How to Get NATO Forces the Technological innovation They Need

In a Feb. 26 Twitter article, Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s vice primary minister and minister for electronic transformation, requested the SpaceX main govt, Elon Musk, to present Ukraine with Starlink terminals to enable satellite-based communications. In much less than 48 several hours, Starlink consumer kits arrived in Ukraine, immediately enhancing the command-and-handle potential of Ukraine’s military.

For individuals of us who research the NATO acquisition system, it is practically extremely hard to think about the alliance determining a need and adopting a remedy so promptly, no issue how urgent the circumstances. Amongst the several challenges would be the alliance’s elaborate, consensus-based governing framework, as perfectly as the divergent pursuits and funding mechanisms amid the 30 member states. This is why, in 2016, the Global Board of Auditors concluded that NATO struggles to offer commanders with required capabilities on time and approximated that prevalent-funded capabilities expected an common of 16 many years from enhancement to shipping.



The complexity of modern day weapons devices and the issues of interoperability imply that any energetic engagement will direct to the identification of new technical necessities for NATO. The alliance desires the procedures and constructions in place to rapidly establish these necessities and procure options. This involves providing commanders the authority to make conclusions devoid of the prolonged consensus-developing tactic that may possibly be affordable, if slow, in peacetime but is not efficient all through war.

To start with Methods

NATO has formerly sought to boost the governance, speed, and efficiency of its ability-shipping and delivery system. For case in point, in 2018 NATO adopted a new governance product for widespread-funded capabilities. It has carried out efforts to boost collaboration concerning strategic instructions (Allied Command Functions in Mons, Belgium and Allied Command Transformation in Norfolk, VA), identified as for the exploration of choice acquisition methods to assistance technological know-how advancement, and designed the Office of the Chief Details Officer to accelerate the shipping of pc and information and facts systems. Also, in October 2021 NATO released the initial $1.1 billion Innovation Fund, and past thirty day period declared the generation of the initial ever Defense Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic to harness slicing-edge technologies as element of the NATO 2030 agenda.

These are precious measures, but they do not handle the basic obstacle of rapidly getting prevalent abilities. There are still lots of residual procedures wherever consensus-based manage is inherently prioritized around velocity, overall flexibility, innovation, and the deployment of prototypes at the stop of their progress phases.

NATO leaders acknowledge the ongoing challenge. In a new speech to the North Atlantic Council, the supreme allied commander transformation, Gen. Philippe Lavigne, stressed that one of his important priorities is to assure the timely shipping and delivery of new and crucial capabilities, incorporating that “we require to transform the rules and make them operate for us, not towards us.” But NATO leaders can not take care of this on your own — the alliance’s 30 member nations are the kinds that will have to concur on the answer. Discovering options and receiving the allies to concur on a alternative will be tricky. It can occur on a NATO-huge basis, or some subset of member nations can take on the challenge and guide the work, which could then be adopted by others.

What Operates

Accessibility to sufficient funding is a essential setting up place, and NATO has a track history of funding widespread abilities. In 2021, NATO was applying over 3,000 prevalent-funded initiatives, really worth approximately $17 billion (of which the United States money about 22 p.c). These consist of furnishing crucial technology that supports the preparing and execution of all NATO air operations, and the Air Predicament Info Exchange that boosts situational recognition at NATO’s borders with husband or wife nations, including Ukraine.

But the capacity-fielding system is continue to subject to delays, which would be risky when addressing wants discovered during combat operations. To steer clear of this, alliance associates really should commit to offering funds for a speedy-acquisition corporation on a preauthorized and discretionary basis, in essence generating a financial institution account that can be drawn on when wanted. Even if this ended up a credit line that users fully commited to, fairly than a standing pot of funds, it would restrict setbacks induced by the sluggish and political procedures of determining and appropriating funding.

Ensuring suitable funding is not the only solution. Commanders also want the authority to streamline the identification of urgent demands and a standing system, not an ad hoc technique, that can give the versatility and authority to tackle them. This exists for some alliance customers on a national foundation. The commander of the Dutch Defense Materiel Organization’s Computer system Unexpected emergency Response Staff, for case in point, has a pre-authorized funds and the energy to expedite acquisitions of up to 500,000 euros for urgent cyber abilities within 14 days. However, there is no NATO-huge solution.

The U.S. Division of Protection presents a range of acquisition approaches that NATO could draw from. The United States has a product where by the navy providers are mostly accountable for attaining weapon techniques and providing them to the joint force commanders. There are also quite a few Office of Protection corporations that have been stood up to address cross-assistance difficulties. This means that there are equally joint department-large and assistance-level acquisition organizations procuring materiel to serve as examples.

Around time, the Department of Defense has developed procedures to let requirements identified on the battlefield to be promptly addressed. Distinct pieces of the division have also embarked on unique forms of organizational innovation.

