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Appendix 1

Monday 9 – Wednesday 11 October 2023 | WP3219

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Full working group findings and recommendations: Working Group 1: The Technology Working Group

Chair: Dr Camille Grand (France),former NATO ASG for Defence Investment (TAG)

Co-Chair/Rapporteur: MG (Ret.) Gordon B. Davis (US), former DASG NATO Defence Investment Division (TAG)

The Technology Working Group considered the future applications of emerging and disruptive technologies in the battlespace across all domains from sea-bed to space, Emerging and disruptive technologies include artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous systems (including drone swarms), big data, information and communication technologies (ICT), energy and propulsion technologies, hypersonic systems, electronic and electromagnetic technologies, space-based capabilities, and the future role of quantum technologies (computing, communications, sensing), novel materials and advanced manufacturing, and biotechnology and human enhancement. How are these technologies changing current warfare (e.g., in Ukraine, Nagorno-Karabakh, Libya…) and how will they affect future warfare? What impact these technologies have on the OODA loop – observe, orient, respond, act? What technologies might be most useful in maintaining the West’s comparative military advantage? For deterrence and defence and / or resilience? What mix of technologies will be the exclusive domain of a few nations (friendly and foe) and which will be available to all, with what implications for the Alliance, EU, and partner future forces? What decisions must be taken now to ensure research and development, testing and experimentation of advanced technologies to ensure their availability and fielding by 2035? What new defence concepts systems and military techniques, tactics, and procedures must be developed in tandem with fielding of advanced technologies to ensure their optimal effect (deterrence and defence, resilience)? What policies and mechanisms will be needed to preserve interoperability among NATO allies, EU member states and partner future forces? 

Elizabeth Buchanan (Australia), Head of Research, Royal Australian Navy

Madeleine Carr (UK), Professor in Global Politics and Cyber Security, Director of the Digital Technologies Policy Laboratory, University College London

Nancy Pallares, (US) Business Development Director, Teledyne Europe

Tristam Constant (UK), Director, Europe, Anduril

Chris Moore-Bick (UK), Policy Head, Defence Science and Technology, Ministry of Defence

Giles Hill (UK), Former Assistant Chief of Defence Staff and Deputy NATO Coalition Commander

René Balletta (UK), First Sea Lord’s Visiting Fellow, Royal United Services Institute (RUSI)

Ulrike Franke (France), Senior Fellow, European Council on Foreign Relations


Under the Chair of Camille Grand and Co-Chair Major General (Retired) Gordon “Skip” Davis, the Technology Working Group considered the future applications of emerging and disruptive technologies in the battlespace, implications for NATO (applicable for the EU as well), and how best to adopt and integrate them for comparative advantage. The group included members with NATO, government, defence, and private sector experience and expertise. Following a review of the core messages and themes of our discussion, we summarize the most important findings and recommendations in this report.

Core messages

NATO’s current list of emerging and disruptive technologies that should be promoted for development, adoption, and protection to gain and maintain a technological edge vis-à-vis potential adversaries and challengers is about right. NATO has arrived at their current list

iteratively through a process of research, internal debate, and policy development. The group discussed various aspects of technology maturity, impact on defence and security, and interdependency, concluding that the NATO list was sound and well founded.

NATO needs a high-level, comprehensive “grand strategy” for the technological domain to ensure innovation and EDT adoption lead to the technological edge NATO aims to achieve. NATO processes related to innovation and EDT adoption need further refinement or revision.

NATO efforts in innovation and EDT adoption should focus on NATO’s mission, roles, and added value to its members. NATO’s mission and core tasks (especially collective defence and deterrence and conflict prevention and management) plus resilience should drive the selection of defence challenges needing solutions through innovation and EDT. NATO should leverage its roles as a facilitator, integrator, organiser, norm and standard setter, developer of common doctrine, common concepts and policy, and driver of collective defence planning to guide innovation and EDT adoption.

At best NATO can aspire to be an early adopter and norm setter but it will always be a limited driver of EDT development and acquisition due to the limited common funds NATO invests and the limited demand for collective capabilities (products and services) NATO represents.

