The conference “Unmanned Systems Forum Smart Approach, Fast Development”, organized by New Strategy Center in partnership with the Ministry of National Defence, takes place between February 16-17. The debates focus on topics such as assessing security challenges in the Black Sea region and the potential for using unmanned systems in this area, in rescue operations or for border protection. Other topics addressed are the legislation necessary for the use of these systems, the involvement of civil and military research in the programs initiated by the Ministry of National Defense, and industrial cooperation.

The countries in the region are increasing their investments in unmanned systems, and Romania is considering a future acquisition and production of such useful capabilities for surveillance and reconnaissance missions, including in the exclusive economic zone of the Black Sea. Civil and military officials and experts from Romania, NATO, and other North Atlantic Alliance and EU countries, as well as representatives of companies with extensive experience in the field, will be present at this conference. The event is organized under Chatham House rules and functions in a mixed format, both with online participation and with a very limited in-person participation, which is in full compliance with Covid-19 protection measures applicable in Romania.

The conference “Unmanned Systems Forum Smart Approach, Fast Development” started with the introductory remarks delivered by Mrs. Simona Cojocaru, Secretary of State within the Ministry of National Defense and of MG (r) Leonardo Dinu, Member of the Scientific Council of New Strategy Center.

New technologies generate huge opportunities, as well as challenges. We experience cyber-attacks on critical infrastructure, and we witness misinformation campaigns that force us in a position to ensure that our societies are resilient to the challenges of tomorrow. For Romania, the modernization of the armed forces is focused on the acquisition and development of robust capabilities, including the acquisition of unmanned systems and the implementation of artificial intelligence. The national defense industry thus benefits from a wealth of opportunities, given that the authorities encourage the increase of the local production capacity. Resilience, artificial intelligence, and modern equipment are key elements in the race to maintain the strategic advancement.

In the first panel of the day an assessment of security challenges in the Black Sea region was made. The speakers were LTG Daniel Petrescu, Chief of Defense of Romania, Dr. Antonia Colibășanu, Geopolitical Futures Analyst, General (r) Sir James Everard, former Deputy Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, LTG (r) Ben Hodges, Pershing Chair of Strategic Studies, Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), former Commander of the US Armed Forces in Europe, and Dr. Harlan Ullman, Senior Advisor at Atlantic Council.

In order to find solutions to the challenges we face in the region, we need to recognize and understand regional dynamics and adapt our doctrine and capabilities to these challenges. Global and regional actors are engaged in this space with similar or divergent objectives, aiming at consolidating strategic depths. Russia seeks to strengthen its military capabilities in Crimea – the peninsula being used to project power not only in the region but also in the Eastern Mediterranean – as well as increasing the Black Sea Fleet forces and the Southern Military District.

All NATO allies must learn from the experiences of the Black Sea region, not only through daily interactions with Russia in this space, but also through the conflicts in Nagorno Karabakh and Donbas, which have demonstrated the usefulness of unmanned systems and provide great insight into future confrontations. Unmanned systems come with low costs in addition to other related technical advantages. Some Allies have already invested significantly in the development of unmanned systems, and now is time to share this valuable information with other NATO members. In this context, it is necessary to strengthen the Allied regional deterrent position and formulate a coherent strategy to integrate new technologies.

The second panel of the day focused on the use of unmanned systems in border control and crisis management. The panel was attended by Ambassador Sorin Ducaru, Director of the European Union Satellite Center – EU SatCen and Honorary President of the Scientific Council of NSC, Mr. Raed Arafat, Secretary of State, Ministry of Internal Affairs, Chief Police Commissioner Ionel Pavel, Head of the Naval Surveillance and Control Service, General Inspectorate of Border Police and Mr. Eyal Mayer, Director of the IAI-UAS Division, Israel Aerospace Industries. The discussion was moderated by Mr. Marian Tutilescu, Senior Associate Expert of New Strategy Center. Using drones in order to obrain data that helps for a quick assessment of the situation brings the advantage of mobility, versatility and access to difficult areas. Unlike satellites, drones can provide constant monitoring, but they need to be fuelled regularly, so the two types of systems work complementary.

In emergency situations, drones can be used to monitor natural disasters, such as communication relays, to monitor landslides, to search for missing persons, to examine areas affected by fires or floods, post-disaster inspections and aid or infrastructure inspections. The uncontrolled movement of the population due to a disaster can be monitored through this type of equipment. Unlike the use of helicopters, the use of drones is less expensive. Unmanned systems are also useful in border monitoring activities, taking into account that Romania has borders with three non-EU states and an important border segment on the Black Sea. In addition, there is also the consistent surface of the exclusive economic zone of Romania that must be monitored in the Black Sea. The panel also presented the long experience of a company such as the IAI in the field of unmanned systems, one of the important providers of technological solutions used for border surveillance or the armed forces.

The third panel of the day focused on the use of unmanned systems in the Black Sea region to help build future Allied defense and deterrence. The speakers in this panel were Mr. Gordon “Skip” Davis, Deputy Assistant Secretary General of NATO, Defense Investment Division, Admiral James F. Foggo, former Commander of the US Naval Forces in Europe, MG Iulian Berdilă, Chief of the Land Forces, MG Viorel Pană, Chief of the Air Force and Vice Admiral Mihai Panait, Chief of the Romanian Naval Forces.

Unmanned systems are part of all aspects of NATO’s planning and will have a growing share. Following the recent declaration of the initial operational capability of the Alliance’s surveillance drone fleet, the goal of providing all allies with an aerial image of the threats, especially in the NATO border area, is closer to fulfillment. These drones resulted from the Allied Ground Surveillance started nine years ago, which shows NATO’s commitment to respond to developments in emerging and disruptive technology.

The option of unmanned systems is an attractive alternative to the constraints imposed by the Montreux Convention, which currently limits the naval presence in the Black Sea. Romania’s interest is to maintain freedom of navigation in the Black Sea and the Danube and contribute to the security in the region. The Strategic Defense Analysis states the fact, and the investment in the development and acquisition of unmanned systems recognizes the relevance of these capabilities.

Moreover, another aspect factored in is developing the human resources ready to use this capability of the future, and it is necessary to contour the profile of appropriate skills for the use of this equipment.

The last panel of the day focused on the lessons learned from RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aircraft system) operations carried out by the US Army, US AirForce, British Army and the Romanian Armed Forces in the theaters of operations. The debate also benefited from presentations from representatives of large, world-renowned companies, such as General Atomics USA and Leonardo, Italy. In this way, the debates combined the experience of manufacturers in designing and building unmanned systems, and the perspective of users of such capabilities in Romania and countries with a long tradition of using unmanned systems, such as the US and UK.

The discussion was moderated by Dr. Karsten Friis, Senior Research Fellow, Norwegian Institute of International Affairs NUPI, and was attended by Col. Jeffrey Patton, Deputy Director of Planning, Programs and Analysis, US Air Force in Europe, Dr. Jonny King, Vice President General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Col. Gavin Rundle, Watchkeeper Force Commander, British Army, Mr. Richard Tiu, Unmanned Aircraft System Chief G3 Aviation, US Army Europe & Africa, and Mr. Nicola Toniazzi, Head of Product Sales, Support and Partnerships, Electronics Division, Leonardo, Italy.