Earlier this week, Estonian Centre for Defence Investment (ECDI) Director General Kusti Salm signed an agreement with representatives from Belgium, Spain, Latvia, France, Germany and Finland for the development of Modular Unmanned Ground Systems (MUGS). Estonia will lead the project, for which member states will apply for funding from the European Defence Fund.
"We reached an agreement on military operational requirements for unmanned ground vehicles," Salm said in a statement released by the Ministry of Defence. "This is the result of one and a half years and thousands of man-hours of negotiations. The goal is no less than the development of the F-16 of unmanned ground systems."
According to Salm, the requirements for unmanned systems operating on the battlefield are much higher than for autonomous civilian vehicles traveling on the highway.
"Troop safety is among the priorities in developing unmanned vehicles," he explained, adding that the development of such a system presents developers with ample technological challenges.
Developed within the framework of the project will be an unmanned ground vehicle, a command and control system, a cyberdefense solution as well as an integrated network of sensors. The system's initial operational functions will be associated with improving situational awareness on the battlefield as well as raising the efficiency level of units' maneuvering and transportation capabilities.
The seven participating countries are to utilize a total of €30.6 million in funds from the European Defence Fund, to which countries' co-financing will be added. The first system prototype is expected to be revealed in 2021.
"In order to win soldiers' trust, the system has to be tested in different environmental conditions while carrying out combat missions," Salm said. "Bearing in mind the rapid development of technology, this will definitely not be the last project, and the plan is to continue developing the system within the framework of followup projects in the future."
The Unmanned Ground Systems development project is one of the EU Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) initiatives confirmed by EU defense ministers in 2018. In order to realize this project, funding will be sought from the European Defence Industrial Development Programme (EDIDP). In order for the project to be financed, however, the application must make its way through an assessment of project proposals by the European Commission's independent experts.
MUGS a competition front-runner, says Salm
"An unmanned vehicle must be a reliable companion to a soldier on the battlefield, helping them make decisions faster, reduce the load to be carried and a shift toward increasing the endurance and protection of troops," Salm explained.
True innovation, he added, will emerge in the autonomous control system and cooperation with sensors and other manned and unmanned platforms, such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), radar 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," the center director highlighted. "This is one of the most ambitious projects in the PESCO and EDIDP work program, with participating countries' defense ministers and the defense 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 foundation for creating European standards in the area of unmanned ground vehicles."
Editor: Aili Vahtla