Main themes of the debate

The purpose of NATO innovation and EDT adoption is important to maintain as a compass for prioritisation of effort. Our group concluded that this purpose is to help NATO secure and defend the Alliance (nations, populations, forces), deter aggression, mitigate challenges, prevent and manage conflict, and increase and sustain resilience.

Should NATO prioritise its efforts on selected EDTs? If so, how? There was a general view that NATO needed to prioritise its EDT efforts. However, after a review of NATO’s current list of priority EDTs and potential criteria, the group agreed that NATO’s current approach of focusing first on developing strategies and policies for EDTs that are foundational or common components of key combinations of EDTs (e.g., Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, Information & Communication Technologies, Autonomy, Space) made sense. Additionally, those EDTs that are mature now or likely to mature by 2035 should be prioritised for development strategies (and military concept development) to assist NATO and nations in incorporating EDT-related capabilities in the next two NATO Defence Planning Process (NDPP) cycles (i.e., 2023-2026, 2027-2030). Given that the majority of NDPP national capability targets fall in the near-term (0-6 years) a horizon of 2035 is appropriate (i.e., the apportionment year of the next NDDP cycle is 2029; 2035 is 6 years beyond).

Are there combinations of EDTs that may be having or could have a high-level, game-changing impact (i.e., incite a Revolution in Military Affairs – RMA)?  The group believed one combination was having a RMA-level impact now: AI, Big Data and Information and Communications Technologies (ICT), Autonomy, and Space-related capabilities. The group also identified two combinations of EDTs that could have a RMA level impact in the future: 1) AI, Big Data and ICT, Quantum Technology, and Space-related capabilities, and 2) AI, Big Data and ICT, and Biotechnology and Human Enhancement.

Where should NATO follow, partner, or lead in defence-related innovation?  Based on what criteria should NATO take a leading role? The group discussed when government or military Research and Development (R&D) should fund innovation versus follow private sector lead. The group also discussed where governments and militaries might have the preponderance of expertise in EDT development (e.g., hypersonic systems).

The issue of quantity versus quality in select EDTs (such as autonomous systems and satellites) is important for NATO to consider. Governments may be content to depend on the private sector for large numbers of relatively cheaper systems while focusing military development on small numbers of more costly, hardened, and exquisite systems with military-specific capabilities. Determining the right mix of innovative technologies to invest in for defence capabilities will be important. For example, commercial off the shelf (COTS) drones that are cheap with limited survivability, but which provide tactical advantage (e.g., ISR, targeting, strike) when employed in mass should complement higher quality drones which are limited in number with military-specific performance characteristics (greater survivability, exquisite sensors or munitions) and acquired at greater cost. That said, traditional trade-off relationships are evolving – high versus low tech, quality versus quantity, high cost versus low cost, available later versus ready now.

Leader education is a critical aspect to investing in innovation and EDT adoption. Informing, educating, and translating the importance of EDTs to non-expert policymakers and decision-makers(politicians, diplomats, military leaders, and resource managers) is essential to securing investment and support for the conditions needed to promote innovation and EDT adoption.

Interoperability (material and operational, a greater problem for material) is a current shortfall. Interoperability is driven by military requirements and shaped by doctrine and concepts of employment. What is right level of system interoperability? The answer may be domain specific. As physical domains are each distinct the level of system interoperability is driven by how national forces organise and fight under NATO command. Cyber and space interoperability are driven by the needs for data-centric connectivity and what resources are retained by nations versus offered to NATO to achieve specific collective effects. Given these distinctions, how should NATO inform industry of interoperability requirements and the related context to guide EDT development and delivery?

NATO and national innovation ecosystems are key to accelerated development and delivery. There are multiple NATO innovation stakeholders (Nations, NATO Committees, S&T Organisation, International Staff, International Military Staff, Strategic Commands, Agencies, DIANA, NATO Investment Fund, Industry) each with different agendas and priorities. NATO and national innovation ecosystems are not naturally coherent and need to be enabled with common aims, priorities, and processes.