One particular example is the Air Force’s Speedy Abilities Place of work, which was shaped in 2003 to “expedite important, often categorised systems even though holding them on price range.” The office environment has a exceptional administration framework — it stories to a board of directors that is chaired by the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment and involves the most senior leaders of the Air Pressure and the below secretary of protection for exploration and engineering. These senior leaders can each set priorities for paying and operate to obtain the essential funding. Also, acquisition gurus at the Fast Abilities Place of work are very carefully picked to manage a lifestyle wherever “lean, agile, and forward-hunting engineering development” is achievable. Along with the Air Force’s new stealth bomber, the B-21 Raider, the office environment oversees the X-37B Orbital Take a look at Vehicle, “an experimental take a look at application to exhibit technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned place test system.” The efficiency of the Speedy Abilities Workplace is affirmed by the determination to set these two extremely essential plans there fairly than in far more conventional Air Force acquisition businesses.

A different idea arrives from the Protection Innovation Unit, which was built to work across the Department of Defense to identify and comprehend vital countrywide protection difficulties that can be solved with major-edge commercial engineering in 12 to 24 months. The Defense Innovation Device connects with non-traditional suppliers in innovation hubs, which includes Silicon Valley, and works by using versatile acquisition styles to difficulty contracts in as tiny as 2 to 3 months. It then publishes a catalog of commercial “solutions” completely ready for purchase from a variety of firms, quite a few of whom are not conventional protection suppliers. These include things like the Future Gen Explosive Ordnance Disposal Underwater Response Car, a remotely operated underwater auto that lookups for mines, and Hunt Forward, a established of tools for ahead-deployed cyber operations. While implementation has not constantly been sleek, the Protection Innovation Device has even so presented battlefield commanders with a selection of revolutionary options that they can flip to.

The Immediate Abilities Office environment empowers its management to finalize prerequisites and quickly commit funding, a crucial component of its good results. The Defense Innovation Unit focuses on generating a pipeline of new systems. And these organizations are not one of a kind. There are others throughout the companies, this sort of as NAVALX, the Military Apps Lab, and AFWERX, that are aimed at adapting improvements from both equally conventional and non-conventional suppliers. The United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force has its have Rapid Capabilities Business, which has also demonstrated promise.

These U.S. models verify that a paperwork as resistant to change as the Office of Protection can even now produce new organizational buildings and procedures. The Dutch and British models present that attempts at organizational innovation are not restricted to the Pentagon. NATO could pick out to adapt a single of these or to produce its individual exceptional strategies. The target must be to give its commanders with the adaptability and the authority to “validate requirements” — that is, to formally approve what the warfighter wants to execute the struggle — and to make sources offered. The determination composition could be a smaller rotating board of senior leaders, most likely with time restrictions for approving or rejecting requirements to force swift choices.

NATO also needs a way to hook up with sector associates throughout the alliance, capitalizing on innovations from smaller organizations and startups working with new and versatile contracting mechanisms. The alliance now lacks the equipment to fast adopt industrial systems. Two associated policies would assist to enrich the potential of new systems to connect with present systems. To maximize operational performance, NATO really should leverage interoperability standards that make it possible for unique systems to run seamlessly in a multi-domain natural environment. A related tactic would be to adopt open up systems architecture methods for NATO weapons. This would deliver style and design information to businesses for producing components that could work with current methods applying a “plug and play” approach. Both of those of these guidelines would establish upon the common NATO energy of acquiring specifications when creating these standards relevant to revolutionary providers.

All these process modifications and organizational innovations will consider effort — and the journey may well be slowed by NATO’s consensus-developing lifestyle. Transformation can take time, but it only starts when there is a very clear case for transform. The scale and scope of Russia’s attack on Ukraine supplies that situation, and the shipping and delivery of Starlink presents an case in point of what could be possible if NATO had a extra flexible approach to acquisitions.



Cynthia R. Cook dinner directs the Heart for Strategic and International Studies’ Protection-Industrial Initiatives Group, which researches acquisition plan, defense spending, intercontinental protection industrial cooperation, and emerging systems. She formerly put in 25 a long time at the RAND Company, where she worked on and oversaw a large range of acquisition studies for components across the U.S. Division of Defense, along with the Australian and U.K. protection departments and NATO.

Anna M. Dowd is a senior global security and defense policy professional, an adjunct at the RAND Company, and co-founder of the Digital Innovation Engine. From 2014 to 2020, she served as principal officer and head of field relations at the NATO Communications and Information Company. Prior to becoming a member of NATO, she was a fellow at the European Union Institute for Protection Studies in Paris, and served as senior plan officer at the European Protection Agency and senior analyst at the Polish Ministry of Protection.

Graphic: NATO