In a Feb. 26 Twitter submit, Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s vice primary minister and minister for digital transformation, requested the SpaceX main govt, Elon Musk, to deliver Ukraine with Starlink terminals to enable satellite-primarily based communications. In much less than 48 hrs, Starlink consumer kits arrived in Ukraine, promptly improving upon the command-and-manage means of Ukraine’s navy.

For these of us who examine the NATO acquisition method, it is practically not possible to consider the alliance pinpointing a necessity and adopting a alternative so speedily, no make any difference how urgent the circumstances. Between the numerous troubles would be the alliance’s elaborate, consensus-based mostly governing composition, as nicely as the divergent pursuits and funding mechanisms amongst the 30 member states. This is why, in 2016, the Intercontinental Board of Auditors concluded that NATO struggles to present commanders with essential abilities on time and estimated that popular-funded capabilities necessary an typical of 16 a long time from improvement to supply.



The complexity of modern-day weapons techniques and the problems of interoperability signify that any lively engagement will direct to the identification of new technological prerequisites for NATO. The alliance requirements the procedures and constructions in area to rapidly discover these specifications and procure answers. This incorporates giving commanders the authority to make selections with out the lengthy consensus-developing approach that might be sensible, if gradual, in peacetime but is not productive in the course of war.

1st Techniques

NATO has beforehand sought to boost the governance, speed, and efficiency of its capability-shipping procedure. For instance, in 2018 NATO adopted a new governance design for prevalent-funded abilities. It has carried out endeavours to increase collaboration between strategic commands (Allied Command Functions in Mons, Belgium and Allied Command Transformation in Norfolk, VA), named for the exploration of different acquisition methods to help technological innovation growth, and produced the Office of the Chief Facts Officer to speed up the shipping of personal computer and facts systems. Moreover, in Oct 2021 NATO launched the initially $1.1 billion Innovation Fund, and previous thirty day period declared the generation of the to start with ever Defense Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic to harness cutting-edge technologies as aspect of the NATO 2030 agenda.

These are beneficial methods, but they do not handle the basic challenge of fast obtaining frequent capabilities. There are nonetheless lots of residual procedures where by consensus-primarily based control is inherently prioritized over pace, versatility, innovation, and the deployment of prototypes at the finish of their improvement phases.

NATO leaders identify the ongoing problem. In a recent speech to the North Atlantic Council, the supreme allied commander transformation, Gen. Philippe Lavigne, pressured that 1 of his crucial priorities is to make sure the well timed supply of new and significant capabilities, including that “we need to have to adjust the guidelines and make them perform for us, not in opposition to us.” But NATO leaders simply cannot resolve this by itself — the alliance’s 30 member nations are the ones that will have to agree on the answer. Exploring alternatives and obtaining the allies to agree on a answer will be difficult. It can materialize on a NATO-wide foundation, or some subset of member nations can acquire on the challenge and guide the effort, which may then be adopted by many others.

What Works

Accessibility to satisfactory funding is a needed starting level, and NATO has a track document of funding widespread abilities. In 2021, NATO was applying around 3,000 prevalent-funded assignments, worth roughly $17 billion (of which the United States cash about 22 percent). These include offering essential technological innovation that supports the preparing and execution of all NATO air functions, and the Air Circumstance Facts Trade that improves situational awareness at NATO’s borders with partner nations, which include Ukraine.

But the capability-fielding procedure is nonetheless subject to delays, which would be dangerous when addressing requires discovered all through fight operations. To stay clear of this, alliance associates should really dedicate to providing money for a fast-acquisition business on a preauthorized and discretionary foundation, in essence generating a lender account that can be drawn upon when required. Even if this ended up a credit rating line that associates committed to, relatively than a standing pot of resources, it would restrict setbacks induced by the sluggish and political processes of determining and appropriating funding.

Making certain suitable funding is not the only remedy. Commanders also require the authority to streamline the identification of urgent requires and a standing system, not an advertisement hoc solution, that can supply the adaptability and authority to handle them. This exists for some alliance members on a national foundation. The commander of the Dutch Protection Materiel Organization’s Laptop Emergency Reaction Team, for case in point, has a pre-approved budget and the electricity to expedite acquisitions of up to 500,000 euros for urgent cyber abilities inside of 14 times. Even so, there is no NATO-broad strategy.

The U.S. Department of Protection provides a wide range of acquisition techniques that NATO could attract from. The United States has a product in which the military services are mainly responsible for buying weapon techniques and giving them to the joint power commanders. There are also various Office of Defense businesses that have been stood up to address cross-company worries. This usually means that there are each joint section-broad and assistance-degree acquisition businesses procuring materiel to serve as examples.

Around time, the Section of Protection has produced processes to allow for necessities discovered on the battlefield to be swiftly dealt with. Unique components of the division have also embarked on unique kinds of organizational innovation.

