by Johann Fischer, Head of Unit Land & Logistic, and Friedrich Aflenzer, Project Officer for CBRN Defence, European Defence Agency, Brussels
The early detection and reconnaissance of chemical, nuclear and biological incidents will be crucial for soldiers’ safety in future warfare. As part of efforts to increase the safety of its armed forces and the wider population, the European Union (EU) is developing a sensor network that can produce a recognised picture of a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) threat over a specific area.
One of the first steps has been to set up a project called the Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear Surveillance as a Service (CBRN SaaS, see graphic below). In late 2018, Austria, Croatia, France, Hungary and Slovenia started a collaborative project under the EU’s flagship defence framework of Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO).
Establishing a sensor network
The objective of the project is to establish a sensor network linking Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), or drones, and Unmanned Ground Systems (UGS) such as vehicles without an on-board human presence. Once developed, the system will be interoperable with older surveillance technology to provide a recognised CBRN picture that should heighten the operational information shared across commands – such as troop positions and the status of threats – used for EU missions and operations.
Led by the European Defence Agency (EDA), the hub for European defence expertise, the project aims to reach initial operating capacity in 2024 and to become fully operational by the end of 2025. Meanwhile, a related project, the similarly named Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear Surveillance Reconnaissance Surveillance System (CBRN RSS), is set to enhance the development of an eventual prototype.
Funding supported through EDIDP
Those involved in the EDA-led CBRN SaaS felt that involving funding from the EU’s industrial scheme to support innovation in Europe’s defence industry, the European Defence Industrial Development Programme (EDIDP), could bring additional funding. The Austrian Institute of Technology made its proposal for EDIDP support, based on ongoing work through the original PESCO project and the ensuing EDA project. To meet all additional capability requirements such as stand-off detection, biological detection/identification and drone sampling, the consortium has expanded to include a Danish enterprise and two French companies.
While the EDA-led and the EDIDP-funded projects remain separate, only one so-called “technological demonstrator” for a recognised picture will be assembled. But it must comply with both the CBRN SaaS and CBRN RSS high-level capability requirements. For Austria, Croatia, Hungary and Slovenia, it means that they should receive a more sophisticated end-product than might have originally come out of the process.
After the design phase, CBRN RSS is set to develop a prototype. Then comes the testing phase from late 2023. Possible procurement may then come from 2025 onwards.
Given that the CBRN RSS project proposal was accepted by the EDIDP with approximately €6.7million in additional funding, the grant agreement between the European Commission and AIT was signed on 1st December 2021. That allows both the EDIDP project and the EDA-led Category B project to end around the same time in mid-2024.