NATO's Strategic Warfare Development Command

Navigating Towards the Future: Highlights from the 23rd International Concept Development and Experimentation Conference

November 2, 2023

NORFOLK, VIRGINIA.  NATO Allied Command Transformation hosted the 23rd International Concept Development and Experimentation Conference from October 31st until November 2nd 2023 in Norfolk, Virginia. This year’s theme, “On the Path to a Multi-Domain Enabled Alliance,” highlighted how Allied Command Transformation’s Warfare Development Agenda supports one of the command’s top priorities.

With 218 delegates from 30 nations, including representatives from NATO Command and Force structure, NATO Centres of Excellence and Alliance nations, NATO partners, industry, and academia, the event provided a unique opportunity for the Concept Development and Experimentation community to reflect on contributions towards a future-oriented Alliance.

Concept Development and Experimentation is a vital combination of methods and tools that are driving NATO’s transformation. It enables the exploration of innovative ideas and experimenting by turning them into viable solutions.

Opening the conference, Major General Joseph D’costa, Deputy Chief of Staff for Strategic Plans and Policy at NATO Allied Command Transformation, reaffirmed that “sharing experiences and expertise will contribute to our collective effort in addressing the challenges ahead and how to best employ new methods and other opportunities, which are essential to delivering and validating concepts and provide support to Alliance warfare development on the path to a Multi-Domain Operations-enabled Alliance.”

Over the course of three days the conference featured plenary sessions, engaging speakers, workshops, and networking opportunities. Beyond topic focused sessions and panel discussions, the conference fostered relationships, facilitated information-sharing, and identified common areas of interest for innovation. It also enabled engagement with partners, educated on Concept Development and Experimentation processes and interests, and disseminated best practices and lessons learned.

Setting the context for the conference, Colonel Stephan Pillmeier, Branch Head for Concept Development at Allied Command Transformation, provided an overview of Multi-Domain Operations in orchestrating military actions, and synchronizing activities and capabilities of other actors in order to achieve military effects. He highlighted the requirement for intensified collaboration as well as a change in mind-set and culture.

This provided the foundations for an intriguing insight into the changing character of warfare by Brian Ireland, a Robotics and Autonomous Systems Engineer from The Mitre Corporation, who analysed the Russia-Ukraine war as a case study for the use of unmanned systems. A thought provoking session followed from Rachel Azafrani, a Senior Program Manager for Responsible Artificial Intelligence at Microsoft, who underscored the critical need for coordinated efforts to use artificial intelligence responsibly to advance NATO’s objectives. In addition, an industry view from Dr. Craig Smith, a Technical Advisor for Future Systems at MBDA, outlined how effects optimization can provide significant benefits through enhanced dialogue with industry.

Further discussions from NATO staff emphasized the complexities of operationalizing Multi-Domain Operations, focusing on capability gaps, high-level requirements, the role of emerging technologies, and the impact on cognitive warfare and how it reflects the future cyber battlefield of 2035. There were also presentations regarding the advantages gained by modernizing gaming, exercising, modelling and simulation capabilities, and productive panel discussions seeking to explore the future challenges for a Multi-Domain Operations-enabled Alliance as well as the tool sets and technologies required for conceptual work.

With workshops consolidating the information exchange from the first day, the conference also included featured topics exploring the NATO Cognitive Warfare concept, gathering input for how to conduct wargames that involve Multi-Domain Operations.  Additionally, there was discussion from an industrial perspective regarding the implementation of artificial intelligence, critical aspects of experimentation across the NATO enterprise, and the implications of Multi-Domain Operations in the context of Coalition Warrior Interoperability Exercises. Further workshops focused on Day Zero Integration with resilience aspects for Multi-Domain Operations and the collaboration platform for future Concept Development and Experimentation.

The critical role of experimentation and wargaming to support all levels of warfare was explored throughout the week. The implications of achieving a Multi-Domain Operations-enabled Alliance through a mind-set and cultural change arose as an underlying theme. The final Plenary of Day 2 with three panellists, EJ Kreinar, Principal Director of Products and Technology, Nicole Hilliard, Vice President of Mission Management, and Rob Palm, Senior Director of International Business Development, all from HawkEye360, explored perspectives on how culture must change inside a start-up as it works to adapt to governmental projects. Their unique viewpoint provided a commercial aspect and demonstrated alignment with the challenges faced by NATO that were discussed during Day 1.

The last day of the conference was focused on finalizing the findings from the workshops and built upon the discussions and information shared. The 2023 International Concept Development and Experimentation Conference reaffirmed NATO’s commitment to innovation and modernization. This annual collaborative forum continues to guide the Alliance toward a secure and resilient future in a rapidly changing global security landscape.  It encourages the exchange of new ideas and concepts and fosters significant partnerships that will help the Alliance innovate, adapt, and prepare for the challenges of tomorrow.