Diversity and variety (as opposed to common systems and equipment) contribute a quality of their own. While diversity and variety may challenge interoperability and complicate adopting common standards, they can be helpful in posing tactical (and perhaps operational or strategic) dilemmas for adversaries. NATO and nations should consider which EDTs will be exclusive to a few countries (e.g., hypersonic and counter-hypersonic systems, space-related capabilities) and which EDTs may be available to all. Those EDTs exclusive to just a few countries may not be worth extensive NATO effort.

Cost of EDT development and adoption is a major factor for NATO and nations. Predictable funding is key for industry. Increased defence investment often requires domestic spending and / or internal defence budget trade-offs. When considering EDT investment and adoption we can’t forget the need to enhance and / or recycle legacy capabilities and to enable life cycle management & sustainment (including obsolescence management) to leverage past investments in a cost-conscious manner.

Not all domains are the same in terms of EDT innovation and adoption. Some EDTs such as AI, Big Data and ICT, Autonomy, Quantum Technology, or Biotechnology and Human Enhancement may have common aspects across the physical domains. Cyber and space, however, are enablers for each other and the physical domains while also being operational domains of their own accord. As such cyber and space are common enablers for all NATO EDTs and should be considered in EDT innovation and adoption (including in policy, capability strategy, concept, and standards development).

Obstacles to delivery

The group identified several existing and potential obstacles to innovation, and to development, delivery, and adoption / integration of EDTs.

There is limited understanding among high-level leaders (policymakers, decision makers) and resource managers of EDT potential and the need to accelerate development and delivery to seize opportunities for gain and avoid the costs of delay or non-adoption.High-level leaders generally have a limited time available to learn and a limited attention span due to competing priorities.

The way we train and educate leaders and staff and recruit and retain EDT-related expertise is sub-optimal.

The way we organize for innovation and EDT adoption (including the way we procure EDTs) is not fit for purpose.

The lack of a systems approach to EDT adoption and integration (at political and policy level) inhibits NATO’s and nations’ ability to leverage EDT potential.

Budget constraints (funds available, past decisions, rigid and long budget cycles, industrial policies) impact the level and consistency of defence investment for R&D and procurement from industry.

NATO resource processes and the common fund governance (resource committees, common funded capability development process) limits the effectiveness of NATO investment.

Unpredictable, inconsistent, or insufficient funding constrains the ability of startups and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to contribute to defence-related EDT development. Short term return on investment generally drives large industry. This behaviour can starve SMEs and startups who need longer term investment to develop and mature EDT.

Lack of robust, continual, mutually-beneficial dialogue between all levels of defence-relevant industry and military limits mutual understanding of defence challenges and potential private sector solutions.

The complexity of the NATO innovation ecosystem complicates internal coherence and external engagement. Information sharing of defence strategies, capability development approaches, and defence challenges with the private sector is limited and insufficiently transparent.

Lack of speed and risk tolerance in defence procurement leads to loss of opportunities.

Lack of doctrine and employment concepts limits speed and effectiveness of EDT adoption and integration.

Export licensing and technology sharing constraints can limit multinational cooperation in EDT development / acquisition and delivery and thus adoption.

National desire to retain control of and a limited willingness to share exquisite capabilities (e.g., cyber, space, niche capabilities – hypersonic systems) can limit EDT exploitation / adoption.

Technological immaturity limits speed of adoption and ability to develop concepts of employment, thus limiting the immediate relevance and desirability from an end-user perspective.

Cyber security is a vulnerability throughout innovation and EDT adoption.

Supply chain security for critical components and resources needed for EDT development, production, adoption (e.g., information technology, rare earth materials) can limit EDT adoption at scale as well as life cycle management and sustainment.

Specific Working Group findings

The private sector dominates R&D funding and effort in EDT and in EDT expertise. NATO should follow private sector lead where commercial and private research and development funding dominate EDT development and EDT characteristics largely address military requirements (i.e., most areas of dual-use technology and applications). NATO should partner where private sector EDT development needs additional scope and focus to address defence challenges. NATO should lead where private sector EDT does or will not address defence challenges without specific military funding (e.g., hypersonic weapon systems).

Potential criteria for NATO EDT prioritisation:  mature technology (high Technology Readiness Level), high impact and high applicability to defence and security needs (responsive to known challenges / vulnerabilities), enabler of Multi Domain Operations and Warfare Development Agenda, enabler for drastic improvement of legacy systems, foundational, cost-effective. NATO focus should remain on high-impact, game-changing EDT combinations with military application (i.e., which address greatest defence challenges).

