Christophe Vivier

The evolution from prescriptive equipment towards a performance-based approach facilitates civil- military interoperability, writes Christophe Vivier, Head of the Single European Sky Unit at the European Defence Agency

Military aviation is a fast-paced sector, with cutting- edge technology and capabilities, sitting at the forefront of innovation in the air domain. As civil and military aircraft share the airspace, advance- ments in military aviation have the potential to impact the entire aviation sector, including the management of airspace and air traffic. Taking into account the European Union’s 2023 Capabilities Development Priorities approved by the 27 EU Ministers of Defence, here are some of the areas where innovation in military aviation, and broadly speaking the defence domain, is expected to have an impact on air traffic management (ATM).

New technologies such as hypersonic missiles, directed energy weapons and advanced targeting systems will dramatically enhance the capabilities of military aircraft. These advancements will require updates to air traffic management systems to ensure efficient civil-military coordination to manage the airspace more dynamically, safely and efficiently. Flight planning systems must be able to handle the increased complexity of airspace and the need for more precise routing. Interoperability for civil- military data and information exchange will have to be further improved to guarantee a reliable air situation picture, allowing us to detect, identify and classify any cooperative and non-cooperative civil or military air system and to intervene when needed. Underlying information and computer technology (ICT) and operational technology (OT) infra- structures for communication and data exchange protocols will need to be upgraded and updated to manage the increased data flow and use of modern technologies. Additionally, military command and control (C2) systems need to be adapted to this new operational environment. Interoperability and synergies will also contribute, limiting additional equipment requirements for military assets, enabling operating in a modernised ATM system. In this regard, the evolution from prescriptive equipment towards a performance-based approach facilitates civil-military interoperability.

The use of uncrewed air systems (UAS) will become increasingly prevalent in Europe, in military and civilian applications. UAS offer significant advantages in terms of manoeuvrability, endurance and reconnaissance capabilities. However, they also pose new challenges for air traffic management, as they cannot be easily detected, tracked or controlled in the same way as crewed aircraft. In addition, UAS open the door to new threats in the form of malicious usages in, for example, asymmetric and hybrid warfare, or in the case of threats to mass events or critical infrastructure. The difficult detectability of these novel UAS platforms poses a considerable security risk. Therefore, counter- UAS (C-UAS) for timely and accurate civil-military information exchange will become increasingly important. Integration of local C-UAS systems in the overarching air defence system is challenging, but paramount for the effective protection of the airspace. Although military and State aircraft ope- rations are excluded from the scope of the regulatory framework for the U-space, the implementation of U-space services and their integration into the ATM systems should take into account security and defence considerations. This could improve information sharing between civilian drone navi- gation service providers and military control and reporting centres and would subsequently contribute to the elaboration of a more complete Recognised Air Picture (RAP) in order to protect the airspace. The proliferation of new types of vehicles operating in the higher airspace and the foreseen increase of space launches in the next decade also entail numerous challenges for the protection and safe usage of the EU airspace as well as for the ATM system.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) will play an increasingly important role in Europe's military aviation sector. These technologies can be used to automate tasks such as mission plan- ning, threat assessment and damage assessment. They can also be used to develop more intelligent and autonomous air systems. For instance, the European Defence Agency (EDA) developed a Safe Autonomous Flight Termination (SAFETERM) system exploring the use of state-of-the-art artificial intelligence/ machine learning technologies to increase the level of safety of remotely piloted aircraft systems and UAS in specific emergency situations leading to a flight termination or an emergency recovery. However, the military systems will have to be inter- operable with civil air traffic control (ATC) systems which could also become more automated, with AI- powered systems making decisions about flight paths, trajectories and separation.

The use of new technologies, including emerging and disruptive technologies (EDTs) and the evolution towards satellite-based services bring a real added value in terms of performance, military mission effectiveness and achievement of environmental objectives. It allows the optimisation and rationalisation of communication, navigation and surveillance (CNS) systems to ensure efficiency and avoid unnecessary redundancies. However, it raises significant challenges for the protection of availability, integrity and confidentiality of mission critical information. Therefore, a resilient and robust data sharing network is essential, considering the relevant cyber security and cyber resilience requirements. Because of this and given that CNS systems play a vital role in security and defence, an EU-CNS evolution plan needs to take the key aspects of resilience and defence into consideration, including minimum operational networks (MON) to ensure the required level of performance, resilience and service continuity for State missions and international commitments. The new Action Plan on Military Mobility 2.0 calls for the expansion of military requirements to include the dual use of air traffic management communication, navigation and surveillance systems and infrastructures while simultaneously allowing for effective access to airspace and use of air navigation services.

The military, and therefore the European Defence Agency, are involved in environmental projects to reduce the military carbon footprint and further contribute to greener defence. Particularly in aviation, the military explores alternative energies, sustainable aviation fuels, advanced simulation in training and sustainable ground facilities, such as the net-zero carbon emissions facility in some airbases. In the environmental domain, we at EDA see that effective civil-military cooperation can foster the development of dual-use solutions to help meet environmental objectives. For instance, new propulsion systems, such as electric or hybrid- electric engines, will offer significant benefits in terms of range, efficiency, and reduced emissions. These advancements will help to make military aircraft more sustainable and less reliant on fossil fuels, but these advancements will also benefit civil aviation and will impact the way air traffic is managed.

Innovation is not only about technology. Innovation is about the successful exploitation of innovative ideas, whether they are of a cultural, organisational or technological nature, or are incremental improvements to keep us one step ahead. The European Defence Agency is very well suited to develop innovative solutions through military- military and civil-military cooperation aiming to create win-win conditions for ensuring civil flight efficiency and military mission effectiveness. The current context must encourage all civil and military stakeholders to think outside the box and to successfully implement and exploit all innovative ideas and technologies that will bring about a more efficient and sustainable aviation system while contributing to the capabilities needed by the air forces of our participating Member States.

During the EDA annual conference held in November 2023, European Council President Charles Michel highlighted that “we already have strategies for space and for maritime domains, but we can go further in the air domain”. Indeed, in contrast to the approach followed in other domains, the EU currently does not have an EU airspace strategy for security and defence in which both civilian and military strategic objectives are set and commonly agreed and that lays down the actions and mechanisms to ensure free, safe and secure European access to airspace.

Based on the challenges in relation to the develop- ment and the implementation of new technologies and considering the current geopolitical and secu- rity context, it could therefore be pertinent for the EU to consider developing its dedicated airspace strategy. In a shared continuous airspace, this would allow the EU to exploit civil-military synergies and coherence and to better connect existing activities and ambitions in maritime security, security and de- fence in space, military mobility, cyber, hybrid and resilience linked to the challenges in the air domain.

Focusing on the added value to Europe’s air traffic management system, such a strategy would facilitate the implementation of an integrated way of working between civilians and the military at EU level. It would facilitate the optimisation of the use of airspace, enhance coordination between civil and military authorities, including at EU level, foster the development of dual-use technologies and systems facilitated by appropriate EU structural funds, and ensure EU non-dependency regarding key aviation and ATM technologies.

The crucial importance of the air domain has been further reaffirmed by the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine. Addressing innovation in the aviation sector collaboratively would ensure a safe, efficient and secure European airspace for civilian and military operations, thus enhancing our ability to better anticipate threats, protect passengers and our citizens.

In the framework of its missions, the European Defence Agency stands ready and is perfectly suited to contribute to the development of this common approach.

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