The role of innovation in the defense industry
The Armed Forces (AFP) of the 21st century are immersed in a revolution on the use of information and technology in military engagement, in which rapid access to information, advanced technology and joint force organization are being reconfigured for the effective employment of military power in the execution of collaborative military operations in multi-domain environments (land, naval, air, space, cyber and cognitive).
The Armed Forces need to have capabilities that allow them to achieve superiority in combat as a key factor for the success of their mission, for which it is increasingly urgent to have weapons systems and equipment that provide them with strategic autonomy, defined on the basis of operational sovereignty (ability to freely use military equipment and systems) and technological sovereignty (freedom to introduce changes in those systems and equipment).
As a result, innovation plays a crucial role in the defense industry. The need to remain at the forefront in terms of the technology required by the Armed Forces drives a constant search for improvements and advances. In Spain, this reality is no different, and the defense industry has become an engine of innovation, driving both the development of new technologies and their application in various fields.
The Coincidente program (Cooperation in Scientific Research and Development in Strategic Technologies) is a clear example of this innovative mentality. This project aims to take advantage of civilian technologies for their application in the military field, thus promoting a flow of knowledge and capabilities in both directions. The result is a synergy that benefits both sectors and, in the long term, can lead to significant advances for our society.
Innovation and collaboration: the perfect combination
An important aspect of innovation in the defense sector is collaboration between government, industry, universities and research centers. This collaboration has allowed the transfer of knowledge and technologies from the military to the civilian sphere, and vice versa, enabling the defense industry to access the latest advances in various fields, and facilitating the adaptation and application of these technologies in a military context.
Moreover, this collaboration can lead to breakthroughs that have applications beyond the military sphere. For example, technologies developed for surveillance, intelligence and reconnaissance may have applications in areas such as meteorology, critical infrastructure protection, border control, emergency management, agriculture or environmental protection. Likewise, developments in the field of cybersecurity can be applied to protect the critical infrastructure and information systems of companies and civilian organizations.
Another way to take advantage of the positive synergies that arise from collaboration is to participate in joint programs with our partners. It makes no sense to duplicate efforts, since specialization allows us to achieve better results, reduce risks and costs and, moreover, more quickly.
Specifically, Spain is present in various European programs:
- CDP(Capability Development Plan): Provides a reference for a coherent development of European defense capabilities for CARD, PESCO and EDF.
- CARD(Coordinated Annual Review on Defence): Provides an overview of existing defence capabilities and identifies areas for cooperation.
- EDAP(European Defence Action Plan): Operationalizes the EU’s Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy on Security and Defense.
- EDF(European Defence Fund): Deploys a set of collaborative defense programs in the EU (funds up to 90% up to the certification phase of a product and 100% if it is also a PESCO).
- PESCO(Permanent Structured Cooperation): Coordinates the objectives of the Member States in the field of security.
- EDIRPA(European Defence Industry Reinforcement Through Common Procurement Act): Provides funding for the procurement of urgent operational needs.
- EDIP(European Defence Investment Programme): Capability investment program, still to be defined.
The emerging technology revolution
One of the most disruptive forces in defense innovation is the emergence of emerging technologies. Drones, artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, quantum, photonics, nanotechnology and other technologies are changing the defense landscape. Spain is at the forefront of this revolution, with companies and research institutions dedicated to exploring the potential of these technologies.
AI, for example, is being explored to improve data processing capabilities, decision making and automation of complex tasks. Drones and robotics are revolutionizing surveillance, intelligence and reconnaissance operations, as well as logistics and support in the field of military operations. In the case of nanotechnology, this technology has the potential to change materials manufacturing and medicine.
Development of new materials and protection technologies
Advances in materials science and nanotechnology are also playing a crucial role in defense innovation. New materials are being developed that are lighter, stronger and, at the same time, more resistant to extreme conditions, improving the efficiency and effectiveness of military equipment and platforms. These materials are also driving the development of advanced protection technologies, including more effective body armor and protection systems for vehicles and aircraft.