Quantum Technology development will present future challenges that need to be addressed now, e.g., quantum-proof encryption and countermeasures for quantum-sensing (e.g., greater uncrewed autonomous systems, mobile Faraday-type protection).

Importance of Digital Transformation (e.g., people, processes, technology aspects – data fabric, connectivity and networks, standards – digital backbone for systems) as an underlying enabler for EDT adoption and addressing complex interoperability problems.

Importance of adopting a software-centric approach and component modularity wherever applicable to enable faster upgrade, iterative improvement and refinement in response to new technologies, new applications, and response to adversarial action or adversarial reaction.

Importance of cyber security throughout innovation and EDT adoption. Cyber security concerns extend to private sector collaboration (from R&D to testing and experimentation to delivery), especially to protect classified or sensitive defence information (including intellectual property). Cyber vulnerabilities can emerge during adoption and integration as operators employ EDT. Cyber security must be embedded in a holistic systems approach to integration (including training and education of operators, maintainers, leaders).

Private sector has difficulty in understanding how and where to engage NATO on innovation due to the complexity of the NATO enterprise.

Within private sector large industries (traditional and non-traditional), SMEs, and startups can all potentially contribute to defence challenges and have different comparative advantages and information/funding needs. SMEs and startups tend to lead on software, cyber, data, simulations expertise.

Private sector responds to market incentives and levers and regulation. In addition to technology transfer, national and international regulation will likely drive “Net Zero” climate impact compliance and supply chain security considerations (e.g., re-shoring, friend-shoring, decoupling from autocratic regimes).

Importance of adopting an accelerated development cycle – test, learn, refine, scale – to leverage potential of EDTs in timely manner (to maintain NATO’s comparative advantage against innovating adversaries).

Identification, refinement, resourcing / financing, and adoption of EDT requires a multi-stakeholder approach(scientists & engineers, military, armaments, industry, resource / budget managers).

Accelerated development and delivery require accelerated procurement and acquisition processes, and higher risk or failure tolerance.

NATO provides added value in operational experimentation and should expand opportunities for bringing key innovation players together (i.e., bring operators/commanders, industry developers, scientists & engineers together to refine requirements, validate and refine prototypes, identify the need for new doctrine, concepts, and tactics, techniques, and procedures, and then validate them).

Importance of a holistic, systems approach to EDT capability integration. NATO and NATO nations already use a comprehensive approach to new capability integration (i.e., consider aspects of Doctrine, Organisation, Training, Materiel, Leader Development, Personnel, Facilities, Interoperability – DOTMLFPI). Systems engineers and capability integrators with cross-organizational views and authorities are needed to implement EDT-related change effectively. Some governments and industry use Chief Technology Officers to help integrate EDT-related capabilities. Perhaps NATO could identify a CTO for the NATO enterprise.

Multinational cooperation is important for most nations to acquire affordable technology at speed. NATO offers opportunities for multinational cooperation in EDT-related capability development and procurement.

NATO as Adopter (capital A for emphasis) versus driver of EDT. NATO’s greatest added value to nations is in promoting and facilitating defence-related innovation and EDT adoption. Because of its limited resources, NATO is more of an Adopter of relevant EDT than a driver of EDT development and delivery. NATO Adopter roles include forum for collective prioritisation; organiser and integrator of capabilities and forces; facilitator for policy, doctrine and concept development; standards and norms developer. NATO driver roles include leveraging of NATO-wide science & technology resources, facilitator for industry-private sector and military dialogue and operational experimentation, provider of limited funding for R&D and acquisition.

Outlying ideas

NATO should look at which EDTs may or will be dominated by non-Western nations to drive efforts to counter, compensate, mitigate, or prevent.

NATO should consider what NATO can or should provide / contribute to Indo-Pacific partner priorities in defence and security.

