The EU action plan on linking space and defence is a step forward. But much more needs to be done if Europe is to develop the next generation of critical defence capabilities, writes Simon Hoey.
Simon Hoey is the business development manager for Intelsat.
With the global technology race accelerating, the European Commission’s Action Plan on Synergies between civil, defence and space industries to drive innovation was a welcomed announcement, as fostering new and existing synergies between defence and space industries and enhancing cross-fertilisation in EU programmes will be essential for Europe’s future.
However, the fragmentation of the defence industry puts into question Europe’s ability to build the next generation of critical defence capabilities and the EU’s future industrial and digital leadership will rely on a well-developed and competitive space industry.
Stimulating the EU space and defence market
While the Commission has recognised the importance of the interplay between space and defence with the creation of the DG for Defence Industry and Space (DEFIS), more needs to be done to identify and create the synergies that will stimulate the space and defence market. Some already exist such as satellites delivering both civil and defence applications.
Central to boosting the market will be the R&D landscape. While diverse and well-funded, and combined to a lower TRL (technology readiness level) investment approach, the EU’s R&D approach does not readily translate into a wider system-of-systems implementation nor recognises that most real-world implementations are iterative and continuous, not programmatic or stand-alone.
If we look at the space industry, “space” to satellite operators is the environment, with a global technology ecosystem, to build systems of systems. The overall understanding of the ecosystem leads to continuous innovation in hardware, user applications, network and business models.
While satellite operators co-exist in a global licensing and regulatory framework, they can move assets in orbit if needed, contract with one another and participate in NATO NIAG programmes, EU and EDA RFIs. This flexible and integrated dual-use technology-based approach enables to respond optimally to civilian and defence customers’ needs.
Another strategic EU priority is supporting start-ups and SMEs in the space and defence industry, including upskilling. Satellite operators compete, but also collaborate to deliver assured resilient services.
The focus of operators is generally not specifically on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) or low TRL engineering, but rather on strategic investments in companies to enable key solutions to be developed.
Such partnerships with industry would boost European capabilities and enable projects such as 5G and pan-EU data spaces, stimulating the entire European space and defence market.
The European Commission Roadmap rightly recognises that “money is not enough” and that specific challenges faced by the defence and space industries need to be overcome, including long development cycles, restricted markets depending strongly on governmental customers and fragmentation of markets along national lines, among other considerations.
I would offer the following recommendations to address these issues:
Future of connectivity and satellites
Innovative technological developments, such as secure and ubiquitous 5G, connected cars, connected cities, AI and IoT will greatly rely on satellite connectivity. Satellite communications will increasingly be characterised by key trends such as lower cost, easier launch, higher throughput and better antennas.
EU projects should take greater advantage of available satellite services, and policymakers should partner with industry to ensure the required availability and diversity of connectivity solutions.
A strong and innovative European space industry with autonomous, reliable and cost-effective access to space cannot be built by relying on a limited set of assets and should therefore make full use of available competitive and diversified solutions. Security standards and a sound system for accrediting suppliers will be key in building the European space market.
The EU must ensure that projects such as GOVSATCOM continue to allow the participation of existing providers to European governments to prevent distortion to competition in the internal market.
Policymakers should review public procurement rules to ensure they require the highest possible security standards and take a more flexible approach on what constitutes “supporting European R&D”, with criteria to include both where the work takes place and/or where value is generated for that project or service.
To access EU funding requires a commitment to find and track initiatives happening across multiple different agencies, portals and websites, which can present a logistical challenge to an organisation whose primary mode of operation is not based on public funding, but around an existing business plan.
To maintain and optimise access to a diverse international market, simplification of alerts and tracking of initiatives would increase engagement.
Framework contracts for space should also be used more systematically, rather than depending too much on per-project funding, as this helps to make the qualification stages quicker and more straightforward.