EU: Research agenda considers "nonlethal force by unmanned platforms" for civil and military use

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Research agenda considers "non-lethal force by unmanned platforms" for civil and military use
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The EU should prioritise research into the development of autonomous non-lethal weapons systems that can be used by both civilian and military agencies, according to a research agenda drawn up on the basis of input from EU institutions, Member States and "industry representatives".

Civil weaponry

According to the "civil-military research agenda for maritime security", which was compiled by the EU's Joint Research Centre at the end of last year, armaments may appear to be "a purely military topic" - but they are in fact something that "needs to be considered" by civilian institutions.

This is because to be "fully successful for both civil and military use," a "platform… should not exclude the option to host armed modules… systems used for guarding purposes in civil security may need to be capable to fend off attacks or disable intruders."

The agenda notes that "non-lethal weapons are the first choice for civil security," and that these come in many forms: "novel ones include e.g. high intensity sound, or the deployment of nets to counter flying drones or propeller-driven vehicles," while laser weapons, jamming and electromagnetic pulses could be used to "incapacitate systems instead of destroying them," particularly if those systems are unmanned.

See: Joint Research Centre: Civil-Military Research Agenda for Maritime Security (18 December 2017, pdf)

It should be noted that the term "non-lethal weapon" has long criticised by peace and anti-militarist groups, who have suggested that the term "less-lethal" would be preferable. This would make clear that there is the possibility, albeit reduced, for deaths to be inflicted by such technologies.

"Novel" solutions

High-intensity sound may not be as novel as the agenda suggests - as far back as 2009, police in Pittsburgh deployed them against protests around the G20 summit, and they have also reportedly been purchased by Canadian and Australian police forces prior to G20 events.

In Europe, the Dutch police have investigated (pdf) "the use of smells, bright lights or very loud noises to influence crowd behaviour," hoping "to exploit basic physical reactions to create 'less-lethal technologies' with a mass effect." The UK Home Office has also tested acoustic weapons.

Research agenda

The research agenda on maritime security was drafted by the EU's Joint Research Centre in response to the Commission's 2016 Maritime Security Strategy Action Plan, and is supposed to "created shared awareness between the civilian and military R&D communities, in order to enable better decisions and prevent unnecessary duplication of efforts." It is "not associated with any new or dedicated funding source."

A letter companying the agenda was sent by the 'Friends of the Presidency Group on EU Maritime Security Strategy' and was signed by high-level officials from the Commission, European External Action Service and the European Defence Agency (EDA).

It said that the agenda:

"is made available to Member States but also to maritime security stakeholders to provide guidance and encourage synergies on future planning of maritime security-related research activities. It also aims to inform available funding schemes or instruments on existing priorities in this area, be it national, cooperative (such as in the frame of EDA) or at EU level (namely under research Framework Programmes or other initiatives or, even, a possible future European Defence Research Programme)."

See: Letter: A Cross-Sectoral Agenda for Maritime Security Research (18 December 2017, pdf)

Aside from weapons (which come under the heading "multi-purpose platforms"), the topics of interest include maritime surveillance; interoperability; decision support systems; "port and sensitive area protection"; autonomous systems; and sensors.

Funding opportunities

There are a number of existing funds that are already being used to investigate technologies in these areas. For example, the security research programme under Horizon 2020 has a dedicated "border security" component concerned with both land and maritime borders.

It is likely that some form of the "civil-military research agenda" was used to provide ideas for the most recentsecurity research work programme (pdf), which covers the years 2018 to 2020.

It is seeking proposals on "integrated situational awareness" and "disruptive sensor technologies" (projects worth up to €7 million); as well as "underwater autonomous platforms", "new concepts for decision support and information systems" and "improved systems for the detection, identification and tracking of small boats" (up to €5 million).

Projects under the previous security research programme, funded by the Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Development (FP7, 2007-13), are also considered to fit into the "civil-military" maritime security mould - for example, PERSEUS and CLOSEYE, both multi-million euro efforts concerned with the integration of drones and other surveillance sensors into larger systems.

One of the topics in the EU's ongoing 'Preparatory Action on Defence Research' (PADR) concerns a "technological demonstrator for enhanced situational awareness in a naval environment" and is seeking proposals worth between €32 and €36 million that will develop "a more extensive integration and use of unmanned systems" and enhanced "data exploitation and sharing".

Member States are also making use of their own funds to implement projects related to the priorities of the civil-military research agenda, while the EDA has launched a number of initiatives, as highlighted in the European Commission's June 2017 report (pdf) on the implementation of the Maritime Security Strategy Action Plan.

Small change

However, the funds currently available look like small change compared to what is foreseen for the proposed European Defence Research Programme, which officials hope will raise a minimum of €3.5 billion per year from 2021 to 2027. The fund is yet to be officially agreed, although the PADR is laying the groundwork for it.

If the programme is approved, it may well offer the money and the means to investigate "measured, nonlethal, force by unmanned platforms", as sought by the research agenda.

The questions then raised will be how and where exactly such "platforms" would be deployed for maritime security, and how long it would be before further interest arises in using the technology outside of the maritime "domain".


Joint Research Centre: Civil-Military Research Agenda for Maritime Security (18 December 2017, pdf)

Letter: A Cross-Sectoral Agenda for Maritime Security Research (18 December 2017, pdf)

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