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The Dual-Use Technology Conundrum: The Role of Dual-Use Goods in the Modernisation of the EU Armed Forces and Export Control Initiatives

Dual-use technologies are advanced technologies deriving from civilian or defence industries with military and commercial end uses. Recently, European land forces have used emerging technologies, and their integration made the digitalisation of military capabilities possible. Nowadays, the European Union launches projects towards the enforcement of a Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). At the same time, the European Defence Agency (EDA) strives to engage dual-use technologies coming from aviation and other civilian industries into defence to modernise the European armed forces. The EDA prioritises the integration of Remote Piloted Aircraft Systems in the civilian European airspace to enforce intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance activities of the European armies. (Csernatoni, 2016) Arguably, the integration of civilian R&D into the armed forces has brought significant changes recently. Information and communication technology improved armies’ operational capabilities and provided strategic advantages in the theatre of war.

The military applications of dual-use technologies in the conventional armed forces have been intensified in the era of digitalisation. Now, the modern land forces strive to develop their information systems and extend their C4ISR competencies. C4ISR refers to Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance capabilities that undoubtedly allow for situational awareness and provide spatial representation. Obviously, since the integration of dual-use goods and commercial R&D in the EU militaries had facilitated cross-sector cooperation among different units and enabled C2 structure in armed forces. The establishment of C2 (Command and Control) enforces the EU-led military CSDP, while information systems facilitate command, and forces are capable of conducting operations across Joint Command Systems (Adams, Ben-Ari, Longsdon et Williamson, 2004).

The advanced technologies coming from the information and communication industry drive innovation in the development of network-centric systems in the EU armies. More precisely, European communication companies are working on projects based on the Internet Protocol (IP) and integrate within armies’ transmission technologies such as satellite, radio, and fiber optics. (Adams, Ben-Ari, Longsdon et Williamson, 2004) In the past years, European companies shifted their focus towards space and sought to develop military communication systems and satellites to improve surveillance and observation activities. Currently, European companies, such as Thales Alenia Space and Airbus Defence and Space, develop space technologies and aim to modernise the satellite telecommunications system of the French armed forces, COMSAT. Those companies will replace older generation satellites Syracuse 3A and 3B of this system to improve surveillance capabilities and data transmission performance. The COMSAT MG system is a next generation satellite telecommunication system that transmits large amounts of data and supports the C4ISR activities of the French military.[1]

Even though dual-use goods generate massive economic benefits, they may apply in different domains other than the military, namely political, security, and intelligence. Nevertheless, military end uses of dual-use goods are the most critical ones since expeditious technological development changes the military equipment significantly in the conduct of war. Particularly, technological advancement in neuroscience indicates that interfaces that stimulate brain function can be drafted to improve the cognitive performance of soldiers in wars and combat sleep deprivation. (Mahfoud, Aicardi, Datta, Rose, 2018) At the moment, advanced technologies in neuroscience are examined by the US government agency DARPA (Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency) to improve the effectiveness of the land forces.

The employment of neuroscience technology and the adoption of brain to computer interfaces (BCI) in the army will surpass human nature’s inefficiencies. (Mahfoud, Aicardi, Datta, Rose, 2018) Human weariness and tactile sensitivity impede operational effectiveness and lengthen the duration and cost of missions. The development and investigation of such technologies are making their first steps, whereas funding in R&D is increasing progressively. Nonetheless, for years to come, potential developments in neuroscience will bring significant changes for the EU land forces.

Moreover, dual-use technologies such as semiconductors are improving aircrafts’ mobility and functionality in total. Nowadays, the aerospace industry incorporates advanced electronics and systems in UAVs and drone devices to equip pilots for safe flying.[1] The precision of electronic devices in the aircraft is impressive, and the lightweight of the new electronic components is an added value for the modernisation of the EU land forces. So far, the prior generation military equipment of the European militaries has consisted of heavy components that made the aircraft less agile and the operability less effective.

