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131120cde01-400The Concept Development & Experimentation (CD&E) conference concluded November 20th in The Hague, The Netherlands, after three days of collaborative efforts from nearly 200 participants.

The conference is a yearly event co-sponsored by NATO Allied Command Transformation (ACT) and the U.S. Joint Staff (USJS). This year, the CD&E Conference theme was "Connected Force Development in an Uncertain Future" and was hosted by The Netherlands' Ministry of Defence.

Twenty-six nations were represented at the conference. Attendees included officials and other stakeholders from NATO member nations and nations in the 'Partnership for Peace' and 'Partners Across the Globe' countries. Additionally representatives from the NATO Headquarters and the European Defence Agency contributed to this key ACT-event.

131118thomas-400The objectives of the conference were twofold; to create an environment conducive to information sharing and relationship building while highlighting the benefits of CD&E methodologies and practical applications in optimising the development of joint and combined forces; and obtain international perspectives on ideas, discuss relevant problems and challenges, and develop products to benefit ongoing CD&E work within HQ SACT, the US Joint Staff and the Netherlands Defence Staff - while providing a return on the investment.

131118byerly-250The first day included opening speeches from the Director of Operational Policy, Plans and Requirements at the Netherlands Defence Staff, Dutch Navy Rear Admiral Rob Bauer; Deputy Director for Future Joint Force Development, USJS J7, U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Jon Thomas; and Acting Assistant Chief of Staff for Capability Engineering at NATO ACT, U.S. Navy Captain Jim Byerly. Following the opening speeches, ACT Deputy Chief of Staff for Capability Development, U.S. Navy Vice Admiral Bruce Grooms spoke to the conference attendees by a video-taped message.

The first day concluded with the conference attendees breaking down into groups to become familiar with the guidelines and expectations of their respective workshops. The three workshops this year were Combined Operational Fires, Unified Security Force Assistance and Soldier of the Future.

131119cde02-200Day two of the conference focused on workshops that used affinity diagramming and electronic polling as experimental techniques to extract thoughts and opinions from all the participants. The affinity diagramming is a brainstorming effort that had the workshops break into smaller syndicates to address specific issues by having individual team members provide their comments on sticky notes and then grouping those notes into relevant subject areas. Electronic polling was used to help prioritise a list of required capabilities in order to inform the workshop lead where additional effort should be focused. These experimental techniques of affinity diagramming and electronic polling were introduced to enhance the interaction and productivity of the workshops.

131119cde03-200The first workshop, Unified Security Force Assistance (SFA), examined how SFA contributed to success in actual NATO crisis response operations such as the Kosovo Force (KFOR) and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. The workshop was also used to increase awareness of the on-going NATO Security Force Assistance (SFA) conceptual work. Discussions and workshop outcomes should assist in providing a more mature and unified Allied SFA capability.

The second workshop, Combined Operational Fires (COF), was structured and moderated for COF subject matter experts (SME) to address proposed solutions and develop critical thinking that results in meaningful feedback to the COF Solution Developers.

The third workshop, The Soldier of the Future, focused on ways to better understand the future operating environment 10 to 15 years down the road. It addressed considerations for both material and non-material aspects of warfighting.

131119cde01-400The final day of the conference consisted of workshop conclusions, a workshop summary and closing remarks. The workshops ended with numerous takeaways that will be used by NATO and U.S. Joint Staff analysts to help both organisations prepare for the future. In addition to the organisational takeaways, the participants left the conference with a greater understanding of CD&E as reflected in their polling results when asked the question; nearly 80% said that they did.

Captain Byerly provided a summary of the conference results during his closing remarks, stating that the objectives of the conference were unequivocally achieved. He ended by saying, "CD&E is a collaborative effort, the more we work together, the more effective and positive will be the results. Moreover, in these times of military austerity we need to establish Communities of Interest to take forward the good ideas to bridge our military gaps and shortfalls in a common cause."

131120cde02-250Brigadier General Thomas spoke about how well everyone participated over the past three days. "I applaud all of you for your engagement this week...there appeared to be no lack of active participation." He continued: "Take back your experiences this week and put them to good use - at NATO, in your home nations, and within other organisations which some of you represent. I know that from the US perspective, we gained much from this experience, which we will apply to our own CD&E enterprise...and for that I thank you."

The conference outcome will be digested by analysts and used to prepare the 2014 CD&E Conference in Budapest, Hungary.