Nanotechnology, in particular, offers great opportunities. With the ability to manipulate materials at the molecular level, nanotechnology can enable the creation of materials with unique properties, including bullet resistance, radiation protection and self-repair capability. These innovations could revolutionize combatant protection and weapon systems on the battlefield.
Photonics and quantum: two examples of innovation in the defense sector
The Strategic Compass, a guide for action drawn up by the European Union in the field of national security (approved on 21/3/2022), lists the defense technologies that will become more important in the coming years. In particular, two are mentioned that stand out for their innovative aspect: photonics and quantum.
For their development, the EU provides structured programs that guarantee their financing. For further optimization, these programs rely on collaboration to bring these technologies to concrete applications. Spanish industry plays a major role in several of these programs.
Photonics is a technology that will transform a very important part of the applications that are currently being developed using electronics-based technology. In short, it is a technological revolution that has a direct impact on the main security and defense systems, affecting a wide range of environments and significantly improving performance in terms of both efficiency and effectiveness. These environments include:
- Sensors: Radar, Idar, IR.
- Photonic computing. It affects integrated circuits and will give rise, among other applications, to the quantum computer or new embedded systems.
- Electronic warfare, sensors, laser weapons, gyroscopes without moving parts and others.
- On-board systems with lower weight, lower power consumption and simpler architectures.
- Optical communication of information by means of lasers or fiber.
Just as information transmission took a leap from cable to fiber optics, we must now use the same analogy in its processing, which is decisive in the field of national defense and security, specifically in communications intelligence and electronic warfare.
For its part, quantum technology ensures the security of communications that may be compromised with the emergence of the quantum computer. This security, although necessary in defense communications, must also be guaranteed in the civilian sphere. Another example of feedback of how advances in the military industry eventually trickle down to society as a whole.
Boosting the economy and society
The impact of defense innovation is not limited to the military sector. Many of the technologies developed in the defense sector have applications in other sectors of the economy and society. For example, communication and data processing technologies have found uses in a variety of industries, including telecommunications, banking and healthcare. Similarly, surveillance, intelligence and reconnaissance technologies can be used to improve safety and efficiency in areas such as agriculture, disaster management and environmental protection.
In addition, investment in defense research and development can boost the overall economy, creating highly skilled jobs, fostering human capital formation and promoting the creation of new high value-added companies and the expansion of existing ones. In this sense, the defense industry can be seen not only as a crucial sector for national security, forming one more operational capability of the Armed Forces, but also as an engine of economic growth and social progress.
To put this positive impact into context with figures, the Defense, Security, Aeronautics and Space industries represent 1.4% of Spain’s GDP and its companies will invest almost 1.2 billion euros in R&D&I in 2021, 13% of the total investment in Spain.
A bright and challenging future for Spanish defense
Looking ahead, the Spanish defense industry has both challenges and opportunities. Rapidly evolving technology and the changing global security landscape require constant adaptation and evolution. However, these same trends also open up new opportunities for innovation and growth.
For our commitment to defense to be fruitful, we must balance our budget spending, which is heavily focused on personnel and with little focus on investment. This situation has begun to change with the commitment of Spain and other NATO countries to increase defense spending to 2% of their GDP. In any case, it is appropriate to look at the countries around us to see how we can better reorganize our spending.
By dedicating more resources to investment, we will be able to undertake more complex technological developments, betting, as we said before, on an open innovation model based on collaboration between the military and civilian fields.
Although in recent years the social perception of defense spending has changed, we must continue to work to ensure that society understands the benefits of this industry for a country, at the operational (freedom of action), technological (ability to develop and produce all or part of weapons systems and military equipment domestically), strategic (increasing national sovereignty by contributing to European strategic autonomy) and economic (generation of high added value and dual use) levels.
Salvador Álvarez, Director of Strategy at Grupo Oesía