Undoubtedly, the application of dual-use goods in drone devices boosts their agentic capacity and makes their interoperability possible. Semiconductors facilitate the storage and process of large amounts of data, information display is significant for surveillance activities and the mobility of the drone devices. (Kendall, 2018) UAVs and drones became multifunctional, and their capabilities enforce intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance activities and reduce operational costs. For instance, drone operators may deliver precise strikes of clandestine targets and assess the cost of their strategic moves due to intelligence gathering and digital representation of the theatre of war. The UAVs and drones provide information about the weather conditions and the enemy’s position, the number of casualties, and assist spatial analysis. The precision of drone information improves effectiveness in war, and robotic capabilities replace soldiers conscription.

Despite the effect of civilian and military cutting-edge technologies on the modernisation of the European land forces, dual-use goods come with risks. This is because such technologies also have disruptive effects and necessitate cybersecurity questions. Information and communication technologies may pose dramatic impacts on civilian life based on the entities that control them. (Pfaff, 2020) The EU is a significant actor on human rights raised export control barriers to govern the conduct of the dual-use goods and deter the acquisition of such technologies by actors that violate the rule of law. In the past years, the EU has established an export control regime that includes regulations and lists of dual-use items, authorisation processes, and assessment criteria for the exports of certain dual-use goods in particular destinations (European Commission, 2021).

In addition, this export control regime comprises provisions for the end-use of civilian and military technologies or non-listed products that potentially may harm human rights or allow the production of advanced military weapons and Weapons of Massive Destruction (WMD). The EU’s provisions on export control of dual-use goods to other entities comply with the rules of the foundational institution, the Wassenaar Arrangement. (WA) (European Commission, 2021) The WA is a multilateral export control regime consisting of 42 countries. It governs the conduct of dual-use items and controls exports in destinations that might push forward advanced military equipment and WMDs production. Lately, in May 2021, the EU upgraded the export control regulations to encourage information exchange and coordination among member states on emerging technologies and deter exports of dual-use goods in odd entities. (Regulation EU No 2021/821) In any case, the European initiatives on dual-use assets are significant, because sensitive items may provide strategic advantages to the enemy forces and lead to severe human rights violations.

Eventually, the integration of civilian technologies in the defence industry will push forward the modernisation of the EU land forces. The next-generation technologies contribute to the transition of the armed forces to the digital era and push forward the European vision for a Common Foreign and Security Policy. Although the EU and its defence agencies have launched several defence projects, the member states seem fragmented. In contrast, the member states cannot adopt a unified position concerning NATO’s role in the European defence. The EU should become self-reliant, and the initiation of the European Defence Fund will establish an advanced European defence industry. The EDF itself, and the expansion of the European defence budget would boost military technology projects. The deeper involvement of the civilian industry in the drone industry is critical, while semiconductors and other dual-use items improve the agentic capacity of military equipment. Dual-use technologies enforce the European military capabilities and illustrate the credibility of the European land forces in the conduct of war.  

Written by Georgios Papatzikas



Csernatoni, R.(2016), Defending Europe: Dual-use technologies and Drone Development in the European Union, Royal Higher Institute for Defence, Focus Paper 35, [Online]  available at

Mahfoud, Aicardi, Datta, Rose(2018), Limits of Dual-Use goods, Is Innovation China’s Next Great Leap Forward? Issues in Science and Technology, Vol 34 No 4, University of Texas at Dallas, pp.73-78 available at JSTOR,

European Commission, (2021) Dual-use Trade Controls, [Online] available at

Council of the European Union, (2021) Trade of Dual-Use Items: New EU Rules Adopted [Online] available at,both%20civilian%20and%20military%20applications.

Pfaff,A.(2020), The Ethics of Acquiring Disruptive Military Technologies,  Texas National Security Review, Vol 3 Iss 1 [Online] available at

Kendall,K.(2018), Silicon Snack: New World of Possibilities Delivered with Drones, Lam Research, [Online] available at

Official Journal of the European Union (2021), [Online] available at

Adams, Ben-Ari, Longsdon, Williamson, (2004), Bridging the Gap, European C4ISR Capabilities and Transatlantic Interoperability, The George Washington University, [Online] available at