Qioptiq logo Raytheon

Making the European Union Defence Fund Work in a Hybrid World

On the 4th of April 1949 NATO came into being and for the first time in the history of Europe a multinational body capable of wielding significant effective military power existed. Over the following decades NATO developed rapidly, coalescing into one of the largest military alliances the world has ever seen. Whilst NATO was not exclusively focused on European defence, it became central to defence of western European nations, providing a bulwark against the threat posed by the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact Allies.

However, the past two decades have seen the development of a second major multinational military organisation on the continent – the European Union. With continued emphasis on developing a common defence capacity in revisions to the Treaty of Europe and with the establishment of the European Defence Agency in 2004 it is abundantly clear that nurturing the military capabilities of the EU is a key goal for the European Commission. This goal is also shared, and the prosecution of it promoted, amongst certain member states, with the governments of Germany, France, Belgium and Italy all vocal in their support for the development of the defensive capabilities of the EU in recent years. Now, with the establishment of the €5.6 billion European Defence Fund and the wider European Defence Action Plan in 2016, the EU stands poised to make military integration amongst members a reality.

iGeoSIT-1 – For nearly 20 years, NATO’s iGeoSIT tool has allowed commanders and officers in the field to align operations and have access to the information they need

The aims of this fund have been made fairly clear by the European Commission. The fund itself will support investment in research and the joint development of defence equipment and technologies between EU member states. This investment is designed to stop the decrease in defence spending in Europe (12% over the last decade), and encourage member states to carry out collaborative research projects and to jointly develop military capabilities. The Commission also aims to make changes to the European Investment Bank (EIB) in order to give SMEs and start-ups better access to funding for defence projects. As Jean-Claude Juncker put it in his 2016 State of the Union address, these steps should “turbo boost research and innovation” within the European defence industry.

These steps are clearly essential if the European Union is to develop some degree of integrated defence capacity.  Through working in the European defence industry for two decades, we have noticed first-hand the industry’s current inability to instigate and integrate such collaborative initiatives.  Whilst Europe is (collectively) the world’s second largest military spender, behind the US, the vast majority of procurement is carried out on a national basis. This has led to a high, and very costly, degree of duplication amongst member states which, by the Commission’s own estimates, costs between €25 billion and €100 billion annually.

Yet, whilst the aims have been outlined, it remains largely unclear what kinds of collaborative projects will need to be undertaken to create a common European defence capability. It is possible, however, to gain an insight into what the future may hold by examining the European threat landscape and by looking at which areas of military technology NATO, as the other multinational defence organisation on the continent, has been developing.

Presently the European security environment is at its most unstable since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, with EU member states facing potential threats in Europe and farther afield. In particular, with the rise of Vladimir Putin, Russia is once again exerting its power and appears to be aiming to restore regions within its historical sphere of influence. To this end funding for the Russian military saw a 168% increase from 2000-2014[1] and has allowed significant investment into new technologies, replacement of older equipment and the development of much talked about cyber warfare capabilities. This has culminated in the successful deployment of cyber-physical hybrid warfare in Crimea and Donetsk. There is now no shortage of concern in Poland, Estonia, Latvia and the other countries of Eastern Europe and the Baltics. Once again troops are being deployed in Europe to provide the nations bordering Russia with some assurance of security, yet the nature of the threat has changed significantly. Rather than worrying about seeing thousands of Soviet tanks pouring through the Fulda Gap, European militaries are instead more preoccupied with hybrid war.

iGeoSIT-app-screen-2 – Officers in the field access iGeoSIT with a standard Web browser and simple hardware. The solution works well with limited bandwidth. iGeoSIT gives officers a better handle on the situation they face in battle. And they are able to make decisions more quickly.

Over the same period, international terrorism has emerged as a major threat to the security of Europe. Fuelled by disruption in the Middle East, organisations such as Daesh have been capable of fighting both conventional wars (particularly in Syria and Iraq) and in provoking attacks within European nations. Daesh, in particular, utilises some of the same principals of hybrid warfare, making frequent use of messaging apps to organise and communicate and using social media to spread propaganda and confusion. They have even demonstrated some cyber capabilities, although not to the same degree as major state actors.

These trends demonstrate that military forces must now be able to operate in battlespaces which will be hybrid, highly complex and involve actors whose identity and intentions may be unclear. Some action has already been taken to adapt to hybrid warfare, with the EU and NATO adopting a Joint Framework to encourage information sharing and to safeguard the systems used to share informing by building resilience against cyber-physical attacks. This focus on information sharing is likely to be central; as the RAND Corporation noted in a piece of recent research, countering hybrid will rely in part on the ability of the European military alliances to quickly share intelligence and coordinate. The research also suggests that this intelligence gathering will benefit from providing those nations at risk with increased access to sophisticated sensors, UAVs and other intelligence gathering capabilities.[2] The reason for this, RAND argues, is the weight hybrid warfare places on detecting hostile actions, attributing them to a state actor and responding quickly with a coordinated multinational response.

This creates an urgent need for the EU Defence Fund to focus on providing C4ISR systems capable ingesting a wide variety of intelligence from diverse sources, facilitating rapid analysis and allowing for this analysis to be shared amongst all relevant decision makers. This is a growing issue which we’ve come across through our own work with the NATO Communications and Information Agency (NATO) on C4ISR systems, where such capabilities would provide significant tactical and strategic advantages. Developing intelligence gathering systems such as sensors or UAVs is, as mentioned above, also crucial, but they cannot be effective if the information they gather cannot be quickly utilised. This creates a number of requirements for defence information systems.

