Working Group 3: Capabilities Working Group
Chair: Robert Bell (US)
Chief Executive Officer, National Security Council LLC (TAG)
Co-Chair/Rapporteur: BG (Ret.) Robbie Boyd (UK), Gartner (TAG)
The Capabilities Working Group considered how foreseeable threats and challenges of 2035, emerging and disruptive technologies (AI, autonomous systems, big data and ICT, energy and propulsion technologies, hypersonic systems, electronic and electromagnetic technologies, space-based capabilities, quantum technologies, novel materials and advanced manufacturing, and biotechnology human enhancement), and future operational concepts (i.e. Multi-Domain Operations) will affect future capability requirements and capability development. What domain-specific (land, air, maritime, cyber, space, and cognitive domain) and multi-domain (e.g., C4ISR, IAMD, long range strike…) capabilities will be most critical for future deterrence and defence, crisis prevention and response, and resilience? What capabilities will be most affordable, most effective, most difficult to achieve? What capability development strategies and approaches will be most important and / or effective in achieving critical defence capabilities, including those capabilities needed for national and Alliance resilience? How can nations and the Alliance best resource critical defence capabilities to ensure adequate defence investment in research and development, fielding, readiness, and sustainment? What challenges must be addressed in future capability development (e.g., interoperability, supply chains, digitization, energy efficiency…) and how best to do so? What dual-use capabilities will be most important for deterrence and defence and / or resilience? What synergies might be possible between defence, security, and domestic needs? What future capabilities might improve affordability of national, Alliance defence?
Becca Wasser (US), Senior Fellow, Defense Program, CNAS
Bruno Tertrais (France), Deputy Director, Fondation de la Recherche Strategique
Chris Harper (UK), Managing Director, CH4C Global (TAG)
Meia Nouwens (Netherlands), Senior Fellow for Chinese Security and Defence Policy, International Institute for Strategic Studies
Khurram Jamil (Denmark), President, Global Markets, Area 9 Lyceum
- The strategic environment we will face in 2035 will be bleak. Russia will remain a clear and present danger regardless of the outcomes in Ukraine, distinguished by the possibility of high intensity, industrial-scale, high-end warfare in central Europe. This will be compounded by an expanded long-term threat from China. Additionally, there will likely be enduring challenges from N Korea and Iran. State threats will dominate but the realities of terror driven warfare will not disappear.
- Taken together, the nature of the 2035 threat will likely be high-tech, industrialized, protracted, and will require whole of government, fully mobilized, resilient, national responses, including incentivizing industry for surge capacity and protracted production. The budgets generated to finance these must be affordable. But, they will require further increases – there is no peace dividend now in sight.
- No one nation will be able to respond adequately to address this wide spectrum of threats alone. Responses will need to be founded on cooperation and integration of allied and like-minded partner nations, both in the NATO and Indo-Pacific regions (emerging examples will include AUKUS and other regional groupings such as the UK Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF)). This will require cultural change, including more technology transfer, interoperability, standardization, joint procurement, logistics and sustainment.
- The biggest risk we face is time. We will lose our already tenuous competitive advantage against our threats if we fail to make the necessary bold adaptations, which include optimizing political and military cooperation frameworks to integrate new EDTs at pace in multi-domain concepts at scale (for example; the Replicator and DIANA initiatives and the NIF and emerging JEF capabilities funding mechanisms).
- We have an advantage: our recognition that this is a moment not experienced for some time, which if seized can put us in a position to field capabilities in 2035 that will remain functional until 2060 in some cases. Our advantage, then, is the collective ‘Western’ unity of purpose against the distinct put increasingly aligned State threats we face.
- This provides the opportunity for accelerated adaption and learning through pragmatic change management, which in turn requires vision and top-down leadership empowered by clear guidance from statesmen.
- This also means our capability strategies and approaches must be adapted and accelerated, our adoption of tech and integration processes has to be focused on generating speed, while ensuring effective testing, experimentation and demonstration. This will require closer partnerships with industry to adapt and adopt new acquisition and sourcing processes. Nonetheless, we must also maintain the established processes that work and sustain our legacy systems while seeking out new methodologies (with industry advice) to do this. The NATO Defense Planning Process (NDPP) plays a necessary role. But, it must be complemented by vanguard groupings under lead nations that can and will go faster if provided with innovative investment funding mechanisms.