1 case in point is the Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Workplace, which was shaped in 2003 to “expedite significant, often labeled courses even though trying to keep them on spending budget.” The place of work has a distinctive administration framework — it stories to a board of administrators that is chaired by the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment and incorporates the most senior leaders of the Air Pressure and the beneath secretary of protection for research and engineering. These senior leaders can the two set priorities for shelling out and do the job to discover the required funding. On top of that, acquisition authorities at the Immediate Abilities Workplace are meticulously chosen to keep a lifestyle where “lean, agile, and forward-seeking engineering development” is probable. Alongside with the Air Force’s new stealth bomber, the B-21 Raider, the workplace oversees the X-37B Orbital Check Car or truck, “an experimental take a look at system to reveal technologies for a dependable, reusable, unmanned space test platform.” The success of the Quick Capabilities Business office is affirmed by the decision to set these two incredibly crucial plans there relatively than inside more classic Air Drive acquisition corporations.

An additional strategy will come from the Defense Innovation Device, which was designed to get the job done across the Department of Defense to detect and recognize essential nationwide stability issues that can be solved with primary-edge commercial technological know-how inside of 12 to 24 months. The Defense Innovation Unit connects with non-standard suppliers in innovation hubs, such as Silicon Valley, and utilizes flexible acquisition designs to problem contracts in as very little as 2 to 3 months. It then publishes a catalog of commercial “solutions” prepared for invest in from a range of companies, a lot of of whom are not common protection suppliers. These contain the Future Gen Explosive Ordnance Disposal Underwater Response Motor vehicle, a remotely operated underwater auto that searches for mines, and Hunt Forward, a established of instruments for forward-deployed cyber functions. While implementation has not usually been easy, the Protection Innovation Unit has even so furnished battlefield commanders with a variety of innovative methods that they can change to.

The Swift Capabilities Place of work empowers its leadership to finalize demands and rapidly commit funding, a very important component of its results. The Protection Innovation Device focuses on making a pipeline of new technologies. And these companies are not exceptional. There are some others across the solutions, this kind of as NAVALX, the Army Purposes Lab, and AFWERX, that are aimed at adapting improvements from equally common and non-conventional suppliers. The United Kingdom’s Royal Air Drive has its own Speedy Abilities Workplace, which has also shown promise.

These U.S. styles verify that a forms as resistant to alter as the Department of Protection can still develop new organizational structures and procedures. The Dutch and British products exhibit that makes an attempt at organizational innovation are not restricted to the Pentagon. NATO may perhaps choose to adapt just one of these or to establish its personal exceptional strategies. The objective need to be to give its commanders with the versatility and the authority to “validate requirements” — that is, to formally approve what the warfighter wants to execute the fight — and to make sources readily available. The choice composition could be a small rotating board of senior leaders, potentially with time restrictions for approving or rejecting needs to drive immediate conclusions.

NATO also demands a way to connect with market associates across the alliance, capitalizing on improvements from smaller companies and startups working with new and versatile contracting mechanisms. The alliance at this time lacks the tools to swiftly undertake industrial technologies. Two relevant guidelines would assist to improve the means of new technologies to link with existing systems. To boost operational success, NATO ought to leverage interoperability benchmarks that permit various units to function seamlessly in a multi-area natural environment. A linked technique would be to adopt open up techniques architecture ways for NATO weapons. This would present design and style information and facts to businesses for producing elements that could function with existing programs employing a “plug and play” tactic. Each of these guidelines would construct upon the traditional NATO energy of producing expectations although making these criteria pertinent to impressive organizations.

All these process modifications and organizational innovations will choose effort and hard work — and the journey could be slowed by NATO’s consensus-constructing culture. Transformation can take time, but it only starts when there is a clear case for change. The scale and scope of Russia’s assault on Ukraine presents that case, and the shipping and delivery of Starlink presents an case in point of what could be doable if NATO experienced a extra versatile technique to acquisitions.



Cynthia R. Prepare dinner directs the Heart for Strategic and Global Studies’ Defense-Industrial Initiatives Team, which researches acquisition coverage, protection paying, intercontinental protection industrial cooperation, and emerging technologies. She previously used 25 years at the RAND Company, the place she labored on and oversaw a wide vary of acquisition reports for components throughout the U.S. Division of Defense, alongside with the Australian and U.K. defense departments and NATO.

Anna M. Dowd is a senior global safety and defense plan professional, an adjunct at the RAND Company, and co-founder of the Electronic Innovation Engine. From 2014 to 2020, she served as principal officer and head of marketplace relations at the NATO Communications and Information Company. Prior to becoming a member of NATO, she was a fellow at the European Union Institute for Protection Reports in Paris, and served as senior coverage officer at the European Protection Company and senior analyst at the Polish Ministry of Protection.

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