Holding a conference in itself is not unique, but the sense of urgency and will to modernize NATO underpinning the Chiefs of Transformation conference illustrated the determination of more than 500 military leaders and security strategists from over 50 countries, including the U.S. Armed Services. The tone was sober as participants considered the range of security threats: mass migration, global economic instability, multiple humanitarian crises, failed states, the war in Syria, ISIL and Russian aggression.
NATO’s home in the United States, Allied Command Transformation, hosted the Chiefs of Transformation Conference to discuss the global security challenges that Allies face today and how these challenges and NATO solutions will evolve in the uncertain coming years.
The theme of the conference: “Innovate, Adapt, and Transform NATO for 2030 and beyond,” was the underlying framework that participants were asked to consider while developing strategies and new ways of thinking about global security.
The conference, which was held in Norfolk, Virginia, Dec. 13-15, was opened to the media and guests Dec. 14. Kicking off the discussion was a video message from North Atlantic Treaty Organization Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller, “These are challenging times, we are confronted with a broad arc of uncertainty and instability, and we face multiple tests on a daily basis.”
Ms. Gottemoeller spoke about strengthening NATO’s capabilities and coordination and the ability to project stability across borders. She discussed myriad threats facing the Alliance but still she said she remains optimistic because NATO members share the common values of freedom, liberty and humanity.
Supreme Allied Commander Transformation French Air Force General Denis Mercier next addressed conference attendees, “Emergence or resurgence of state actors as peer competitors, terrorism, or economic instability, are transnational challenges that demonstrate the complexity of the security environment. The involvement of the same actors in multiple crises or conflicts reveals the increased interrelation of crises and underpins the need for a broader approach.”
The general said the security challenge has shifted from a complicated global environment into a complex one.
“We are unable to forecast everything and that no one solution will suffice because any action to tackle a single problem will cascade into effecting problems in other areas. Consequently, the ever-increasing speed and connectedness that define our 21st century, necessitate a swifter reactivity and a larger anticipation,” Gen. Mercier said. “This is not easy, and to meet the tempo of this current environment, it requires for the military the same adaptation we see in the civilian world that is now outpacing us.”
To assist in NATO transformation, Gen. Mercier welcomed the participation of many partners, academia and companies – “Some of which have demonstrated in the civilian world that shaping the future or long-term innovation is a prerequisite for their economic success, and that it is compatible with their daily business or short-term implementation,” he said.
Fifteen companies represented included: IBM, Amazon, Airbus, Planet Risk, Thales and Cougar Software, and others, who demonstrated their technological innovations, such as cloud computing, artificial intelligence, big data analytics, autonomous systems, and more. Further, industry representatives spoke about the adaptation of their business models, and how they maintain their daily business operations, while hugely investing into the game-changing technologies of the future.
Pointing to the lessons from industry, Gen. Mercier said the Alliance must stay reactive while proactively adapting to future requirements. He challenged the national Chiefs of Transformation to think beyond implementing short-term solutions. “How can we share long-term adaptations and plans? How do we build together the posture required to maintain a decisive-edge in the predictable future?”
To prepare for the impact of the changes, NATO first needs to visualize the future security and operating environment, the general said.
The Strategic Foresight Analysis report provides a trend analysis, covering a multi-domain horizon, comprised of political, human, technology, economic and environmental aspects. The Strategic Foresight Analysis’s trends address a timeframe out to 2030 and beyond, and form the basis to describe the long-term military implications for the likely future environment, Gen. Mercier explained.
“The Framework for Future Alliance Operations then defines five Strategic Military Perspectives: operational agility, strategic awareness, security networking, shared resilience and strategic communications; these principles guide the military adaptation of NATO’s posture for the future,” Gen. Mercier said. “Based on these five principles, we need to identify adaptations to those game-changing elements that will shape our future military capacity, and the credibility of our posture.”
The general gave an example of military preparedness.
“Last week the 82nd U.S. Airborne Division conducted a Joint Forcible Entry strategic exercise. Following an alert and out-load in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, troops flew nonstop over the Atlantic, rigged in-flight and jumped into Grafenwoehr, in Germany. They assembled a command post and began tracking the operations. It is a demonstration of quick reaction with a strategic deployment,” Gen. Mercier said. “But in similar conditions, would these U.S. troops have been able to connect on the ground with other NATO troops — establishing secure communications, joint fires support and control, and sharing transnational logistics, to name just but a few?”
