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EU seeks autonomous drones, "data fusion" and "enhanced command and control centres" for border control
The EU has made 24 million available for research into autonomous drones, "data fusion" and "enhanced command and control systems" in order to improve the surveillance of Europe's borders and "to support missions ranging from surveillance to detection of marine pollution incidents, and including early identification and tracking of illegal activities and illegal communication."
The need for air, land and sea drones that can adapt to "extreme and diverse weather and sea conditions, including in the Arctic region," is outlined in the latest work programme (pdf) of the European Security Research Programme (ESRP), the EU's 1.7 billion, six-year fund for developing new security technologies and products.
The budget - formally entitled 'Secure societies: Protecting freedom and security of Europe and its citizens' - finances projects that "foster secure European societies in a context of unprecedented transformations and growing global interdependencies and threats, while strengthening the European culture of freedom and justice".
The latest work programme sets out what will be funded in 2016 and 2017 and contains dozens of topics, including:
- the planning, management and surveillance systems to deal with natural or man-made disasters;
- new technologies for police forces, including the installation of sensor systems in water and energy networks to detect "substances threatening the security of the citizens"; and
- research into "digital security", including the "economics of cybersecurity" and cryptography.
Eyes on the borders
There is 24 million to be shared between three "border security" topics in 2016: "Data fusion for maritime security applications", "Autonomous surveillance," and "Enhanced command and control systems for the surveillance of borders in a 3D environment".
According to the work programme:
"Data fusion techniques, complementing the existing information systems and sensor platforms, should help focusing the geographical zones to be monitored through the deployment of surveillance capabilities."
The information to be "fused" will come from air, land and sea drones and a whole host of other systems: coastal radars; patrol boats and manned aircraft; satellites, "maritime information services", "3D cartography and bathymetry services"; "3D modelling of situational picture based on 3D computers graphics engines"; "augmented reality technologies" and "mobile devices and handsets such as tablets and smartphones."
This "should help focusing the geographical zones to be monitored through the deployment of surveillance capabilities." Meanwhile, the "enhanced command and control centres" will use "advanced 3D computer graphics technology to represent accurately the position of surveillance assets - including autonomous systems - and external objects in such complex environments."
There are numerous "expected impacts" listed for the topics, including:
- the further development of EUROSUR, the European Border Surveillance System and the section of the EU Maritime Security Strategy, dealing with maritime surveillance and information exchange;
- enhanced border surveillance system "in terms of information exchange, situational awareness and decision-making and reaction capabilities";
- "improved operational support to search-and-rescue activities"; and
- "new technologies for autonomous surveillance systems."
The projects are supposed to involve a wide range of institutions. "Data fusion" projects will need "at least 3 border guard authorities from 3 EU Member States or Associated Countries," as well as "participation from at least 3 different independent industry organizations established in 3 different EU Member States or Associated Countries."
The projects on autonomous drones and command and control centres, meanwhile, require: "Practitioners from various disciplines, including border guard authorities from at least 5 EU or Schengen Member States".
In an attempt to further enhance border surveillance systems, another 8 million will be made available in 2017 for projects that will:
"[C]ombine or improve surveillance technologies and techniques and arrays of sensors of different sorts capable to provide higher quality detection capabilities and imaging via the integration of different techniques, to achieve wide- and small-area through foliage detection, despite the canopy density, in a real operational context. They could build on airborne, satellite-based, and/or on ground based platforms."
This continues a theme that has cropped up in previous ESRP work programmes. The EU's border agency Frontex has also previously financed its own research into "solutions for under-foliage detection".
Same old story
The development of border control drones has been a key theme in security research projects since the EU set up the ESRP in 2004, at the behest of a 'Group of Personalities' made up of representatives from national defence ministries, EU institutions and some of Europe's largest military and IT corporations.
One recently-completed project, PERSEUS, received 27 million of its 42 million cost from the EU. The project's newsletter declared (pdf) that its work "represents a remarkable step forward" for maritime surveillance:
"Surveillance airplanes and drones of different sizes and coverages, coastal stations, mobile units, ad hoc communication networks, software applications implementing new operational functionalities such as task orders, collection plans, event dispatching and reports. a new concept of specialised autonomous underwater vehicles, information services - all these assets have, for the first time, operated together to achieve a new operational level in maritime surveillance."
- European Commission, Work Programme 2016-2017, Secure societies - Protecting freedom and security of Europe and its citizens, 13 October 2015
- Long-distance border controls to "check travellers data along his/her journey" and remotely detect "abnormal behaviour" (November 2015)
- Eurodrones, Inc (2014)
- New 77 billion research fund launches; 1.6 billion for security research (December 2013)
- Neoconopticon (2009, pdf)
- Arming Big Brother (2006, pdf)
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