Fourth DEFRA Call

The Council of Ministers has approved the Defence Science and Technology Programme for 2024, including the fourth DEFRA call.

During a dedicated information day, the DEFRA team will present the objectives, the themes and modalities of this fourth call for proposals to researchers from both the public and private sector. It’s an excellent opportunity to start your network!  

Themes & budget

The fourth call of the DEFRA programme covers the following research themes, with their indicative budget:

  Indicative budget in K€
Theme 1: CYBER - Short-term Mitigation Techniques for Software Resilience
1 800
Theme 2: Securing critical Maritime Infrastructure 1 800
Theme 3: Improved Underwater Communications between Sensors/Weapon Systems and Data systems to Render Data into Actionable Data 1 800
Theme 4: Next-Generation Vision and Sensor Fusion 1 800
Theme 5: Prolonged Forward Casualty Care 1 800
Theme 6: Open Call: Research on Innovative and Future-Oriented Defence Solutions 3 000

More information on the call themes...

For all themes, projects will have a duration of minimum 2 and maximum 4 years.

There is no set maximum budget per project. However, applicants should take into consideration the total available budget for each theme. The objective is to develop a project with the most efficient use of public resources.

The number of projects that will be funded per theme depends on the evaluation of the proposals and the requested budget per proposal. It is envisaged to have 1 or more projects funded for each of the themes. Budget transfers between the themes are possible.

Proposals can only be introduced in the “Open call” if the subject of the proposal does not correspond with one of the other five themes.


Activity Deadline
Information session 25/01/2024 (8h30 – 16h30)
Deadline Pre-proposals 22/02/2024 (14h00)
Communication of evaluation result pre-proposals 14/03/2024
Deadline Full proposals 18/04/2024 (14h00)
Remote scientific peer review evaluation 22/04/2024 - 31/05/2024
Feedback to applicants in preparation of panel meeting
(consensus reports & questions to applicants)
Written feedback by applicants (answers) 26/07/2024
Panel evaluation, incl. interviews with the applicants Between 22/08/2024 and 04/09/2024
Selection proposal formulated by the scientific committee of the RHID 12/09/2024
Final selection of proposals by the board of directors of the RHID and allocation of projects 24/09/2024 -new-
Communication of results to applicants 27/09/2024 -new-
Signature contracts 14/11/2024



The pre-proposals as well as the full proposals must be electronically created, elaborated and submitted via the online submission platform.

The template for the full proposals is made available on the website. However, after the evaluation of the pre-proposals, for each pre-defined theme (themes 1 to 5) a maximum of five pre-proposals will be invited to submit a full proposal. For theme 6 “open call: Research on Innovative and Future-oriented Defence Solutions” maximum ten pre-proposals will be invited to submit a full proposal.


More information on the call themes

Theme 1
Cyber: Short-Term Mitigation Techniques for Software Resilience
Budget Duration Remarks
1.8 MEUR min 2 – max 4 years Collaboration with RMA is mandatory


Most currently used systems are still (partially) written in programming languages that lack memory safety, resulting in countless vulnerabilities that continue to be found in the systems we are using on a daily basis. Migrating these systems to memory safe languages (e.g. Rust) will require a very long conversion time and an abrupt change of the full code base.
Therefore other, more short term solutions are needed to harden current-day software and cyber-physical systems. A number of conceptual solutions exist, for instance in the form of a wide range of mitigations that can prevent the exploitation of vulnerabilities. Examples include advanced forms of temporal and spatial software diversity that go beyond Address Space Layout Randomization (ASLR), and various instantiations of software integrity policies such as Control Flow Integrity (CFI), Data Flow Integrity (DFI), SafeStack, bounds checking, sandboxing, multi-variant execution, (partial) migration to safe programming languages, etc.
The uptake of these solutions is however hampered because of various shortcomings that have not yet been addressed sufficiently by the research community, such as a sometimes considerable performance impact, being prone to denial-of-service attacks, in certain cases compatibility issues, etc.
There is reason to believe, however, that most of those mitigations can be further developed to become usable, at least in specific security-critical usage scenarios and under some assumptions. The goal is therefore to develop these concepts into technology demonstrators that are validated for specific military use cases.