The general offered six areas that lead the implementation of NATO’s military capacity in the long-term through an incremental approach that has already started following the decisions made at the Warsaw Summit to deploy an Enhanced Forward Presence in Poland and the Baltic States, and the Tailored Forward Presence in the Black Sea region.
“It will take time to deploy those forces and to make them combat-ready in 2017. It is an important adaptation but also a reality-check of our capabilities and interoperability,” General Mercier said.
While transformation is defined as rapid, dramatic or radical change, adaption takes a slower approach by advancing improvements in incremental steps.
General Mercier defined six areas for improvement:
Command and Control. NATO is the only organization of its kind that has a permanent Command and Control Structure. C2 is the backbone of NATO’s political and military capacity and will rely more and more on networked systems. “By Command and Control, I mean Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, what we call C4ISR,” Mercier said.
The success of the interoperability with the Afghan Mission Network led to a long-term solution that would support future C2 developments, he said. This led to the development of the Federated Mission Networking.
“Those developments lie in the building of a broad network, based on new architectures that will benefit from innovative progress in digital communications, advanced sensors, faster data processing and artificial intelligence in a model that could fuse publicly available information and traditional intelligence expertise. It will include the potential for increased flexibility and more decentralization in operational control of forces and will require a change of mindset of military leaders across the chains of command,” Gen. Mercier said.
Logistics and Sustainability. Shifting sole logistics responsibilities from separate nations to shared logistics responsibilities across NATO will be necessary to gain unity of effort, improve efficiency of scarce resources and to maximize required support. “We must leverage the global reach and networked infrastructure of national and commercial facilities. Improving the effectiveness of civil-military interfaces, while recognizing their inherent interdependencies, will be key as the Alliance seeks to both improve resilience and civil preparedness and sustain operations,” Gen. Mercier explained.
Capability Development. NATO must react to the priorities of the current operational environment. But in the longer term, it must identify innovative solutions and new technologies that will be adapted to the future operational environment, especially for those capabilities that will need 10 to 15 years for development. “We must partner with industry to define these future solutions. This requires sharing your long-term plans and ideas and coordinating the ongoing European efforts and the emerging national defense innovation initiatives,” Gen. Mercier said.
Partnerships. “No single nation nor organization has all the abilities to manage crises on its own. The complexity of the new global environment requires the involvement of a wider range of actors and organizations that can work together. In this context NATO’s partners, whether they are nations, or organizations, are critical to our collective security concerns while considering the new and complex environment, and I welcome the many partners present at the conference today,” the general explained.
Training and Exercises. Training and Exercises are critical to enhancing NATO responsiveness and improving the ability of NATO members and partner nations to operate together. “In the short-term, NATO’s approach to training and exercises is evolving to take into account the new focus on collective defense and deterrence, as well as projecting stability, in accordance with the decisions made in Warsaw,” Mercier said. “We must train differently in the future, and use modern networking facilities to efficiently combine training field exercises with virtual and constructive simulation in a distributed way.”
Human Capital. For the longer term, the general asked participants to think about the skills future leaders and operators will need to take full advantage of new capabilities, including innovative technologies, such as artificial intelligence and autonomous systems. “Human Capital remains the area that underpins all of our efforts,” the general said.
At the conclusion of his remarks, the general encouraged participants to have candid and lively discussions throughout the conference.
“Transformation is not an end in itself, it is about enhancing today’s forces and capabilities, understand and shape tomorrow, and bridge the two,” Gen. Mercier said.
The latter half of the first day was devoted to a panel discussion which focused on “Enhanced Decision Making through Advanced Computing” in which industry representatives demonstrated developments in computing and analytics to support commanders and decision-makers.
In the long-term, deep and unsupervised learning computers will be able to provide timely, accurate, data-based judgments to support commanders on the front lines. These tools will complement existing mechanisms, ensuring that better-informed decisions can be made closer to the battlefront, according to conference documents.
Other distinguished speakers included Mr. Jonathan Parish, NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary for Defense Policy and Planning, who in a panel discussion, titled “Transformation for Long-Term Adaption,” provided a NATO Headquarters perspective discussing NATO’s Defense and Policy and Planning process adaption to meet current and future challenges.