Recommended policy and the way forward 

NATO should:

Develop and share a high-level “grand strategy” to drive innovation and EDT adoption. The strategy should be comprehensive from creating the conditions for a dynamic, responsive innovation ecosystem through the development process (identification, test, learn, refine, iterate, validate, scale) to delivery, adoption, and integration. This grand strategy should include the purpose of innovation and EDT adoption, the roles of NATO stakeholders and external players, and the ways and means to ensure dynamic, accelerated, and effective (interoperable, high impact) innovation and EDT adoption. An external and frank audit of how NATO currently facilitates innovation and EDT adoption with respect to NATO ambition may help identify key areas for improvement.

Adopt a systems approach to EDT capability integration (e.g., DOTMLPFI – doctrine, organization, training, material, leader development, personnel, facilities, interoperability), and life cycle management and sustainment, including in-life modernisation and obsolescence management.

Improve the quality, depth, and breadth of dialogue with private sector players to leverage the full spectrum of private sector contributions to NATO innovation and EDT adoption. Communicate defence needs as discrete (but sufficiently broad) concepts of operation that would enable and leverage the private sector’s ability to creatively develop innovative approaches. Continue to improve and broaden dialogue with private sector to better leverage the spectrum, variety, and breadth of expertise that industry, academia, and civil society offer. The NATO Industry Advisory Group should continue to broaden its inclusion of the full breadth of the commercial sector (from large industries to SMEs to startups and non-traditional defence industries). Map out the NATO innovation ecosystem (including NATO Headquarters, NATO Military Authorities, S&T Organisation, Agencies, etc. across the NATO enterprise, not just DIANA and the NATO Innovation Fund) for external actors and internal stakeholders.

Focus innovation on those EDTs (or new applications of existing technologies) that add greatest value for NATO’s priority defence challenges, especially those that need military input and guidance and funding to respond to priority defence challenges. Adopt now those EDT with immediate military application (e.g., dual-use COTS) and, if necessary, test, refine, validate, scale, and integrate (DOTMLPFI approach).

Follow through with full resourcing and refinement of NATO innovation initiatives (i.e., DIANA, NATO Innovation Fund) and accelerate and expand as possible to exploit their potential.

Adopt agile development and acquisition principles to accelerate development and delivery and improve opportunities to better leverage contributions from private sector to address defence problems. Promote modularity, compatible digital backbones, and NATO standards. Revise NATO resource and capability development processes to improve agility, enable rapid iteration, allow for failure, and accelerate development and delivery.

Use market incentives and levers to promote defence-related research, development, testing (e.g., meritocratic competitions) and experimentation. Leverage all domain opportunities for operational experimentation. NATO stakeholders are already collaborating in the maritime domain – NATO’s Maritime Command, NATO S&T Organisation, Centre for Maritime Research and Experimentation, and Allied Command Transformation. This is not yet the case for NATO Air Command, Land Command or other operational forces.

Improve adaptive, responsive military concept development to accelerate and improve adoption of maturing EDT (i.e., concepts of employment, doctrine, and TTPs).

Account for data and cyber security, supply chain security, climate change-related requirements (and others) in the NATO innovation and EDT adoption processes.

Enable scaling through aggregation of demand in terms of common requirements and defence investment related to innovation and EDT adoption. This is already a focus of NATO’s Defence Production Action Plan, but it needs expanding beyond munitions procurement.

Address technological literacy among policy makers, decision makers, resource managers, and operators. Consider adaptive adult learning, scenario-based experiences, and simulations to provide high-impact training and education to leaders with limited time.Clarify and define interoperability requirements early during innovation and EDT adoption. This requires policy focus to identify at what level and where interoperability standards are needed and what doctrine or concepts may be needed first. NATO Digital Transformation will advance interoperability in data, connectivity, and networks and should be implemented rapidly as a foundational enabler for EDT adoption. Likewise, NATO’s Multi Domain Operations Concept and Implementation Strategy will be drivers for interoperability requirements (see Warfighting Development Imperatives). Despite the overall principle of interoperability, some variety and diversity are desirable as they can complicate adversary response and create tactical (and operational or strategic) dilemmas. NATO should allow for groups of allies to set norms and standards for exquisite capabilities that are unique to a limited number of nations (e.g., offensive cyber, space-related capabilities, hypersonic systems).


Working Group Summaries


Appendix 2

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