Theme 2
Securing Critical Maritime Infrastructure
Budget Duration Remarks
1.8 MEUR min 2 – max 4 years None


The presence of critical infrastructure, including cables, windmills, artificial islands and pipelines, in Belgian waters (TTW-EEZ), the North Sea, and beyond, requires robust measures to ensure their protection. This becomes even more crucial considering future projects like 'het energie-eiland', which will hold strategic importance for Belgium's energy infrastructure. It is essential for Belgian Defense to be prepared to contribute to the safeguarding of the maritime infrastructure when, not if, called upon.
In addition to cyber security measures, physical security plays a vital role in protecting critical maritime infrastructure. Implementing physical barriers and access control mechanisms around these assets helps deter unauthorized access and strengthens overall security. To enhance these measures, robust underwater perimeter monitoring systems and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) can conduct regular inspections, identify potential threats, and provide real-time situational awareness to authorities like the Maritiem Informatiekruispunt (MIK). It is important to recognize the complexity of the involved domains, including cyber, underwater, surface, and air.
This call aims to facilitate the research of a credible and realistic architecture for the protection of Belgium's maritime critical infrastructure. The architecture should encompass a comprehensive framework that integrates cyber and physical security measures, considering the unique challenges of the underwater environment and the multi-domain nature of the protection requirements.

Theme 3
Improved Underwater Communications between Sensors/Weapon Systems and Data Systems to Render Data into Actionable Data
Budget Duration Remarks
1.8 MEUR min 2 – max 4 years None


Advancements in underwater communications technology have the potential to revolutionize the integration between sensors, weapon systems and data rendering systems, enhancing situational awareness and targeting data for improved operational effectiveness in the maritime domain. However, effectively managing and processing the anticipated abundance of information, particularly from unmanned systems, poses a significant challenge in real-time. The complex underwater environment with its intricate acoustic pathways, limited visibility, changing salinity profiles and corrosive conditions further compounds the difficulties.
Improvements in high-bandwidth acoustic modems (capable of robust and rapid data transmission over required distances), signal processing algorithms, adaptive coding techniques are a few examples, which could enhance data transmission capabilities, optimizing bandwidth utilization. Additionally, advancements in automatic detection, classification, and identification algorithms, along with the integration of multi-sensory input, enable comprehensive data fusion, resulting in improved maritime situational awareness and targeting capabilities.
In order to accelerate progress in underwater communications, this call aims to develop a demonstrator that can help to overcome the existing challenges in either the data transmission domain or the (acoustic) data fusion domain.

Theme 4
Next-Generation Vision and Sensor Fusion
Budget Duration Remarks
1.8 MEUR min 2 – max 4 years None


Advances in detector technology, computing power, digital data and signal processing, have paved the way for better Optical/InfraRed (EO/IR) systems, with better Detection, Recognition and Identification (DRI) characteristics, and a higher level of automation.
Day and thermal (MWIR/LWIR – Medium Wave IR / Long Wave IR) sensors continue to increase in resolution and framerates, and decrease in size, but the strongest progress can be found in the domains of Short Wave IR (SWIR) sensors, multi/hyperspectral filter technologies and low light CMOS sensing. The technological evolutions at sensor level open up many options, but also pose several challenges due to the increased bandwidth, with associated technical challenges, and increased amount of information, with the associated increase in cognitive load.
The level of multi-sensor integration when using different EO/IR systems together often still remains limited. The principle of edge computing can be used to deepen the level of integration and to increase the quality of the obtained information. For that, state-of-the-art embedded hardware and advanced image processing techniques will be needed. On one hand, the DRI for human vision can be improved by post-processing algorithms and visually combining information from different sensors in a user-friendly way. On the other hand, the strong advances in machine learning can be applied to increase the autonomy of the EO/IR system. Examples are the implementation of high reliability automatic detection, identification and track systems or the generation of metadata to be used for assisted decision making by the operator or at a higher level of the system. The edge computing strategy allow a strong reduction of the system bandwidth and cognitive load for the user while going beyond the performances of the individual sensors.
The multilayer integration of sensors over broader spectral bands can provide an improved observation capacity supporting military and security related operations. The action seeks to build a demonstrator for both lightweight portable electro-optical devices and high-end platform-mounted systems that can be tailored to specific applications for BEL MOD.

