Establishing a greater partnership with the private sector is one of NATO’s primary goals as it adjusts to changing political, financial and military trends. A strong partnership with industry is viewed by alliance members as the key to opening the door to innovative solutions in a time of fiscal limitations. However, tapping that wellspring of imagination poses some difficulties for the multinational organization.
NATO places its partnership with industry on a high plane, and it aims to improve that partnership in a time of severe financial constraints and transforming combat needs. Foremost among the benefits that the Atlantic alliance seeks is best industry practices, especially for delivering the latest technologies.
Achieving its goals, particularly in the arena of communications and electronics systems, will require a more agile process. However, NATO is handicapped in this effort by its nature as a multinational organization that must take its members’ needs into account.
“We are spending the money of 38 nations that basically are all under financial pressure, so they will scrutinize all the work that we do with industry,” relates Maj. Gen. Koen Gijsbers, RNLA (Ret.), the general manager of the newly formed NATO Communications and Information (NCI) Agency. “In that environment, we need to find a relationship to make this [partnership] most effective and efficient.”
This is one opportunity that is being driven by necessity. Because of the global financial crisis—which has hit Europe and the United States particularly hard—all military and government planners must do more with less. So, tapping the font of innovation that emerges from commercial technologies and capabilities offers a way for NATO to achieve its modernization goals without exceeding its shrinking budget.
At the core of this approach is NATO’s Smart Defence initiative. The alliance describes it as “a new way of thinking about generating the modern defense capabilities that the alliance needs for the coming decade and beyond.” The goal is a NATO-wide “culture of cooperation” for developing new capabilities and equipping alliance forces. National defense capabilities would become complementary rather than redundant. The initiative calls for pooling and sharing capabilities, with industry playing a major role in that endeavor. It presupposes “innovative multinational cooperation by industry,” stating that industrial partners are essential players in the Smart Defence effort.
This partnership with industry also offers the possibility of moving new technologies into the field much faster than previously possible. Gen. Gijsbers relates that in his previous position as the chief information officer in the Netherlands Ministry of Defense, he was responsible for defense reductions. As unpleasant as that was, it opened enormous doors for new approaches. “People understood that, if we didn’t work to bring resources together in a smart way, we would have to reduce more operational forces, and that’s what we didn’t want to do,” he relates. “The fact that all the nations are under funding pressure is actually an opportunity to work closer together and lift some of the obstacles that we had in the past.”
From an information technology perspective, the result could be an interoperable environment in which countries can share data horizontally as well as vertically.
“If we continue the way we work, you cannot deliver more with less—it’s that simple,” Gen. Gijsbers declares. “So, we need to think of new ways of working together—binding processes together—and moving quickly to the objective.”
This article is also available in Italian: La Collaborazione con l’Industria, una Spinta Importante per la NATO