How to Get NATO Forces the Technological innovation They Want

In a Feb. 26 Twitter write-up, Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s vice prime minister and minister for electronic transformation, requested the SpaceX chief executive, Elon Musk, to provide Ukraine with Starlink terminals to permit satellite-based mostly communications. In much less than 48 hours, Starlink consumer kits arrived in Ukraine, straight away improving the command-and-command skill of Ukraine’s armed service.

For individuals of us who examine the NATO acquisition course of action, it is practically difficult to think about the alliance identifying a necessity and adopting a remedy so immediately, no subject how urgent the situations. Between the quite a few issues would be the alliance’s elaborate, consensus-primarily based governing construction, as perfectly as the divergent interests and funding mechanisms among the the 30 member states. This is why, in 2016, the Global Board of Auditors concluded that NATO struggles to give commanders with demanded capabilities on time and approximated that frequent-funded abilities needed an normal of 16 decades from improvement to shipping and delivery.



The complexity of modern day weapons methods and the worries of interoperability imply that any active engagement will guide to the identification of new technological demands for NATO. The alliance demands the procedures and constructions in put to rapidly establish these requirements and procure options. This involves giving commanders the authority to make decisions devoid of the lengthy consensus-making approach that may possibly be reasonable, if sluggish, in peacetime but is not effective for the duration of war.

Initial Steps

NATO has beforehand sought to enhance the governance, velocity, and efficiency of its functionality-supply approach. For instance, in 2018 NATO adopted a new governance design for common-funded capabilities. It has carried out endeavours to boost collaboration in between strategic instructions (Allied Command Operations in Mons, Belgium and Allied Command Transformation in Norfolk, VA), known as for the exploration of option acquisition strategies to guidance technological know-how growth, and developed the Place of work of the Chief Facts Officer to accelerate the supply of pc and information and facts systems. Also, in October 2021 NATO introduced the very first $1.1 billion Innovation Fund, and last thirty day period declared the generation of the 1st at any time Defense Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic to harness reducing-edge technologies as part of the NATO 2030 agenda.

These are important measures, but they do not deal with the fundamental challenge of rapidly buying common capabilities. There are nevertheless many residual procedures the place consensus-centered manage is inherently prioritized around velocity, versatility, innovation, and the deployment of prototypes at the conclude of their development phases.

NATO leaders realize the ongoing challenge. In a latest speech to the North Atlantic Council, the supreme allied commander transformation, Gen. Philippe Lavigne, pressured that one particular of his crucial priorities is to make certain the timely shipping of new and crucial capabilities, adding that “we need to have to modify the regulations and make them operate for us, not versus us.” But NATO leaders cannot fix this alone — the alliance’s 30 member nations are the types that will have to concur on the option. Checking out possibilities and receiving the allies to concur on a remedy will be tricky. It can take place on a NATO-extensive foundation, or some subset of member nations can get on the obstacle and lead the effort, which may then be adopted by other folks.

What Works

Entry to satisfactory funding is a vital starting up place, and NATO has a observe report of funding typical abilities. In 2021, NATO was employing in excess of 3,000 frequent-funded jobs, worth approximately $17 billion (of which the United States resources about 22 %). These contain giving vital technologies that supports the preparing and execution of all NATO air operations, and the Air Problem Info Exchange that boosts situational consciousness at NATO’s borders with partner nations, like Ukraine.

But the ability-fielding system is even now subject to delays, which would be perilous when addressing requires recognized through battle operations. To keep away from this, alliance associates really should commit to offering resources for a quick-acquisition corporation on a preauthorized and discretionary foundation, in essence producing a financial institution account that can be drawn upon when necessary. Even if this ended up a credit history line that customers fully commited to, somewhat than a standing pot of funds, it would limit setbacks brought about by the sluggish and political processes of figuring out and appropriating funding.

Guaranteeing sufficient funding is not the only remedy. Commanders also require the authority to streamline the identification of urgent wants and a standing system, not an ad hoc solution, that can supply the overall flexibility and authority to address them. This exists for some alliance associates on a national foundation. The commander of the Dutch Defense Materiel Organization’s Pc Emergency Response Team, for instance, has a pre-licensed price range and the power to expedite acquisitions of up to 500,000 euros for urgent cyber capabilities in 14 days. Nonetheless, there is no NATO-wide strategy.

The U.S. Department of Protection features a range of acquisition techniques that NATO could draw from. The United States has a model in which the military services products and services are mostly responsible for buying weapon methods and delivering them to the joint pressure commanders. There are also quite a few Department of Defense organizations that have been stood up to deal with cross-service worries. This indicates that there are equally joint section-vast and provider-stage acquisition corporations procuring materiel to provide as examples.

Around time, the Section of Protection has developed processes to let necessities discovered on the battlefield to be immediately dealt with. Distinctive pieces of the section have also embarked on unique varieties of organizational innovation.

