Working Group 2: Military Strategy and Future Force
Chair: LTG (Ret.) Ben Hodges (US)
Former Commander, US Army Europe (TAG)
Co-Chair/Rapporteur: Diego Ruiz Palmer (US)
Former Special Adviser for Net Assessment, Defence Policy and Planning Division, NATO HQ
The Military Strategy and Future Force Working Group offered a vision of a revised Alliance Military Strategy and an Allied future force in 2035. Specifically, the working group sought to better understand 1) what changes and new factors (China? Climate? Resurgent Russia? Iran? Advanced technologies?) should be addressed in Alliance Military Strategy (approved in 2019) to prepare for the foreseeable threats and challenges of 2035, and 2) how should such a future force be conceived, generated and fielded in order to be maximally capable of deterring and defending against threats, responding to challenges, preventing crises, and securing nations against hybrid activities? What specific lessons can be drawn from current wars (e.g., Ukraine, Nagorno-Karabakh, Libya…)? How are multi-domain operations changing and how will they change the character of warfare? What implications do multi-domain operations concepts have for military strategy and future force concepts and structure? What new organisations and concepts will be needed for manoeuvre, fires, air and missile defence, mobility, and counter-mobility? What new organisations and concepts will be needed for C4ISR, including electronic and cyber warfare? What new organisations and concepts will be needed for sustainment, maintenance, and military health and casualty care? What critical interactions will be needed with civilian partners (government, industry, academia, civil society) to enable a whole-of-society approach? To enable resilience and defence against hybrid activities (including information warfare)? How should civil-military cooperation and resilience be address in a revised Alliance Military Strategy?
Angus Topshee (Canada), Commander, Royal Canadian Navy
Fin Monahan (UK), Director, Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre, Ministry of Defence
Karl-Heinz Kamp (Germany), former Ministry of Defence (TAG)
Patricia Lewis (UK), Research Director, Conflict, Science & Transformation, Chatham House
Stuart Peach (UK), former Chief of Defence Staff and Chairman, NATO Military Committee (TAG)
Will Strickland (UK), Assistant Head Concepts, Futures Directorate, Army Headquarters
The WG started its consideration of its mandated topic from the baseline of NATO’s 2019 Military Strategy (the first such strategy since the 1967 MC 14/3 Flexible Response strategy) and the 2022 New Force Model, which together set out the Alliance’s assurance, deterrence and defence missions in the post-2014 security environment and the revised Allied force structure required to execute, if necessary, NATO’s new family of advance plans. This baseline provided the backdrop to addressing what kind of challenges and requirements a revised Military Strategy and adapted Force Structure would need to address in 2035, although there was no attempt in the WG to try to draft even the outline of such a Strategy or the main features of future forces.
While acknowledging the challenge of imagining what NATO’s security environment might look like in 2035, the WG agreed the following Core Message:
The Alliance must prepare and adapt for a security environment and a combination of threats that will likely be much more complex, complicated and challenging than those existing at the present time. These threats will be multi-directional and multi-domain, spanning the continuum of conflict and the spectrum of emerging technologies. Vectors of threat will worsen on all of the Alliance’s flanks: the Eastern Flank, from Russia; the Northern Flank/Arctic, predominantly from Russia, but also, increasingly, from China; the Western Flank (along the Western seaboard of North America, which is NATO’s Western boundary) from Russia, China and North Korea; and the Southern Flank, from Iran and terrorist groups, but also growing regional instability and uncontrolled migration flows in and from Africa and the Near and Middle East. Russia is no longer just an Eastern Flank threat to NATO, it is increasingly a 360 degree threat, because of its belligerent posture in the Arctic, the Mediterranean and Africa.
Confronting this much more adverse environment will require NATO to continue to adapt its military strategy and forces, notably by acknowledging explicitly in its Military Strategy the transformational impact of new technologies on future warfare and their potential to make NATO stronger. Applications with the greatest potential to enhance NATO’s deterrence and defence posture positively, along the competition-crisis-conflict continuum, include:
- collective situational awareness;
- common threat recognition;
- agile decision-making; and
- tailored responsiveness.
Achieving this outcome by 2035 calls for NATO to adopt an “end-to-end” approach to technology management that emphasizes urgency, priority and speed of delivery. Implementing such an approach to technology will require, in turn, greater political engagement and resource investment, as well as institutional and procedural reform. Pursuing such an “end-to-end” approach institutionally and procedurally would require, for example, rethinking the linkages and sequencing between Allied Command Transformation’s NATO War-Fighting Capstone Concept (NWCC), the NATO Science and Technology Organisation’s Science and Technology Strategy, the NATO Defence Planning Process (NDPP) and the development of NATO Standardisation Agreements (STANAGs). Two areas of greatest need and potential for implementing such an “end-to-end” approach to technology management were identified as:
- Command and Control (C2); and
- Integrated Air and Missile Defence (IAMD),
not the least because both are areas of recognised NATO operational competence.
Main themes discussed in relation to the enabling role of new technologies included:
- In support of deterrence, defence and deception, including the posing of operational and strategic dilemmas to adversaries; the operational endurance of forces; and the simplification of institutional complexity in an organisation such as NATO, through a combination of complex systems’ theory and artificial intelligence;
- In achieving positive effects of scale, rather than mass, to undermine and overwhelm the adversary;
- Their positive impact on the trade-off between technology and manpower, taking into account future personnel recruitment and retention challenges, as well as on energy use by the military, in support of system propulsion, system operation and overall operational capacity; and
- Their potential to revolutionise war-gaming, experimentation and technology demonstration. In this area, reference was made to giving current NATO efforts greater weight and salience, in the areas of ISR (Unified Vision experiment), electronic warfare (MACE/EMBOW trials), and combined operational capacity (Combined Warrior Interoperability Experiment).
