Estonia kicks off work on semi-autonomous vessel for European navies

WARSAW, Poland — The Estonian government and local shipbuilder Baltic Workboats have started working on a four-year project to develop a semi-autonomous vessel prototype for Europe’s naval forces.

Twenty-three companies and research institutions from 10 European Union member states will collaborate on what is one of the largest transnational development and innovation projects to be co-financed by the European Defence Fund.

This program, dubbed EUROGUARD, or EUROpean Goal based mUlti mission Autonomous naval Reference platform Development — is expected to cost about €95 million (U.S. $103 million), of which the EU will cover some €65 million (U.S. $71 million).

“Our joint interest is to advance shipbuilding technologies and develop a universal vessel platform that can be modularly adapted according to missions,” Ats Janno, the head of Estonia’s Centre for Defence Investments’ project management office, said in a statement.

Those involved plan to develop and test a physical prototype by the end of 2027, the center said.

The European Commission, which is the EU’s executive body, said in a statement the project furthers “more rapid response capabilities by well-coordinated EU naval vessel fleets with advanced platform and weapon systems.” The effort will also allow EU navies to explore the possibility of using midsize semi-autonomous vessels either independently or as part of a fleet, performing a range of operations in coastal areas, according to the commission.

The other countries involved are Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, Norway, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and Sweden.

Based in Nasva, on one of Estonia’s Baltic Sea islands, Baltic Workboats builds patrol vessels, pilot boats, search and rescue vessels, and other types of craft for both military and civilian clients.

Other industry participants with the project include the Dutch firm Damen; Italy’s Fincantieri; Norway’s Kongsberg Maritime; Italian company Leonardo; the French businesses Naval Group, Thales, and Safran Electronics and Defense; Spain’s Navantia; Poland’s Ośrodek Badawczo-Rozwojowy Centrum Techniki Morskiej; Denmark’s SH Defence; and Sweden’s SSPA Maritime Center, according to the European Commission.

Jaroslaw Adamowski is the Poland correspondent for Defense News.

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