Ms. Mary Miller, U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, spoke about the evolving nature of modern threats and the Defense Department’s approach to innovation describing the Third Offset Strategy and partnering with industry to collaborate early in concept development and problem definitions and solutions. Miller talked about the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, or DIUx, offices, which work to adapt commercial solutions to solve military challenges in the fastest way possible.
Ms. Miller discussed materiel innovations in autonomy, battery life, body armor, biology and synthetics, and 3D printing. But much more than technology solutions, the Pentagon’s Offset Strategy centers around “strategic surprise.” We want to be unpredictable on the battlefield to our adversaries, Miller explained.
On a lighter note, local area university communications students were invited to attend the conference and write about the experience. They were treated to a short meeting with Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Transformation German Forces Admiral Manfred Nielson who spoke about the history and importance of the NATO Alliance. A lively discussion with the inquisitive students followed.
Allied Command Transformation is at the heart of NATO’s efforts to lead continuous NATO Military Transformation. ACT is the only NATO Headquarters in the United States – based in Norfolk, Virginia – and the glue of the Alliance’s transatlantic bond.
See #COTC16 or visit ACT’s website: http://www.act.nato.int/ for more information.
Sharon Anderson is the CHIPS senior editor. She can be reached at
Key Takeaways from the Chiefs of Transformation Conference
by Heather Rutherford
-- The Chiefs of Transformation Conference was initiated in 2006 at the request of NATO nations. The conference brings together NATO and partner member representatives to demonstrate the unity of a strong NATO Alliance and to project NATO’s influence in shaping the future security environment.
-- Adaptation is incremental in nature, and platforms, because of their high cost, tend to be improved in increments.
-- Transformation is either a massive change in capability, or using an existing capability in a different way for strategic effect.
-- Innovation is about using a capability that you already have, but in a different context, leveraging technology to improve how operations are executed.
-- Considering interoperability in regard to innovation and transformation is essential because all nations must be able to contribute with the capabilities that they have. Transformation is an expensive undertaking, and budget issues are a concern of all nations involved.
-- To manage interoperability, NATO uses its defense planning process which is composed of the following steps:
• What do we want the Alliance to be able to do?
• What are the effects we need to achieve to accomplish this?
• Apportion and divide responsibilities fairly, according to an individual Ally’s capabilities, size, etc.
• Help Allied nations deliver their requirements.
• Conduct reviews with each nation to see how they’re doing with delivery.
-- The defense process is not constantly evolving; however, it is continuously improved.
-- It is imperative to maintain a system where all allies contribute fairly.
-- Because the “complex and dynamic” strategic environment is rapidly moving, it’s being overwhelmed by the Information Age. Innovation in technology is occurring at a much faster pace worldwide, giving adversaries the ability to more easily take advantage of weaknesses.
-- NATO and its allies are impacted globally in the strategic environment and can collaborate with and learn from global industry partners. Connection across the globe is crucial.
-- In the past, the military was the lead in technology development, industry is now considered faster and more ground-breaking than their defense counterparts. The industry mindset is: “Innovate. Co-create. Fail fast.”
-- In the military today, prototyping is occurring earlier in the life cycle, and warfighters are testing technology earlier than before. A number of steps have been taken to improve acquisition, but there are many technologies that need to be iterated faster because they are “perishable.”
-- Including industry as part of the conceptual stage of development can reap great benefits such as the potential to speed up acquisition.
-- Speed and cost are paramount to decisions involving innovation and transformation.
-- Partnering with industry and using their readily available infrastructure could take the “heavy lifting” off NATO’s shoulders, essentially enabling the warfighter’s ability to innovate quickly and efficiently. For example, the cloud computing model is similar to the cost structure of public utilities; it’s necessary to pay only for the capacity that is used.
-- Open systems architecture is another solution that allows for adaptation — with common standards — anyone can plug in.
-- Innovation is not without risk. When it comes to reforming tactical and strategic priorities and transformative technology, the liabilities include whether or not there will be a consistent and cost-effective execution.
-- There is the very real need to remain one step ahead of the enemy. Decisions must be made as to whether the opportunity outweighs the risk because missions must be achieved even though adversaries are contesting NATO and its Allies at every move.