- Their applicability to education and training of military and civil audiences to achieve and maintain higher levels of professional competence and help proliferate comprehensive approaches to crisis management and the conduct of war, including the development of agile strategic communications (STRATCOM) capabilities.
Obstacles to delivery
There was a clear recognition that in an alliance as large as NATO, composed of a relatively small number of large and militarily capable Allies and many smaller, less capable Allies, the collective quest for effectiveness and efficiency, notably through strengthened cooperation, burden-sharing, pooling, and economies of scale, would assume greater importance. Key obstacles on this path would include:
- Institutional fragmentation within NATO;
- A lack of sufficient delegated authorities from Allies to designated NATO bodies;
- A general unwillingness of nations to cede sovereignty to international bodies, in relation to discretionary managerial authority; discretionary budgetary authority; initiative; and disposition of assets;
- Competing operational requirements among Allies and between NATO and Allies;
- Uncertainty regarding the desirable scope of substitution of humans by machines; and
- The absence in democracies of a “war economy” policy framework that would facilitate innovation and authorise risk-taking (although President Macron mentioned the need to transition to a war economy in June 2022, in part in recognition of French operational endurance shortfalls).
There was a general view that the urgency of leveraging and applying new technologies in support of strengthened NATO deterrence and defence, including in the direction of a multi-national Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) capacity, mandated employing pre-existing structures and processes, while pursuing institutional and procedural adaptation in parallel.
As identified under Section 2 above, there were plenty of areas of interest and structures and procedures already in place that could be better exploited to accelerate technological change, particularly in support of fit-for-purpose NATO C2 and strengthened NATO IAMD. To achieve these ends, Allies should be prepared politically to encourage much greater collaboration between various NATO bodies (NATO Headquarters, the NATO Command Structure (NCS), NATO agencies, Centres of Excellence, etc. to create virtuous “clusters of excellence”). In the C2 area, there should be much greater, politically-mandated engagement between the NCS and the NATO Communications and Information Agency (NCIA) to ensure the early introduction into service of a 21st century digital C2 backbone, whereas in the IAMD area, there should be much closer engagement between the NATO IAMD Committee at NATO Headquarters, SHAPE in Mons, HQ AIRCOM at Ramstein air base for the air force dimension of IAMD, HQ LANDCOM in Izmir for the surface-based dimension of IAMD, HQ STRIKFORNATO in Lisbon for the maritime aspects of IAMD, the applicable Centres of Excellence in France, Germany and Greece, and nations.
There was a general view that a combination of advanced information and communications technologies, AI and quantum computing could significantly contribute to rapid progress in the C2 and IAMD areas and show the way in other areas, building confidence among the Allies on the benefits of new technologies and NATO’s institutional and operational capacity to leverage them to the benefit of all.
In addition to NATO’s unique institutional role, there was a view that Allies should also better leverage NATO’s Framework Nation Concept (FNC), as the UK did through the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF), to pool and share national and multinational efforts under the helpful lead of willing and able framework nations.
A future NATO Military Strategy would need to show the way on how technology could help overcome gaps in operational capacity among Allies and achieve, through a migration strategy, discrete, higher levels of combined operational capacity. Only a top-down, politically-mandated approach could help create the momentum necessary within the Alliance to overcome national and institutional barriers on the way to such a multinational MDO capacity.
The implications of the kind of technological transformation discussed in the WG and reported above for the future shape of Allied forces were addressed only at the margins. For instance:
- What could be the impact of seeking technological superiority on the traditional force structures that have been in place since World War Two: Air Force squadrons; Army brigades and Navy task groups?
- Are those force structures inherited from the 20th century viable in an operational environment increasingly dominated by new technologies?
- If they are, what adaptations, including new operational concepts and tactics, would be necessary to keep them fit-for-purpose?
- And if they are not, what alternative force structures for 2035 are imaginable and desirable?
There was also a conversation on the periphery of the main discussions on the management in democracies of the debate between the attractiveness of technological transformation and entrenched institutional and political risk aversion.
Recommendations and way ahead
Recommendations clustered around four key ideas:
- Spread across the Alliance a sense of urgency in relation to the risks of not leveraging sufficiently, and on an organised basis, the benefits of new technologies for strengthening the combined operational capacity and political unity of the Allies;
- This greater sense of urgency should lead to adopting an “end-to-end” approach to technological innovation and transformation among the Allies and across the Alliance; this comprehensive approach should incorporate political, institutional, procedural, operational and industrial dimensions, possibly starting at the forthcoming 75th NATO anniversary summit in Washington, D.C., in July 2024;
- This deliberate and comprehensive approach to technology should be driven by the concept of “participatory enterprise”, where national governments, international organisations and industry, including technological start ups, enter into a compact to structure and accelerate the transformation of defence and security; and
- Be prepared to address with civil society the potential risks and constraints associated with increased technological dependencies, from the standpoint of national security policy, civil-military relations and ethics.
As this report hopefully makes clear, while the forthcoming technological revolution brings along military risks as well as opportunities for the Allies, it also requires a broader, more holistic, more imaginative and more innovative approach to defence policy-making and defence organisation. This means that alongside the forthcoming technological revolution, defence establishments and the armed forces must initiate and manage competently a conceptual revolution of possibly unprecedented complexity and consequence.