International aeronautics innovation
The aeronautical field is possibly the most structured technology area in Europe with a large number of organisations involved, supporting their respective members’ interests. From one perspective, this is very positive, as there are good opportunities to jointly support the European Commission as a basis for future calls, and to avoid duplication of effort and to find international partners for joint research applications. On the other hand, the area is so mature that it is difficult for new smaller stakeholders to be involved in ongoing or new programmes.
For the past two decades, civil aeronautics research and technology development (RTD) in Europe has been increasingly focused around the research performed within the European Framework Programmes jointly financed via EC. This has given a strong momentum to European collaboration and excellence in civil aeronautics RTD.
The Vision 2020 document from 2001 and the follow on strategic research agendas (2002 and 2004) have been the foundation stones to direct and focus European RTD and collaboration for civil aeronautics. Furthermore, in the past years, national agendas and platforms aligned to the ACARE SRA have been developed in several member states, and European aeronautics has made great progress in working together to reach the common goals.
A new vision, Flightpath 2050 – Europe’s Vision for Aviation, was presented at Aerodays 2011 in Madrid. During 2012 the follow up new Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda (SRIA) was published. The European Framework Programme Horizon 2020 for the period 2014-2020 has been launched.
The European military aircraft industrial base has been and is very strong, and several air power systems are being taken into service as well as being upgraded. Many of the technologies developed for these programmes have also been the basis for the successful commercial aircraft industry and other industrial sectors.
Through various European collaboration projects and studies European countries have been paving the way for the next generation of future air systems (manned and unmanned). But the sector is fragmented and the situation can be described as that five major European aerospace companies are currently engaged in three competing combat aircraft programmes and the same will be true for drones if no European strategy is put in place.
It can be noted that there are a number of 5th generation fighter programmes underway in different parts of the world (US: F22, F35/JSF; Russia: T50 PAK-FA; China: J-20, J-31), while in Europe a joint planning for the next generation is lacking. This and new operational requirements imply new challenges for defence related aeronautical RTD in Europe.
The declining defence budgets and a change in military priorities mean that it is no longer economically viable to retain a redundant development capability in Europe. This necessitates a harmonised approach between governments, their agencies, industry and research institutions, to enable European governments to have access to affordable European air power solutions, meeting future defence and security demands.
Over the past decades a number of initiatives for enhanced collaboration have been taken on the government side like the six-nation initiative of 1998, the European Technology Acquisition Programme (ETAP) and the European Defence Agency (EDA).
Six-nation initiative (LOI)
A first example on the governmental side was the six-nation initiative of 1998 between France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom with a Letter of Intent (LOI) aiming at “establishing a co-operative framework to facilitate the restructuring of European defence industry”. It should be noted that this initiative was between nations with strong capabilities in military aeronautics, which implies a joint potential to take initiatives regarding military aeronautics.
European Technology Acquisition Programme (ETAP)
A resulting initiative out of the LOI-agreement was the European Technology Acquisition Programme (ETAP) established as an initiative to support the cooperative development of future combat air systems (FCAS). Encompassing both technology development programmes and technology demonstration vehicles, the agreement started in November 2001 when the ministers of defence of the six nations signed a memorandum of understanding underlining the importance of preparing for future fighter systems.
European Defence Agency (EDA)
The European Defence Agency (EDA) was established under a joint action of the council of ministers on 12 July 2004, to support the member states and the council in their effort to improve European defence capabilities in the field of crisis management and to sustain the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP). EDA is composed of 27 participating member states (all EU member states except Denmark).