Innovation and Technology

How HENSOLDT brings a new startup mindset to defence

The defence industry has to anticipate today the technological possibilities and resulting requirements expected in ten or even twenty years. HENSOLDT is breaking new, innovative ground in this process.

The defence industry thinks for long periods ahead. One example is the Eurofighter Typhoon, for which HENSOLDT currently supplies and continuously improves the radar and self-protection sensors: Its development began as far back as in 1983. Twenty years later, in 2003, the German Air Force took delivery of the first units. Further models of what is now the fourth tranche ("Quadriga") will be delivered by 2030 and will then be in service for decades.

For HENSOLDT, this is business as usual. At the same time, the company resolved in 2023 to set off on a new path. For the Future Combat Air System (FCAS), startups not operating in the defence sector were integrated for the first time in order to harness the startup spirit to drive innovation and technology developments. This is because founders from the civilian sector in particular often think and work with a high level of technological innovation and future focus, but equally frequently struggle to overcome the high regulatory hurdles in the defence sector.

FCAS and NGWS: HENSOLDT Is Innovation Leader

The Future Combat Air System (FCAS) consists of two projects. Firstly FCAS, a networked system of manned and unmanned aircraft, integrating also existing systems such as the Eurofighter and designed to be adapted to European and the respective national systems. And secondly, the “Next Generation Weapon System” (NGWS) – a new combat aircraft, which is expected to be operational in a network with unmanned ‘remote carriers’ by 2040.

computer generated image of aircrafts flying in the air

With a project volume estimated at 300 billion euros, this is currently the largest European defence program. HENSOLDT leads a strong industrial consortium that is developing a cross-platform sensor effector network and is involved in joint projects at both national and European level.

computer generated image of aircrafts flying in the air. The aircrafts are connected with green lines

Based on its involvement in major important FCAS research and technology topics, HENSOLDT expects a budget of more than 150 million euros for the next two to three years alone. In addition, as part of NGWS, the remote carrier development will likely be prioritised and the first contracts for parts of the system are expected to be awarded in the next one to two years. Here, HENSOLDT is also critically involved in both the development of sensor effector solutions and their integration into existing national systems.

HENSOLDT Ventures for Access to the Defence Industry

With the aim of creating an ecosystem for startups to take part in FCAS, HENSOLDT Ventures launched an ‘FCAS Accelerator’, a targeted support programme for innovative startups, in 2023. This gives top innovators access to the strictly regulated defence industry and allows them to contribute their own ideas and enhance them in a structured format in conjunction with a leading company in the industry. HENSOLDT is confident that this will yield new, innovative approaches to improving its own future viability further through early access to new technological solutions.

The Accelerator programme is focused on five technology topics, all of which are critical to FCAS: disruptive – i.e. completely novel – sensors, innovative RF solutions, AI, 3D-printed electronics and electronic materials and components.

Established in 2017 as the company’s own startup incubator, HENSOLDT Ventures aims to identify, support and implement new business ideas. They range from the use of AI-based technologies such as machine learning and big-data analyses to the development of market-ready products. The process from idea finding and development to a profitable business model is structured and has now become an integral part of the corporate strategy. HENSOLDT Ventures sees itself as a bridge between HENSOLDT Group and the start-up/innovation ecosystem.

In 2023, HENSOLDT Ventures selected nine startups from the tech and industrial sectors out of a total of over 50 potential candidates for the FCAS Accelerator programme. The majority of them previously worked in the civilian sector and, with the support and guidance of HENSOLDT, they have already been able to develop their first concrete proposals for solutions. The intention is to enhance these innovative ideas and create first technology demonstrators. This will be followed by the final decision as to which startups will be integrated more deeply into the FCAS project.

Additional Accelerator Programmes for Innovative Solutions

For HENSOLDT, this demonstrates the success of the Accelerator programme already in this early phase. Hence, in addition to the FCAS development, there are plans to carry out work on innovative ideas and solutions in selected fields of technology together with startups from the civilian sector. This underscores not only HENSOLDT’s core ambition of being open to disruptive new ideas. The Accelerator programme undertaken in the context of FCAS has also created a template for quickly developing and enhancing ideas from the external world of innovation under a structured programme in future.