Europe faces increasing threats of its security and a dramatic change of the strategic global environment. This is accompanied by an essential deficit in investments in defense and security. Conflict has moved to the doorstep of the European Union and terrorism has become a present threat in all European countries. At the same time, Europe faces more and more cyber and hybrid threats that are difficult to tackle with conventional means. The European Commission and the member states set ambitious political goals in their Global Strategy for Foreign and Security Policy; they want to act as a security provider in the international environment and strive for strategic autonomy. To achieve these goals, a robust defense research and technology base is a condition sine qua non.
Over the last decade, a strong decline of defense research spending can be noted in Europe. Between 2006 and 2013, the member states of the European Defence Agency decreased their defense R&D budget by almost 30% on average. Investments in collaborative European defence R&D decreased even more. In reaction to the financial crisis, the member states pulled out of collaborative European defence R&D projects and cut back their own national spending. A bottom line is now reached, where it is time to realize that pooling resources in areas of strategic importance for Europe is crucial.
Europe will need to find a way to identify common and balanced defense research priorities, both on higher technology-readiness-levels (TRL) focusing on identified military capability needs as well as on lower TRLs focusing on emerging and potentially disruptive technologies impacting future military capabilities. Moreover, flexible modes of collaboration have to be found.
Highly sensitive defense research requires special framework conditions, confidentiality and higher funding rates than regular research projects. It also requires deviations from the general rules and the governance applied for instance in Horizon 2020. Results from defense research are not meant to be published open access. The defense research programme needs to be separate from the upcoming 9th framework programme for research and innovation: with its own rules, its own budget and full cost funding. New contracting rules are tested right now under the Preparatory Action on Defence Research and should provide a good basis for the future programme.
Fraunhofer supports the European Commission's plans to start small and to increase to a full programme by 2020. However, one has to be careful that the introduction of an EU-funded defence research programme does not lead to a cannibalization effect of the European research budget. The European Union and its member states need to see the importance of both – European defence research as well as collaborative research under the 9th framework programme for research and innovation – and will have to make additional funding available.
In conclusion, Fraunhofer encourages the European institutions to establish a separate EU-funded defense research programme; it should be complementary to national defence R&D activities and budgets to ensure the expected leverage effect of such a programme on strengthening the European technological and industrial defence base – including academia, research and technology organizations, small and medium-sized enterprises and industry. This will be essential to deal with the anticipated security challenges of the 21st century.