One particular illustration is the Air Force’s Fast Abilities Place of work, which was formed in 2003 to “expedite essential, often classified plans when keeping them on price range.” The place of work has a exceptional administration construction — it studies to a board of directors that is chaired by the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment and consists of the most senior leaders of the Air Drive and the below secretary of defense for analysis and engineering. These senior leaders can both equally set priorities for paying and function to come across the vital funding. Additionally, acquisition authorities at the Rapid Abilities Office environment are thoroughly picked to manage a culture exactly where “lean, agile, and forward-on the lookout technological innovation development” is attainable. Together with the Air Force’s new stealth bomber, the B-21 Raider, the place of work oversees the X-37B Orbital Take a look at Vehicle, “an experimental check software to display technologies for a trustworthy, reusable, unmanned space exam system.” The effectiveness of the Speedy Capabilities Place of work is affirmed by the decision to put these two incredibly significant applications there relatively than in just much more conventional Air Force acquisition corporations.

Another thought arrives from the Defense Innovation Device, which was developed to perform across the Department of Protection to determine and have an understanding of significant nationwide safety troubles that can be solved with primary-edge industrial technological know-how in 12 to 24 months. The Protection Innovation Unit connects with non-common suppliers in innovation hubs, including Silicon Valley, and employs adaptable acquisition versions to concern contracts in as minimal as 2 to 3 months. It then publishes a catalog of industrial “solutions” completely ready for obtain from a array of companies, quite a few of whom are not traditional defense suppliers. These contain the Subsequent Gen Explosive Ordnance Disposal Underwater Reaction Vehicle, a remotely operated underwater motor vehicle that lookups for mines, and Hunt Forward, a established of resources for forward-deployed cyber functions. Although implementation has not usually been smooth, the Protection Innovation Device has even so delivered battlefield commanders with a array of revolutionary solutions that they can flip to.

The Swift Capabilities Office empowers its leadership to finalize prerequisites and quickly commit funding, a critical component of its results. The Protection Innovation Device focuses on generating a pipeline of new technologies. And these organizations are not special. There are some others across the companies, these as NAVALX, the Military Purposes Lab, and AFWERX, that are aimed at adapting innovations from equally regular and non-conventional suppliers. The United Kingdom’s Royal Air Pressure has its personal Swift Capabilities Business office, which has also proven promise.

These U.S. versions establish that a bureaucracy as resistant to improve as the Section of Protection can nonetheless acquire new organizational buildings and procedures. The Dutch and British versions present that tries at organizational innovation are not confined to the Pentagon. NATO may opt for to adapt 1 of these or to acquire its personal distinctive techniques. The intention ought to be to offer its commanders with the adaptability and the authority to “validate requirements” — that is, to formally approve what the warfighter needs to execute the fight — and to make sources obtainable. The final decision composition could be a little rotating board of senior leaders, maybe with time restrictions for approving or rejecting requirements to drive quick conclusions.

NATO also requirements a way to hook up with market associates across the alliance, capitalizing on improvements from tiny firms and startups using new and versatile contracting mechanisms. The alliance at the moment lacks the instruments to fast adopt industrial systems. Two relevant policies would assistance to enhance the ability of new systems to hook up with current devices. To boost operational efficiency, NATO should really leverage interoperability expectations that let distinct devices to run seamlessly in a multi-domain ecosystem. A relevant approach would be to adopt open programs architecture methods for NATO weapons. This would present style information to organizations for developing factors that could get the job done with present techniques employing a “plug and play” technique. Each of these guidelines would build upon the common NATO strength of acquiring specifications while building these benchmarks applicable to progressive organizations.

All these approach changes and organizational innovations will get work — and the journey may perhaps be slowed by NATO’s consensus-creating society. Transformation usually takes time, but it only commences when there is a obvious circumstance for adjust. The scale and scope of Russia’s attack on Ukraine delivers that case, and the shipping of Starlink gives an case in point of what could be possible if NATO experienced a far more versatile tactic to acquisitions.



Cynthia R. Cook dinner directs the Centre for Strategic and Intercontinental Studies’ Defense-Industrial Initiatives Team, which researches acquisition policy, defense expending, worldwide protection industrial cooperation, and rising systems. She previously invested 25 decades at the RAND Corporation, the place she worked on and oversaw a huge variety of acquisition reports for components throughout the U.S. Office of Defense, together with the Australian and U.K. defense departments and NATO.

Anna M. Dowd is a senior global protection and defense policy qualified, an adjunct at the RAND Corporation, and co-founder of the Electronic Innovation Motor. From 2014 to 2020, she served as principal officer and head of field relations at the NATO Communications and Data Agency. Prior to joining NATO, she was a fellow at the European Union Institute for Protection Reports in Paris, and served as senior coverage officer at the European Defense Agency and senior analyst at the Polish Ministry of Protection.

Graphic: NATO