As NATO’s edge in military technology erodes, science and technology is critical
Washington DC/Brussels, 22 April 2016 – Recent research has shown that NATO and its partners are slowly losing their edge in military technology. In February 2016, John Chipman, Director General of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, put it succinctly: “We previously felt that Western states were the champions of new technology and had a large technological lead either over their state peer competitors or over non-state actors. Now that technological lead is narrowing.”
In this context, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s Science and Technology Committee (STC) visited Washington DC from 11 to 15 April to focus on US defence and security science and technology (S&T) efforts. Seventeen members of parliament from 13 NATO member states took part in the visit, led by Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale (UK), Chairperson of the STC.
Welcoming the delegation at the US Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), Dr Walter Jones, Executive Director of the US Office of Naval Research and voting member of NATO’s Science and Technology Board for the United States, told the delegates that “NATO collaboration is very important for us. No one has enough funding to do defence and security S&T alone.” At NRL, the lawmakers learned, inter alia, about its autonomous systems research, including how autonomous systems learned to interact with other autonomous systems as well as human operators.
During a roundtable at the National Defense University, Christopher Zember, Director of its Center for Technology and National Security Policy, underlined that a critical factor shaping defence and security S&T was the convergence of civilian and military technologies. In today’s globalized world, technology shifts increasingly emerged in the commercial sector – rather than the government sector. Dr Chris Fall, Assistant Director for Defense Programs at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, also pointed out that new technology solutions were likely to be found outside traditional industrial economies. Moreover, the role of individuals and small companies was rapidly growing. All of these trends presented unique governance challenges, experts agreed.
As a consequence, Dr Dimitri Kusnezov, Chief Scientist at the National Nuclear Security Administration in the Department of Energy, argued that states could no longer afford to stand up separate programmes for every new problem they faced. Instead, S&T structures needed to provide “enough intellectual headroom to think about the future”. A cross-cutting concern for most interlocutors was thus the nurturing of a workforce with a “depth of S&T knowledge” capable of dealing with the changing S&T environment.
The STC also visited the Navy’s Patuxent River Naval Air Station. The delegates delved deeper into the US Navy’s testing of its aircraft systems, from carrier-based manned aircraft to its newest unmanned system, the MQ-4C Triton based on Northrup Grumman’s Global Hawk system.
The visit featured discussion of other topics of interest to the Committee, including the implementation of the Iranian nuclear deal; cyber security, privacy, and internet governance; energy security; implications of climate change for international security; new trends in weapons of mass destruction; and airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.