- What does this mean for capabilities? We think that the emerging and disruptive technologies such as AI, Quantum, Big Data, improved processes in digital sourcing et al, will need to complement and improve legacy capabilities but also they will enable the following key capability categories:
- Manpower. This is the most precious capability we have. We will need to build beyond our standing forces – new ways of generating threat-focused reserves, improved civilian engagement and in some cases possibly reintroducing conscription. The looming demographic trends are ominous, so we will need tech to replace the human where safe to do so as well as the education our societies on the threats to encourage all to play their part.
- Nuclear weapons will endure. The era of strategic arms control and unilateral reductions is over. There will need to be significant re-education of society and increase in resilience. New technology and decisions on missile defences will follow. Organizations like NATO may be suited to integrate and orchestrate more strategic enablers.
- Autonomous Systems in all domains including responses such as Counter-autonomous systems in all domains will increase. This will require values and international legal examination. Perhaps additional rules of war.
- Legacy systems will endure but must be repurposed and consistent with adapted warfighting doctrines.
- Survivable C2 with secure communications will become more important, enabled by a globally interoperable Secure Cloud system. Mission command philosophy will endure and becomes more important with built in requirements for dispersal and other survivability methodologies emerging as critical capability drivers. There will be a step change linked to Multi-Domain Operations requiring secure linkages and a willingness of national civilian and military elements to subordinate themselves to lead nation ‘vanguard’ groupings.
- Sustainable energy and materials. Supply chain management will be more affected at source for critical rare earth materials and fuels. Stocks of material will need to grow to ensure industry can respond to surge production activity.
Background, Context, and Discussion
“[It is all about] Capabilities, Capabilities, Capabilities”.
Lord Robertson when the NATO Secretary General
Under the Chair of Dr Robert Bell and Co-Chair Brigadier (Retd.) Robbie Boyd, a Working Group (WG) to examine the capability outcomes for future war and deterrence. Our most important and relevant observations out to 2035 are summarized above. Our methodology and assumptions – summarized below – concentrated on three factors where new technology consequences will have an impact; firstly, a collective agreement on the 2035 threat environment. Secondly, where the opportunities existed to refine and exploit Emerging Disruptive Technologies (EDTs) and thirdly, to seek opportunities to harness new operational concepts to refine and promote our deterrence posture. Whilst seeking opportunities, the WG also noted there was a need to reconcile opportunities against three further criteria – affordability, orchestrating new tech with legacy tech, and generally ensuring national and collective resilience improvement.
In the context of affordability, the WG considered how best the dimensions of affordability and resilience can reinforce deterrence credibility, given competing demands for national public finances. At a macro level, the WG noted with concern the recent Canadian Prime Minister’s admission that Canada was simply not going to reach NATO’s 2% Defense Investment Pledge (DIP) despite having been embraced by Canada at the Wales Summit and reaffirmed at the Madrid Summit. The WG emphasizes the importance of the 2% goal and regards it as a “floor” for each ally’s investment. The WG also emphasizes the importance of the accompanying commitment to dedicate at least 20% of national defence spending to R&D and procurement and views this level of investment as essential to achieving NATO’s EDT and capabilities objectives. [The 2% and 20% metrics of the Wales DIP 2014 are the two so-called “input” metrics. It also includes the commitment to focus that spending on nine so-called ‘output’ metrics that provide guidance on how best to ensure that the spending is made smartly and in line with NATO’s agreed capability requirements, as allocated pursuant to the NDPP in line with agreed threat assessments. ] We noted positively that due to sober reflection regarding Russia’s aggression from 2014 and since February 2022, and the emergence of China as a global threat and Iran and North Korea as regional threats, there has been progress amongst allies towards meeting the 2% minimum threshold. We noted that recent events in Gaza and elsewhere would mean terrorism would also remain a threat in 2035 and would still need technological exploitation of EDTs to deter it.
Fair burden sharing underpins affordability. Not one nation could field a full spectrum of capability, even the USA would be challenged between multiple NATO area, China and regional state threats. The NATO guidance that one nation should not be expected to provide more than 50% of any one capability led to reflection that international groupings and lead nation groupings could accelerate capability fielding and interoperability. It was also considered that larger international groupings, such as NATO, were particularly suited to generating strategic enablement capabilities – for example Missile Defence systems. We noted that in Europe there was probably an underestimation of the Chinese threat in every domain.