Theme 5
Prolonged Far Forward Casualty Care
Budget Duration Remarks
1.8 MEUR min 2 – max 4 years None


This call aims to support consortia engaged in innovative research and development efforts to enhance the provision of care for wounded soldiers on the battlefield, particularly in situations where immediate medical assistance is not readily available. Recent insights from the conflict in Ukraine learn that immediate evacuation from the frontline is often not possible. This is in contrast with the recent conflicts where NATO nations were involved. Therefore, appropriate solutions must be provided. Scientific research projects could show a new way of dealing with this major issue.
We encourage interdisciplinary collaborations and creative solutions that leverage technology to empower fellow soldiers to provide extended care to the wounded for hours or even days until evacuation becomes possible.
The primary objective of this research initiative is to explore novel approaches, tools, and technologies that enable soldiers, referred to as "buddies," to deliver effective and sustained care to injured comrades in far forward and hostile environments. The proposed research could address one or more of the following areas (not limitative and only listed as an example) that are of particular interest for the Belgian Defence:

Remote Assistance: Develop methods to remotely assess and treat the condition of wounded soldiers, enabling medics and other soldiers to provide timely and appropriate care. This may involve using artificial intelligence for medical treatment protocols, the integration of wearable sensors, telemedicine, or other innovative approaches.
Extended Care Techniques: Investigate advanced care techniques that can be safely and effectively performed in remote and complex situations such as multiple casualties, lack of equipment etc. E.g., Develop pre-programmed “push” drones for medical supply able to bring large amount of equipment to remote area, also able to be used in a “pull” mode to evacuate out of the hostile environment a sick or injured patient while being medically monitored.
Human-Technology Interaction: Explore the use of immersive technologies to enhance the capabilities of buddies in treating injuries. This could be achieved for instance by exploring the use of 3D-printing on the field using a pre-programmed printing list of medico-surgical consumables. Another technology of interest would be to design and develop a light and efficient rewarming system for tents or closed environments that can use different kind of energy sources. A cooling patient has less chance of survival than a patient with normal core temperature. Since logistic chains are sometimes broken, the use of local sources of energy provided by the direct environment will help providing the best prolonged casualty care in austere situations. Interested consortia are invited to submit research proposals that align with the research focus areas outlined above. The proposals should demonstrate a clear understanding of the challenges associated with prolonged far forward casualty care and propose innovative solutions to address them. Collaborative partnerships between academic institutions, research organizations, industry stakeholders, and military entities are strongly encouraged.

We look forward to receiving innovative and impactful research proposals that have the potential to revolutionize the field of prolonged far forward casualty care.  The present research call will influence the way the tactical combat casualty care could be provided by using technologies by improving care and evacuations.

Theme 6
Open Call: Research on Innovative and Future-Oriented Defence Solutions
Budget Duration Remarks
3 MEUR min 2 – max 4 years None


This call is “open” to any research for defence across a broad spectrum.  The proposals must address innovative defence technologies and solutions, including those that can improve readiness, deployability and sustainability in all spectrum of tasks and missions, for example in terms of operations, equipment, basing, energy solutions, … The goal of this open call is to achieve innovative and cost-effective solutions for defence applications, ground-breaking or novel concepts and approaches, new promising future improvements or the application of technologies or concepts previously not applied in the defence sector.

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