Topic: New and breakthrough technologies

At a meeting in London in December 2019, NATO leaders adopted a roadmap to introduce the latest and breakthrough technologies. This roadmap should help structure NATO’s work in a number of key technology areas and allow Allies to explore these technologies and their implications for deterrence and defense, as well as capacity development.

In February 2021, Allied Defense Ministers endorsed the TE/TR strategy (Accelerate and Protect: NATO’s Strategy for the Coordinated Implementation of New and Disruptive Technologies). This strategy aims to help NATO implement TE/TR and adapt to these technologies. It is based on a dual approach: promoting the development of dual-use technologies (i.e. technologies for both civil and military applications) that will enable the Alliance to strengthen its technology leadership, and creating a forum where Allies can share best practices that will help them protect themselves from threats.

NATO’s innovation activities are currently focused on seven main areas identified as priorities in the TE/TR Progressive Implementation Strategy:

  • artificial intelligence
  • data and computing
  • autonomous systems
  • quantum technologies
  • biotechnology and human development
  • hypersonic technologies
  • space.

The Alliance intended to develop specific plans for each of these areas, starting with artificial intelligence and data; implementation will be provided by Allies and the NATO Innovation Office. In October 2021, NATO Defense Ministers endorsed the first of these strategies, the NATO Strategy on Artificial Intelligence. This strategy is based on the principles of responsible use of artificial intelligence in the field of defense and their operationalization. It also outlines how the Alliance will adapt AI capabilities and protect the citizens of its member countries from their use by the enemy.

At the Brussels Summit in 2021, NATO leaders decided to establish the North Atlantic Civil and Military Defense Innovation Accelerator (DIANA) to advance transatlantic cooperation on critical technologies, promote interoperability and take advantage of civilian innovation through engagement with academia and the private sector, in particular startups. This mechanism will use the accelerator program and testing centers in different countries of the Alliance, and will also manage a database of reliable sources of capital.

NATO leaders also agreed to establish a NATO Innovation Fund, to which Allies can subscribe. This fund will finance start-ups working on new technologies and dual-use breakthrough technologies in key Alliance security areas. At the October 2021 Allied Defense Ministers’ Meeting, 17 Allies launched this multinational initiative, which will be fully operational by the 2022 Madrid Summit.

NATO Advisory Group on New and Disruptive Technologies

The NATO Advisory Group on New and Disruptive Technologies is an independent body that provides external advice to NATO on how to optimize its innovation activities. Established in July 2020, this group is made up of 12 private sector and academia experts from across the Alliance who have been conducting cutting-edge research, developing TE/TR policy documents, and launching pilot innovation programs. These experts submit their recommendations to the NATO Innovation Office.

The Group has so far made four key recommendations to NATO: improving technology knowledge across the Organization, establishing a network of innovation centres, developing and promoting new innovation financing mechanisms with private sector companies large and small, and launching innovation partnership initiatives. with external TE/TR actors from industry and academia.

The Advisory Group will continue to provide specific short-term and long-term recommendations on NATO’s approaches to new and disruptive technologies.

NATO Office of Innovation

The Office of Innovation, headed by the Deputy Secretary General, brings together senior civilian and military officials from across the Alliance. It is responsible for taking stock of new ideas developed outside the Organization, stimulating discussion, promoting best practices and engaging Allies in change that will help the Organization innovate. In this regard, he receives recommendations from the NATO Advisory Group on New and Disruptive Technologies.

Other innovative NATO bodies

Other NATO bodies support the innovation activities of the Alliance and contribute to the development and deployment of innovative technologies throughout the Organization. Allied Command Transformation (ACT) leads capacity development on behalf of NATO and member militaries. He is currently working on various TE/TR related projects on topics as diverse as autonomous unmanned vehicles, applications blockchain for military use and artificial intelligence for military decision making. The Science and Technology Organization (STO) also supports numerous TE/TR research projects, including augmentation technologies to improve human performance, autonomous transport and medical systems for casualty evacuation, and space weather environmental modeling. The NATO Science for Peace and Security (SPS) programme, the Center for Marine Research and Experimentation (CMRE) and the NATO Communications and Information Agency (NCIA) are at the center of NATO’s innovation ecosystem at a time when the Alliance has begun to adapt and accept TE/ TR.

NATO’s focus on TE/TR goes hand in hand with collaboration with partners from the public and private sectors, academia and civil society. Many TE/TR defense applications are developed by or with the private sector, so engagement with industry, and startups in particular, is critical.