Affordability will require more cooperation. This was most manifested in the sharing of tech amongst allies as well as securing supply chains (and in some cases stockpiling material). Supply chains were at their most vulnerable at the point of origin, with many rare earth materials gradually moving to Chinese control across several continents and in the case of French nuclear fuel challenged by Russia in Africa using Wagner Group-type activity to destabilize. There was a need to engage as one and incentivize nations to sell commodities. Our general publics still do not understand our State security risks and are less inclined to spend state funds on it. An innovative suggestion included encouraging pension funds to invest in Defence innovation and capabilities to amplify the public covenant towards defence spending.
Finally, our WG discussion reflected on the more micro affordability issues. Individual education and training, platform procurement and tactical ways in which deterrent effect could be generated. Often new ways were less expensive than old lethal alternatives. This was people-based, enhancing the WG conclusion that manpower was our greatest capability but it needed to be guided and nurtured.
The WG considered where EDTs fitted into capabilities and acknowledged that existing processes that generated targets based on deterrent plans (for example NATO’s NDPP activity) were still relevant for the acquisition and sustainability of legacy systems. A mix would be required, technology enhanced legacy capabilities as well as new EDT ways to deliver our deterrence ends. EDTs were more often than not a silver bullet. Careful integration and orchestration with legacy capabilities would drive effect. This would require a change in C2 methodologies and in particular the sourcing of tech and digital solutions with industry to maintain speed of relevance in fielding capability. Our existing sourcing processes were too slow. We recognized that it took time to field some capabilities and welcomed new investment in innovation companies through initiatives like NATO DIANA, NIF and fresh capability funding ideas like the ‘JEF Bank’ to generate speed through smaller grouping of vanguard nations. Above all else we considered that time was our biggest risk.
The WG also highlighted the challenges to greater industry cooperation. Identifying new innovation through start ups, then protecting their development from absorption and exploitation by Prime Companies threw up IP ownership issues. Technology often needed to be dual use (civilian and military) to make it commercially viable. But also, the case of Space X raises questions as to how far an innovative capability company should be allowed to go before it is eventually nationalized? The recent example of Elon Musk entering in to operational level decision-making over Ukraine support was notable.
Quantum technology raised concerns for both C2 systems and also for submarine based nuclear deterrence, though the WG was of the view that no breakthrough that would “make the oceans transparent” is imminent. A discussion ensured on diversifying systems where ultimate deterrence would continue to come from legacy nuclear systems. But C2 had to be protected. A spiral of action and reaction of Quantum response was envisaged, making this technology particularly vulnerable to a [Dreadnought style] tech arms races.
Resilience discussions highlighted that alternative demands for precious resources would require risk-based prioritization of which tech to back and where to concentrate on (re)building national resilience. Lessons from Ukraine (particularly on holdings of stocks of ammunition) raised higher priorities for (re)investment that perhaps technology. It was noted that we are unable to fully predict our logistic demand to fight a major war in Europe and the group pondered the prioritization of resources. Industrial scale warfare was expensive but back. Could industry ramp up production in time if our stocks failed to buy enough time? Climate change impact was considered. There would be opportunities from emerging fuel technologies, which in resilience terms would drive the need for more energy self-sufficiency as a prioritization for many governments. There was also a significant issue with manpower reliance – demographics in the ‘West’ were not encouraging and where rearmament, logistics resilience and improved C2 systems were driving significant increases in the DIP (for example in Poland) it was perhaps inconceivable to see how manning such force increases could be done without significant societal changes in education, training and ultimate reserve generation. Conscription in some Western nations was becoming a more likely option. The WG reflected how that could be achieved given current population expectations. Autonomous systems were one way to help with manpower shortages but were only emerging with recent advances in AI.
- Percentage of air, land, and naval forces that are deployable;
- Percentage of deployable air, land, and naval forces that can be sustained in deployment;
- Percentage of deployable air, land and naval forces deployed on NATO Operations and Missions abroad;
- Percentage of deployable air, land, and naval forces deployed on non-NATO Operations and Missions abroad;
- Percentage of deployable air, land, and naval forces deployed on in support of NATO Assurance Missions;
- Percentage of Capability Targets allocated to that ally in accordance with the NATO Defense Planning Process (NDPP) that have been met;
- Percentage of billets within the NATO Command Structure assigned to that ally that have been filled;
- Percentage of billets within the NATO Force Structure Headquarters assigned to that ally that have been filled; and
- Contribution by that ally to the Immediate Response Force (IRF) of the NATO Response Force (NRF).