US soldiers from the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division draw equipment from the European activity set at Grafenwohr, Germany (US Army)

BELFAST — The European Defence Fund (EDF) is set to invest €1.03 billion ($1.3 billion) on a collection of over 50 multinational research and development military projects, including future main battle tanks, new airlifter capabilities, corvettes, counter unmanned aerial systems (C-UAS) and laser-based directed energy weapons.

The new funding, announced on Thursday by the European Commission (EC), of 54 programs is based on results from a 2023 call for proposals and takes overall European Union (EU) spending on defense research and development initiatives to over €3 billion ($3.25 billion), since May 2021.

“The selected projects will support technological excellence across a wide range of defence capabilities in critical areas, including cyber defence, ground, air and naval combat, protection of space-based assets or Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) defence,” noted the EC statement.

It also said that the 54 proposals had been picked from a total of 236 received.

In the air domain, a total of just less than €20 million ($21.7 million) has been allocated over 18 months to the European System for Outsized Cargo Airlift (ESOCA) line of effort [PDF]. The project has been established to explore “short- and long-term options” for new strategic airlift capabilities. Germany’s Airbus leads the project, with others from industry including French engine-maker Safran and Italian aircraft manufacturer Leonardo.

Two “flagship” ground-based projects, the Main ARmoured Tank of Europe (MARTE) and Technologies for existing and Future MBTs (FMBTech), will together involve “more than 70 industrial players and research organisations to work on the design and systems” of a new European main battle tank, noted the EC.

A project profile factsheet [PDF] added that MARTE “aims to offer superior protection, detection, and firepower capabilities, while enhancing the platform cost-effectiveness and lifecycle efficiency compared to existing MBT solutions.”

The project is set to last two years, based on maximum EU funding valued at almost €20 million ($21.7 million).

Germany’s MARTE ARGE GbR is listed as the industrial lead of the initiative, in collaboration with a number of partners including Italian firm Aisent, Sweden’s BAE Systems Bofors, FN Herstal of Belgium and Spain’s Indra.

Bidding to bolster air and missile defense capabilities, the European C-UAS project [PDF] will look to examine and develop a series of technologies to defeat drones, mainly focusing on passive and active sensors, alongside soft and hard kill effectors. EU funding worth up to €43 million ($47 million) will support industry activities, led by Leonardo, for a 42-month period.

Out at sea, the second phase of the European Patrol Corvette program — European Patrol Corvette 2 (EPC2) – will deliver, over four years, two prototype ships, in line with a pair of designs already selected [PDF]. A Full Combat Multipurpose and a Long Range Multipurpose prototype will be constructed.

“The project will leverage the integration of innovative solutions, technologies and systems to enhance the efficiency and the capabilities of the vessel at sea (2 prototypes to be tested in harbour) and on the development of a land-based test facility in order to de-risk and qualify systems and technological bricks,” according to a program profile.

EU funding for the project has a ceiling of €155 million ($196 million) and it is led by Naviris, a joint venture between France’s Naval Group and Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri.

Development of more novel weapon systems includes the second phase launch of the Tactical Advanced Laser Optical Systems (TALOS) project (TALOS-TWO), designed to support a long term target of developing 100 kilowatt-class laser weapons by 2030.

“The project will develop two high-power 1μm [micrometer] combined source demonstrators, simulate combining methods using 2μm laser sources, establish a European supply chain for 1μm and 2μm laser sources, develop mature technologies for fully European 2μm laser sources, pioneer dynamic 3D visualisation of danger zones, investigate high-energy laser effects on targets, and provide a roadmap for future developments,” noted a program document [PDF].

Managed by France’s CILAS, a total of €25 million ($32 million) has been earmarked for the project, over three years.

The EC said that next steps will cover “grant agreement preparation” with consortia involved in the chosen proposals, expected to result in each grant being signed before the end of 2024. All projects are to begin thereafter.

The results of the call for proposals comes months after the EC launched its first Defence Industrial Strategy, promising to make Europe’s industrial base more competitive, “tap its full potential” and deliver a level of manufacturing readiness capable of withstanding Russian aggression.