The Unmanned Systems Forum‘s fourth edition will be held in Bucharest on February 20, 2024, at National Defence University. Officials, experts, academics, and business representatives will convene to deliberate on recognized and emerging threats and challenges, technical advancements, the significance of industrial expansion, and international collaboration.

As with the previous edition, this forum takes place in extraordinary and unprecedented circumstances, brought about by the Russian aggression war in Ukraine. It is in this complex geopolitical environment that New Strategy Center, as well as its institutional partner, the National Defence Unversity, recognize that it is paramount to talk about how unmanned systems will affect security in the future and that it is crucial to include all relevant parties in these conversations in order to improve collaboration between the public and private sectors. Unmanned systems, one of the ever-evolving military technology branches, have been playing a critical role in the Ukrainian battlefield.

Unmanned systems have represented one of the defining elements of Ukraine’s asymmetrical war against the invading Russian forces, serving as a natural counterbalance to Russia’s material military superiority. These systems have demonstrated a range of uses in the battlefield, including psychological warfare and limited drone strikes, in addition to reconnaissance missions. In essence, the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ effort to create a network-centric warfare model involving the extensive use of drones for reconnaissance, attacks, and kamikaze missions. These new weapon systems thus played a critical role in Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Cyber-Defense, Combat Systems, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance. Furthermore, Ukraine has used every kind of unmanned system available, from very sophisticated and costly military drones to consumer drone models that may be equipped with small amounts of explosives. Naturally, the production of drones in Ukraine has grown exponentially, with plans to further increase production in 2024.

Meanwhile, in spite of its efforts to boost its self-produced drone capabilities, Russia continued to rely extensively on Iranian-made kamikaze drones, especially to destroy Ukraine’s critical infrastructure. It is necessary to acknowledge that Russia’s recent efforts in developing naval drones may pose a real threat to the Black Sea’s maritime dynamics and that this threat needs to be addressed through allied cooperation.

Numerous instances have demonstrated the value of UAVs in combat, particularly during the conflict in Ukraine. Drones reduce the hazards associated with using human forces on the battlefield by providing real-time target information, intelligence collection, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities.

Hence, New Strategy Centre is presenting this year a one-day programme with six panels in an effort to spark stimulating discussions on the important topic of unmanned technologies. The conference’s major subjects will include how the war in Ukraine has affected the development of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and counter-UAV capabilities, how UAVs can be employed in modern land, naval, and aerial warfare, and how UAVs can be brought into other industries to safeguard critical infrastructure.

The Unmanned Systems Forum is a well-known prominent event on the topic of autonomous technology at the national level. The caliber of its discussions is enhanced by the attendance of notable speakers from NATO and EU member states, national and international organizations, relevant security experts from the Black Sea region, former senior military officers, acting personas, and many more entities sharing their expertise.

We emphasize that the event will be held in a hybrid style with online and in-person participation, in compliance with Chatham House standards, limiting participation to invitation only.

Panel I.  Two Years of the Aggression War in Ukraine. An impact assessment and possible developments

  • In the past year, the frontline has witnessed limited positional shifts, with both sides failing to score any decisive offensive success. How do we explain this shift from a war of maneuver to a war of attrition?
  • What were the strategic adjustments made by NATO in the context of such changes? How does Romania participate in these adjustments?
  • There has been much discussion on the topic of “war fatigue”. How do we see this phenomenon unfold? What are the weak links among Ukraine’s Western partners and what can be done to maintain a solid flow of assistance towards Kyiv?

Panel II. The War in Ukraine and the Future of the Maritime Domain

  • How Ukraine will continue the asymmetric war in the maritime domain?
  • How extensively can NATO assist Ukraine in enhancing its naval capabilities? What changes can we anticipate the naval domain will undergo during the next phase of the conflict?
  • We are aware that the Russian Federation is taking considerable steps in increasing its unmanned naval capabilities. In which way do we expect this to alter the balance of power in the Black Sea?

Panel III. Strategic Stakes of the Exclusive Economic Zone. Role of Unmanned Systems

  • Romania, as well as its allies in the region, will soon expand its critical infrastructure in its EEZ. What types of autonomous systems are suitable and most effective in protecting such infrastructure?
  • What are the most relevant ways in which the private and public sector can complement each other in achieving the mutual objective of securing our EEZ?
  • What role can be played by the Romanian domestic military industry in developing the necessary capabilities to protect our EEZ? In which way can these efforts be harmonized with those of our allies and partners in the region and beyond?

Panel IV. The War of Drones. Lesson Learned from the Ukrainian Front

  • What does the war in Ukraine teach us about the way unmanned systems have altered the offense-defense balance? Can we expect the proliferation of such systems to influence the way states think about the costs and benefits of offensive war?
  • From Ukraine’s experience, what are the logistical challenges of maintaining unmanned capabilities?
  • How can Romania best learn from the experience of the Ukrainian armed forces in addressing these challenges, in the context of its own endowment?

Panel V. How do we fight drones? Systems and solutions against aerial and naval drones

  • What progress has been made in terms of counter-drone technologies? How should this progress alter Romania’s military endowment and modernization efforts?
  • What are the main lessons to be drawn from the war in Ukraine regarding the future of counter-drone technologies?
  • With more disruptive actions occurring in its neighborhood, how does Romania plan to strengthen its national counter-UAV capabilities?

Panel VI. Defence Industry Cooperation in the Context of the War in Ukraine. The Impact of the Unmanned Systems

  • Romania has started an ambitious program to endow it with unmanned systems, especially in terms of air capabilities. What will be the next steps in equipping the Romanian Armed Forces with unmanned systems, especially for the maritime domain, taking into account that the Black Sea is a very challenging area at the moment?
  • How will the lessons learned from the war in Ukraine be applied in Romania in terms of the use of Unmanned Systems? And how will the cooperation between Ukrainian companies, Romanian companies, NATO and EU companies develop?
  • What will be the impact of the Romanian Armed Forces’ procurement programs on the defence industrial cooperation, considering both local and foreign companies?
  • How will the experience of foreign companies be reflected in the cooperation with the Romanian defence industry?