During its summit this week in Brussels, Allied heads of state pledged to expand innovation, resilience, adaptability, and a technological edge over potential adversaries in defence of member countries.  In its joint communiqué, Allies committed to implementing the NATO Warfighting Capstone Concept and to develop and adopt emerging and disruptive technologies, both initiatives where Allied Command Transformation has played a leading role for NATO. Allied Command Transformation, as one of the leaders of the Alliance’s adaptation and NATO’s Warfare Development Command, explores emerging trends and technologies, support current and future operations, increases interoperability and readiness, mitigates the risk of strategic surprise, draws from the benefits of cooperation and preserves the military edge to position the Alliance to deter, and as needed, defeat, all potential adversaries. As part of that work, the NATO Warfighting Capstone Concept considers the threat environment facing the Alliance and posits that if NATO does not think, organize and act differently, Allied militaries will face an eroding advantage over time. 

Maintaining military advantage in this evolving environment requires going beyond linear questions like how many tanks, ships, or planes a nation should purchase or what type of broad capabilities it should develop across its different services. In a world where military victory does not necessarily entail strategic success, NATO must become more proactive and anticipatory.

At the core of the NWCC’s approach are five interdependent Warfare Development Imperatives (WDIs). These imperatives outline the direction the Alliance needs to move in to succeed—a North Star to harmonize hundreds of ongoing warfare development initiatives into realistic and achievable “development boulevards” that focus the Alliance’s work where it is most needed. 

Those “development boulevards” are as follows: 

Cognitive superiority. A strength of the Alliance is the situational awareness generated across its own capabilities and those of its 30 allies. This must be deepened into situational understanding, creating a shared vision across both political and military decision makers of the world NATO operates in, NATO’s own aims and those of potential adversaries and threats. Understanding must be built via technology and intelligence gathering, but also through deeper analysis of doctrine.

Layered resilience. Fundamental to a strong defensive alliance is the ability to withstand a shock and fight-on. NATO’s Allies must ensure that weak points, both military and civilian are reinforced, and are sustainable in challenging situations over extended periods of time. This includes essential tools like supply lines and communications, but also that societies are resilient against disinformation.

Influence and power projection. To be reactive in the international environment means allowing others to set the chessboard in the way which suits them best. To shape the operating environment to its strengths, the Alliance must be proactive in how it projects security and influence, interrupting potential aggressive actions before they occur.

Integrated multi-domain defense. The traditional military domains of land, sea, and air have already been expanded to include cyberspace and outer space. The threats facing NATO do not limit themselves to one of these domains at a time. A coordinated and flexible approach to a fluid threat environment is required to protect the Alliance across all domains.

Cross-domain command. Commanders remain tasked with perceiving and acting on threats facing the Alliance, and they must be trained and able to instantly recognize, comprehend and react to developments not just in one domain, but across all of them.

Read more about the NATO Warfighting Capstone Concept here.

The communiqué also commits to Allied Command Transformation core tasks including training, development of non-military tools, and multi-domain capabilities, defence against cyber, hybrid, and asymmetric warfare, nuclear deterrence, cooperation with the European Union, and institutional integrity.

“We continue to deliver an array of robust and sophisticated capabilities across all domains,” the communiqué states.  “The speed of technological change has never been higher, creating both new opportunities and risks in the security environment and to the way NATO operates.”

Allies named China as an emerging challenge to NATO, its member states, and population of one billion.  NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg specifically implicated ACT’s mission in response.  “[China is] investing heavily in new modern capabilities, including by investing in new disruptive technologies such as autonomous systems, facial recognition and artificial intelligence, and putting them into different weapon systems that they are really in the process of changing the nature of warfare,” he said.

“[NATO] leaders have taken decisions to make our Alliance stronger and better fit for the future,” the Secretary General concluded.