Author: Dr. Matthias Grüne
Future technologies and their possible relevance to the German Federal Armed Forces (Bundeswehr) are considered and analyzed at various organizational divisions and institutes responsible for departmental research of the German Federal Ministry of Defense (BMVg). In 2017, the Defense Technology Foresight (WZA) business unit at Fraunhofer INT was tasked with drafting a process that would combine all technological insights obtained about the future and condense these to form a unified picture of the longer-term future of technology for the Bundeswehr. The comprehensive overview of research and technology (R&T) at the BMVg, which was reorganized over the same period, was expected to be supplemented by looking even further into the future considering the technology push. At the same time, the plan was to bring together an overarching R&T foresight community for the Federal Ministry of Defence’s portfolio, providing a regular platform to discuss and develop a joint vision of the future.
Fraunhofer INT set about developing a process to uniformly describe, characterize and assess future trends and research topics with subsequent information consolidation to form a comprehensive situation map for BMVg management. A key element of this process was the establishment of the Conference on the State of the R&T Future, which has taken place every year since 2018. Fraunhofer INT condenses the results of the conference into a compact visualization in the form of a “Picture-of-the-R&T-Future dashboard” and presents these annually to the R&T Steering Board that was established at state secretary level in 2017. This has become embedded as a regular process step in R&T planning at the BMVg.
BMVg Research Director, Ralf Schnurr, has personally chaired and moderated all three conferences that Fraunhofer INT has hosted thus far. In 2020, the group of participants was expanded once more and seniors at command level of the armed forces and those at the Bundeswehr technical centers as well as representatives of the individual defense-related research institutes were invited to participate. A total of around 90 people therefore attended the third conference, held on February 12 and 13, 2020. The 74 technology-related future topics had been assessed beforehand and were contributed in a standardized form by the institutes of the Fraunhofer Group for Defense and Security (VVS — now: Fraunhofer Segment for Defense and Security), the German Aerospace Center (DLR), the French-German Research Institute of Saint-Louis (ISL), the Bundeswehr research centers and universities, and the military medicine research institutes. Rather than having a series of contributing institutes, the 2020 conference was structured around the following thematic clusters to allow for an even more focused discussion: cyber/IT, soldier/protection, sensors, situation awareness, weapons, energy/materials, sea, aerospace. Representatives from all BMVg departments involved in R&T and the subordinate agencies for planning and equipment took part in the discussion and contributed to the opinion-forming process.
Given that attending the event in person — with extensive discussions in an enclosed space (conference room) and faceto- face interactions during intervals — is considered a core component, the Conference on the State of the R&T Future was not held in 2021 due to the pandemic. As soon as circumstances permit, the annual conferences will resume.
The Conference on the State of the R&T Future has become a key component of long-term departmental research planning at the BMVg. Fraunhofer INT has assumed the role of central hub for the newly established State of the R&T Future network.