August 23, Kusti Salm, Director General of the Estonian Centre for Defence Investments, signed an agreement with representatives from Belgium, Spain, Latvia, France, Germany and Finland for the development of Modular Unmanned Ground Systems (MUGS). The lead country for the project is Estonia, with Member States applying for funding from the European Defence Fund.
‘We reached an agreement on military operational requirements for unmanned ground vehicles. This is a result of one and half years and thousands of man-hours of negotiations. The ambition is no less than developing a F16 of unmanned ground systems,’ said Salm, according to whom 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,’ said Salm, adding that the development of such a system presents developers with ample technological challenges.
An unmanned ground vehicle, along with a command & control system, cyber defence solution and 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.
Participating countries are planning to use a total of EUR 30.6 million in funds from the European Defence Fund, to which the countries will add their co-funding. 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.’
The development project for Unmanned Ground Systems is one of the PESCO (EU Permanent Structured Cooperation) initiatives confirmed by EU Ministers of Defence in 2018. In order to bring the project to life, funding is being applied for from the European Defence Industrial Development Programme (EDIDP). In order 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.
‘An unmanned vehicle must be a reliable companion to a soldier on the battlefield, helping them to make decisions faster, reduce the load to be carried and a step change in increasing the endurance and protection of the troops,’ said Salm. He added that true innovation emerges from the autonomous control system and cooperation with sensors and other manned and unmanned platforms, such as UAVs, radars, and control points.
‘What makes the MUGS project a front-runner in the EDIDP competition is the commitment of seven Member States and unmatched industrial partnership across Europe,’ said Salm. ‘This is one of the most ambitious projects in the PESCO and EDIDP work programme, with the ministers of defence from participating countries and the defence industry having spent many years preparing it. We have the best partners in Europe to help us bring the project to life, in cooperation with whom we have created a very solid foundation for creating European standards in the area of unmanned ground vehicles,’ said Salm.