Defense Technologies … for What? Speed, Speed, Speed!

A French pilot boards his Mirage 2000 at Ämari Air Base in Estonia. NATO
A French pilot boards his Mirage 2000 at Ämari Air Base in Estonia. NATO

Giving our armed forces the proper technologies to perform their mission will ultimately ensure that deterrence never fails.

The key to effective deterrence for the transatlantic alliance is speed: speed of recognition of the Kremlin’s malign activities; speed of decision to start necessary deployments, movements and related activities; and speed of assembly to move faster than the Kremlin to pre-empt attacks and signal our preparedness to act. Fortunately, a wide range of new technologies are emerging and evolving that can improve speed, if they are properly integrated into our armed forces and into our plans.

New technologies that have the greatest potential to this end include artificial intelligence, machine learning, automated systems, hypersonics, and cyber technologies, among others. All these tools can enhance decision-making, improve interoperability of mission command systems and logistics, help counter adversaries’ unmanned air and maritime systems, and facilitate material changes to improve military mobility. Key to maximizing the impact of these new technologies, and to making the investment worthwhile, is coordination among political decision-makers and industry innovators to understand Allies’ needs and meet capability requirements.

 

Below are some examples of those needs and corresponding technological requirements. Though in need of refinement, these provide an azimuth for innovators, policymakers and industry leaders across the transatlantic community to improve our collective speed and enhance effective deterrence.

Need for Speed of Recognition: Recognizing threats, indicators, and warnings from our adversaries has become increasingly difficult within the context of hybrid warfare. Unlike in the Cold War, when the first indicator of an attack may have been T72 tanks coming over the horizon, today, the first indicator may be a cyber-attack that shuts down transportation or financial systems. It could be a dockworkers’ strike in a Baltic port, or even attacks on transportation infrastructure by hypersonic missiles. Being able to see these possibilities as they are taking shape, before they are effective, is necessary to prevent or respond to an emerging crisis.

Requirement: Technologies that can fuse the wide range and variety of intelligence and information as part of NATO’s indicators and warnings network are vital. A U.S. satellite will most likely not be the first system to detect a hybrid threat or activity. Instead, it could be a human source, perhaps a customs agent, border guard, or member of a territorial force. But how does information about a dockworkers’ strike in a Baltic port turn into analysis, for instance, that reveals this strike was created artificially by FSB operatives to create a pretext for the Kremlin to interfere abroad? The key lies in the ability to quickly and accurately parse through all available data and reports — across national and interagency boundaries, NATO and non-NATO nations, five-eye and non-five-eye nations — using artificial intelligence, machine learning, and other fusion capabilities. This also requires protecting information networks from hacks, malware, and other attacks, all the while facilitating the sharing of sensitive and classified information, using sophisticated cyber defenses.

Need for Speed of Decision: Authorizing movements and actions to prevent or respond to an emerging crisis, within a NATO context, requires the unanimous consent of all 30 member states. Decisions to start moving capabilities, pull ammunition such as Patriot “Interceptors” out of storage depots, and reprioritize military movements, demand high-level decision-makers to act quickly and decisively, despite the sensitive nature of these activities. The Kremlin is fully aware of NATO’s decision-making process, the requirement for unanimous consent, and the political reluctance to delegate such decisions about movement to operational commanders, and they aim to exploit that gap through their own centralized decision-making.

Requirement: This means Allied and partner political decision-makers need to have access to a variety of information, plans, options, and shared courses of action to create appropriate signals and communicate tasks to commanders in a timely manner. That’s why it’s critical to leverage technologies such as synthetic environments and human augmentation, which can enable Allied political leaders to simulate complex, multi-domain environments, test time-sensitive decision-making, and physiological responses, and course-correct in advance through sustained exercises and training.

Need for Speed of Assembly: NATO must demonstrate that allies are able to move as fast, or faster than, Russian Federation forces to prevent or react to an emerging crisis. The key is signaling to the Kremlin that any malign activities will either fail or be too costly to attempt. Still, NATO must do this in such a way that it does not unnecessarily provoke or escalate tensions with Russia. This requires assembling key forces and capabilities quickly and strategically in pre-crisis or peacetime conditions.

Requirement: In order to assemble fast enough, technologies are needed to protect against cyber-attacks against transportation and power-generation infrastructure and reduce the weight and size of modern armored vehicles which are difficult to move quickly across the continent to the frontline. Using technology to develop affordable bridging assets necessary for the many river crossings in Europe, as well as to protect against Russian unmanned systems and create a NATO anti-access aerial denial (A2AD) bubble, should be priorities. Automated systems — from robots and drones to active cyber defense as well as new missile technologies — can play crucial roles in protecting allied and partner deployments and critical infrastructure.

At the end of the day, deterrence depends on the women and men of our armed forces being trained and ready. Giving them the proper technologies to perform their mission will give them the advantages needed to improve awareness, preparedness, and speed and, ultimately, ensure that deterrence never fails.

Lieutenant General (Ret.) Ben Hodges holds the Pershing Chair at the Center for European Policy Analysis

February 17, 2021