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New opportunities for innovative defence projects

European Defence Fund 2024

Launched in 2021, the European Defence Fund has now reached the fourth edition of its annual call for proposals, which will open for submission of project proposals on June 20th and will have its ultimate deadline on November 5th, 2024. This year €1.1 billion have been allocated to boost EU defence capabilities and new measures for defence innovation.

The programme was endowed with a total of €8 billion to be distributed in growing amounts throughout the 2021-2027 period via annual call for proposals aimed at financing both research and development oriented collaborative projects. European Defence Fund’s projects are expected to address emerging defence challenges and promote innovation throughout the entire value chain, from encompassing health, logistics, materials, sensors, and several other compartments of the defence sector. To this end, the European Defence Fund 2024 encourages both the realization of original innovations, and the cross-fertilisation with civilian sector, as to benefit from its agility and latest advancements in highly dynamic sectors such as digital technologies and energy solutions.

“The European Defence Fund is targeting collaborative projects, typically involving three eligible entities from at least three Member States or associated countries (i.e. Norway) strictly, with no control or ownership from third countries”, explains Javier Ordoñez, consultant in Zabala Innovation. Projects are divided between Research actions (RA) and Development actions (DA) and per each topic it is specified which type of activities are expected within the project (i.e. study, prototyping, design, development, testing, qualification), each of which has a different funding rate depending on the maturity stage and correspondent potential profitability for beneficiaries.

“In this configuration, research actions will always offer a 100% coverage of project costs, as they will deliver low maturity results, whereas for development actions the funding rate will be determined by the combination of activities included and their corresponding funding (ranging from 20% up to 100%)”, Ordoñez adds. For such projects, specific the funding rates can be increased leveraging on “bonuses” foreseen by the programme in case of involvement of SMEs or the relation to an existing PESCO project.

Margherita Volpe, Security, Space & Defence Knowledge Area Leader, underlines the role of Zabala Innovation in this field: “Levering on our relevant expertise in this domain, we can help our clients to navigate the opportunities available within the European Defence Fund 2024 and beyond, define project technical pillars, optimize financial benefits, identify key partners at European level and accompany you throughout the application process”.

European Defence Fund 2024 call for proposal: thematic topics

The European Defence Fund 2024 work programme foresees 32 topics, distributed between thematic calls for proposals and bottom-up open calls focused on disruptive technologies and SMEs. Additionally, it includes new measures to promote defence innovation, such as the organisation of defence hackathons, development of innovation test hubs and continuation of EU civil-funded research to assess their applicability for military end users.

The thematic areas covered by European Defence Fund 2024 call encompass:

  • Defence medical response, Chemical Biological, Radiological, Nuclear (CBRN): €25 Mln total allocation distributed between one Development topic, one Research topic.
  • Information superiority: €181 million total allocation distributed among three Development topics.
  • Sensors: €62 million total allocation distributed between three Research topics.
  • Cyber: €48 million total allocation distributed between one Development topic.
  • Space: €50 million total allocation distributed between one Development topic and two Research topics.
  • Digital transformation: €15 million total allocation for one Research topic.
  • Materials and components: €25 million total allocation distributed between one Research topic.
  • Energy and environment: €40 million total allocation devoted entirely to one Development topic.
  • Air combat: €150 million total allocation distributed between one Development topic and two Research topics.
  • Air & Missile defence: €78 million total allocation distributed between one Development topic.
  • Ground combat: €130 million total allocation distributed between three Development topic and one Research topic.
  • Force protection and mobility: €30 million total allocation distributed between one Research topic.
  • Naval combat: €45 million entirely allocated to one Development topic.
  • Underwater warfare: €54 million total allocation distributed between one Development topic and one Research topic.
  • Simulation and training: €25 million total allocation distributed between one Development topic and one Research topic.

In addition, approximately €33 million have been allocated to other transversal actions, to be realized via public procurement or other contractual formats, with a view on gathering external expertise, audits, and IT systems, providing business coaching for SMEs, realizing blending facility for equity funding for SMEs/Mid-Caps, provide support for national focal points and realization of a European Defence Fund hackaton event.

Open topics for SMEs and disruptive technologies

Beyond thematic topics, the European Defense Fund 2024 offers three interesting open topics, targeting disruptive technologies or aimed at promoting the participation of SMEs and research organizations, in order to wider participation and development of highly innovative solutions. During 2021 call, these topics, considered together, funded 28 projects (24 among SMEs projects and 4 under disruptive technologies), addressing a wide range of technologies such as nanoelectronics, imagery intelligence, addictive manufacturing and many more.

Under this year call for proposal, the following bottom-up opportunities are open for submission of your project:

EDF-2024-LS-RA-DIS-NT – Non-thematic research actions targeting disruptive technologies for defence: €4 million. Project to finance research actions addressing radically new technologies’ development through the collaboration of minimum 2 organizations; despites being open to any type of technologies, the topic suggest relevant ones such as blockchain, artificial intelligence and robotic automation, underwater communications, synthetic fuels from waste and biomass and green chemical recycling of equipment;

EDF-2024-LS-RA-SMERO-NT – Non-thematic research actions by SMEs and research organisations: €4 million. Project to finance research actions implemented exclusively by a consortium composed by SMEs and research organizations (whose budget must not exceed 40% of the total requested grant); proposals are welcomed from any area of interest for defence, but the same technological areas of EDF-2024-LS-RA-DIS-NT are mentioned as examples;

EDF-2024-LS-DA-SME-NT – Non-thematic development actions by SMEs: €6 million. Project to finance development actions implemented exclusively by SMEs, aimed at bringing technological results to market readiness, including by adapting civilian applications; as per the previous topics, also in this case some technological areas are mentioned but the topic is open to any area of potential interest for defence.

These topics could be of particular interest for newcomers and smaller consortia, offering wider opportunity to propose project ideas corresponding to different level of maturity and scope of actions. The European Commission provides a quick and practical overview of the opportunities offered by the programme.