Estonia to lead the development of the next generation unmanned ground system

Seven countries – Estonia, Belgium, Spain, Latvia, France, Germany and Finland signed an agreement for the development of modular unmanned ground systems; Estonia is to be the lead country for the project.

The director general of the Estonian Centre for Defence Investments, Kusti Salm, signed the agreement on 23 August.

“The ambition is no less than developing an F-16 of unmanned ground systems,” Salm said in a statement, adding that the requirements for unmanned systems operating on the battlefield are much higher than for civilian autonomous vehicles travelling on a highway.

“Troop safety is one of the priorities in developing unmanned vehicles,” he noted, adding that the development of such a system presents developers with ample technological challenges.

€30.6 million plus the participating countries’ co-funding

An unmanned ground vehicle, along with a command and control system, a cyber defence solution and an integrated network of sensors will be developed within the framework of the project. “The system’s initial operational functions are associated with improving situational awareness on the battlefield and raising the level of efficiency of the manoeuvring and transportation capabilities of units,” the Estonian Centre for Defence Investments said.

The participating countries are planning to use a total of €30.6 million from the European Defence Fund, to which the countries will add their co-funding, the centre added, promising that the first system prototype will be demonstrated in 2021.

“In order to win the trust of soldiers, the system must be tested in different environmental conditions while carrying out combat missions. Keeping in mind the rapid development of technology, this will definitely not be the last project, with the plan being to continue developing the system in the future within the framework of follow-up projects.”

One of the EU’s permanent cooperation initiatives

The development project for the unmanned ground systems is one of the European Union permanent structured cooperation initiatives confirmed by the EU ministers of defence in 2018.

“In order to bring the project to life, the funding is being applied for from the European Defence Industrial Development Programme,” the Estonian Centre for Defence Investments said. “For the project to be financed, the application must make its way through the assessment of project proposals by the EU Commission’s independent experts.”

The Estonian Centre for Defence Investments is a government agency, founded in 2017, that engages in managing defence-related investments and acquisitions, and also with managing the country’s defence-related real estate. The centre enables the Estonian Defence Forces to concentrate on its main purpose – the military defence.

Cover: Unmanned ground vehicle developed by the Estonian defence solutions provider, Milrem Robotics (the image is illustrative).