, is it that we can do?”
Increasingly dual nature of technology
The starting point has been recognition of the increasingly dual nature of technology and the significant potential that exists for synergies between civil and defence research. Energy, telecommunications, information technology, automotive and materials technologies, space, aeronautics and the chemicals industry provide examples of the potential benefits accruing to a wide variety of defence and civil applications. So why not use the facility afforded by ESF to recognise some of these benefits, the EDA asked?
A new EU innovation policy concept called the Research and Innovation Smart Specialisation Strategy (RIS3) has been developed to promote the more effective use of public investment in research at a regional EU level. Regional - and in a few cases national - authorities have been asked to identify the unique characteristics, assets and capabilities of their respective regions to focus policy support and investment channelled through ESF.
Supporting the regions
Including Croatia, there are some 273 identified EU regions, with almost 500 managing authorities directing the use of ESF. When the EDA put out a call for proposals for the use of ESF in development of dual-use technologies in 2013, it received 72 proposals from 12 Member States. Of these, the Agency decided to support seven as initial pilot cases. From Bulgaria came a proposal for the improvement of urban security and defence applications through use of advanced sensor systems, while from Poland an intruder-detection and collision avoidance system for aircraft has been proposed. A French consortium has offered a Europe-wide icing testing platform for aeronautics, while an industry proposal in the United Kingdom has put forward a project in Epitaxial Microwave technology – a critical capability for improving radar performance in both civil and military applications. From Spain came a proposal for the development of an underwater signature monitoring and analysis centre, while from Germany an adaptation of short wave infrared (SWIR) technology for high resolution hyper-spectral and imaging applications has been suggested. The seventh proposal, from Portugal, became the first of these pilot cases to reach a sufficiently mature level to win. It is important to recognise the fact these proposals have come from project holders in the various nations, and are not official ‘national’ project proposals.
Ensuring we have the expertise
“The first priority has been to acquire the expertise within the Agency and share it with the managers in the Ministries of Defence and then to arrange for in-depth knowledge transfer and capacity building with industry,” said Tsiamis. Four seminars have already been held – in Bulgaria, Ireland, Poland and Portugal – aimed at increasing awareness of the opportunity and the methodology of successfully applying for supportive funding. Engaging the community – both governmental and industrial – and building capacity within that community to be able to benefit from this innovative approach to stemming the decreasing investment in defence-related R&T has been a key priority for Tsiamis and his colleagues throughout the process.
Benefits for SMEs
“It’s important to recognise we are not creating process and we are not looking for more structural funds. What we are doing is helping defence actors to address these projects and to develop the application folders, ensuring the responsible authorities (in each region or nation) recognise the benefits SMEs can bring to the process and ensuring that the projects selected to move forward reflect the larger priorities of the EU,” said Tsiamis.
“The way forward is for more pilot projects and more seminars, offering pragmatic advice and support, not simply explaining theoretical policies. We are now training EDA project officers – approximately 15 of them – and are looking at possibilities in key EDA prioritised areas such as space, the cyber domain, maritime security, energy efficiency and remote piloted aerial systems (RPAS) - as examples of what we can do from a positive and concrete results perspective,” said Tsiamis.
“Industry follows the money, and we are convinced there are enough significant opportunities for industry to recognise that engaging in this programme will have tangible and measurable results on its R&T activities,” said Tsiamis. He said that one of the new actions the Agency will be following during 2014 is to assess the degree to which European Territorial Cooperation on dual-use technology projects can be part of cross-border programmes financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), to create an even larger pot of financial resources on which to draw.
EDA’s programme commitment to exploiting these opportunities currently has a three year timescale. “Looked at from all directions, we are in a win/win situation here – we’re supporting SMEs, we’re supporting regional research and technology development while simultaneously stimulating dual-use research, we’re supporting EU policy and most importantly, we’re conforming with the EU Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) key priorities, as adopted by December 2013 EU Council conclusions ,” said Tsiamis. The Agency’s role in this can be seen as one of being a facilitator, encouraging SMEs in particular to come forward with innovative proposals and providing assistance and support in the process of applying for funding that will see those proposals come to fruition. “The message is simple,” said Tsiamis. “We’re here to help – we can reduce hesitations – come talk to us!”