News from Europe

04 December 2015

Unmanned Maritime Systems Conference

The European Defence Agency together with EuroDefense Deutschland co-organised a conference entitled “Unmanned Maritime Systems – A Key Enabling Technology for the 21st Century Navy”, held at the Representation of Schleswig-Holstein in Berlin.

The conference featured participants from thirteen different nations and had ninety attendees. The conference consisted of three different panels which addressed the pertinent and topical questions in relation to the development and adoption of Unmanned Maritime Systems (UMS).

In his opening remarks, Rini Goos, the Deputy Chief Executive of the European Defence Agency (EDA), highlighted the role the EDA plays in the development of capabilities and that the EDA “is the place to go for Member States who are keen to develop defence capabilities through cooperation”.

Rear Admiral Kähler, the Chief of Staff at the German Naval Command, provided an opening keynote speech. His address set the tone for the conference, as it outlined the importance of UMS and the need for European cooperation, but, additionally, it contained a word of caution, in that we must not neglect the need for internal and external investments in a time of shrinking budgets. In the broader Unmanned Systems environment, he asserted that many of the technological developments are dual-use in nature, and there are many complimentary features between the civil and military sides. 

The conference panels proceeded to address three broad areas relating to UMS, namely the operational concerns on the adoption of UMS, the need for multinational cooperation in overcoming complexity and, finally, a focus on the challenges facing the wider adoption of UMS in terms of classification, safety and regulations. 

An interesting theme consistent throughout the conference related to the next steps on the use of UMS. It was emphasised that the current focus of UMS in the area of mine countermeasures is very much a first step and not the end point in itself. Navies must continue to innovate and accept new technologies and this often requires a cultural shift. As Dr Heiko Borchett outlined in his presentation, innovation requires a level of risk tolerance and acceptance, and that it is only by the wider adoption of UMS that we can ensure confidence and reliability in these systems and shift the debate from men vs machine, but rather focus on the men-machine and machine-machine collaborative aspects that will open the door on future uses. 

This lead into the second panel discussion, moderated by the EDA Project Officer for Naval Systems, Paul O’Brien. This panel focussed upon some of the areas addressed in the EDA Unmanned Maritime Systems programme, which consists of fifteen coordinated projects and has a monetary value of €56 million. The conference participants were informed of the ongoing efforts to develop technologies to meet the capability requirement for Maritime Mine Countermeasures. 

The Capability Armament and Technology Director, Peter Round, moderated the third panel, which focused on the challenges facing the wider adoption of the UMS. This had a particular focus on regulatory aspects and legal classifications. 

The conference concluded with a speech from the Cypriot Minister of Defence, Mr Christoforos who provided an overview of the security considerations in the Eastern Mediterranean. In particular, he outlined the importance of the recent discovery of natural resources in the area and stated that these could act as a catalyst for political solutions. He further asserted that UMS technologies and the civil-military dimension have an important role to play.