Unmanned and autonomous vehicles are the future for armed conflicts and multiple other fields. A good example of this is the THeMIS UGS from Milrem Robotics which is in use already in 11 countries around the world in both military and civilian roles.
Of course, there are other providers of similar systems and more are coming every year. There is a clear need to establish a common approach to build a system that will be genuinely durable, sustainable and provide the capabilities that our defence forces need. For this, Estonia and six other EU nations developed the integrated Modular Unmanned Ground Systems project – the iMUGS, which got funding from the European Commission at the end of 2020.
The iMUGS project
Estonian defence industry company Milrem Robotics as the industry consortium leader signed the grant agreement with the European Commission for 32,6 M euro to develop the European standard for the future UGS’s. Participating member states also have a vital role as the technical details have been agreed upon based on their requirements.
“iMUGS is an excellent example of the cooperation between the European nations: 7 member states agreed on the common requirements for the future technology, and they have a common understanding of how they would like to use this capability. The system developed during the iMUGS will undoubtedly enhance the capabilities of the European defence forces and will be usable also in other fields in the future.” Said Kuldar Väärsi, the CEO of Milrem Robotics.
The first phase
The work is fully ongoing on the industry side, and they are already conducting final preparations for the first demonstrations in Estonia on the 10th of June. But iMUGS doesn’t only provide a platform for cooperation for the companies involved, as it is also a part of the PESCO unmanned ground systems project. This opens the floor to an even wider audience and gives the possibility for sharing the information between the nations. This was started on the 15th of April by organizing the European UGS online seminar from Tallinn. It brought together government and defence industry representatives from 22 European countries.
The seminar was opened with a very high-level panel discussion between NATO, EU and EDA representatives, who introduced the political level goals for the unmanned systems integration. During the second part of the seminar, seven PESCO iUGS member states shared their experience and future plans with UGS’s. Lastly, the government representatives discussed separately the future possibilities for study groups and research needed, such as building the mutual system for testing unmanned systems.
This first meeting clearly showed that NATO, EC and EDA, in addition to the member states representatives, are willing to work tightly together with the defence industry to move towards the mutual goals.
“It is an especially important project as all the key agencies at the political level, and also the participating member states are working together in close coordination. We will see a huge leap forward soon in unmanned systems technologies, and the UGS market will grow in the upcoming 10-15 years to more than 1 billion euros. I believe that Estonia has taken a key role in this by leading the innovation.” Commented Martin Jõesaar.
Roles in the project
The Estonian Centre for Defence Investments represents the participating member states through the Project Office for iMUGS, led by Martin Jõesaar. On the industry side, the main responsibilities to coordinate the consortium’s work to deliver the results promised by the Grant Agreement lies in the hands of Milrem Robotics, led by CEO Kuldar Väärsi.