First, as mentioned, they must be able to deal with information from diverse sources and deal with it quickly. Whether the source is a satellite, an unmanned vehicle, geolocated posts on social media or a sensor it must be accessible; if the source is a new one, the system must be able to adapt to it. Systems must also be able to handle streams of dynamic data, such as a video feed from unmanned vehicles.  This is something which traditional geospatial C4ISR systems in particular have struggled to do, generally because they rely on transforming data into a particular format before it can be placed on a map and analysed. This naturally takes time, and may even be impossible in the case of dynamic streams of data. High quality satellite imagery may be very useful, but if it takes hours or days to become available to the end user using an information system then it is of no real use. The natural solution to this is to move away from utilising databases, particularly for dynamic data, and instead connecting directly to data sources rather than carrying out time consuming transformations.

Second, if the EU wishes to have a multinational defence capacity that can react to the threats it could face, then information systems must be developed with interoperability in mind. Given that, as has been mentioned, the majority of defence procurement amongst EU member states is run on a purely national basis, EU militaries may possess very different C4ISR capabilities which in turn could make sharing achieving interoperability difficult. Essentially, systems cannot be siloed if they are to be effective, but instead must be built with sharing in mind. The key to achieving this is ensuring information and analysis systems are developed with open standards so that the systems and formats of different nations can effectively cooperate.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly in the long term, systems must be developed with the future in mind. This is something which applies to all defence systems, given the length of procurement cycles, but is particularly critical given the speed at which the current threat landscape develops. Take, for example, the speed at which state actors have acquired significant cyberwarfare capabilities, or the natural unpredictability of non-state actors like Daesh. We cannot always predict what future requirements may be, so technology must be developed with this in mind. This means that complete, off-the-shelf solutions are fundamentally unsuitable. Funding must instead be directed at projects which follow a component based design, which can be quickly altered and adjusted.

SAP – In a demo with SAP, Luciad demonstrates the ability to analyse trends and determine potential threats by visualising 20 years of newswire and diplomatic cable data.

NATO has carried out procurement with these requirements in mind for some time and has funded a number of C4ISR projects, some of which we have been involved with, which reflect this. The most relevant example for the European Union Defence Agency is perhaps NATO’s Joint Common Operational Picture (JCOP) system, developed by the NATO Communication and Information Agency (NCIA).  JCOP, used by ISAF in Afghanistan and by the NATO Response Force (NRF) during multiple exercises was developed to integrate and display information from a variety of separate C2 systems in order to produce a Common Operating Picture (COP). It was developed on a tight schedule by combining a number of existing systems including the Integrated Command and Control (ICC) and iGEOSit (interim Geospatial Intelligence tool), which was made possible due to those systems being component based and capable of using open standards. Rather than being developed as a massive fixed project which cannot adapt to changing circumstances, it was instead made with agility in mind. On top of this, its ability to draw in data from large numbers of different systems at speed means that it is also uniquely suited for multinational operations which involve many different systems.

It may not be enough for the systems themselves to be reactive, however. The architecture that enables it to function must also be reactive and flexible, able to deal with fast changing situations and requirements. This applies to wider military reactions to hybrid warfare. Take, for example, the development of the NATO Very High Readiness Joint Task Force in response to the 2014 annexation of Crimea. Combined with the establishment of the NATO Force Integration Units (NFIUs) it shows that NATO sees rapid deployment as being essential to the future of combined European defence. The EU has already followed the same principals with the development of the EU Battlegroups, so it is natural to assume that it will aim to develop military capabilities with these principals in mind. Similarly we can assume that funds will be invested in equipment which suits the role of a rapid reaction force. What this means in the context of C4ISR systems is that the entire architecture must be quickly deployable in the field without the need for dedicated system specialists. For example, a geospatial C4ISR system which requires a dedicated specialist to set up the data management system and process data needed by users in the field is fundamentally unsuited to the role of a rapid reaction force. If information systems rely on a small number of specialists then they will quickly hit an information roadblock which, in the current threat landscape, can jeopardise operations. Therefore, focusing on allowing users to manage data directly and ensuring that systems can be used without specialist training should be a priority.

It goes without saying that it remains to be seen which projects and of what type will receive funding from the EU and what will be prioritised by member states, EU bodies and the European Defence Industry. However, it cannot be doubted that funding must be carefully directed at projects which will enhance the common defence capacity of Europe, that they must be able to work in today’s threat environment and that they must maintain a strong degree of flexibility. In essence, if the EU wishes to pursue the dream of an integrated military capacity to support the security of its member states, then the defence technology which powers this capacity must be suited to the world in which we live.

Article author: Luciad is a key supplier of mission-critical C2 and C4ISR technology, most notably for NATO systems including ICC, ACCS, SEW, ALT-BMD and iGeoSIT.

[1] T Sandler & J George, ‘Military Expenditure Trends for 1960-2014 and What They Reveal’, Global Policy (7 March 2016)

[2] A Radin, ‘Hybrid Warfare in the Baltics: Threats and Potential Responses’, RAND Corporation (2017)

Back to article list