Defence Committee launches 2024 agenda in the United States focused on Advanced Defence Technologies and Geostrategic Uncertainty

28 March 2024

As Russia’s brutal and illegal invasion of Ukraine continues to undermine peace and stability in Europe and beyond, the United States and its NATO Allies are mobilising their defence industrial bases to meet rising demand as they face a triple dilemma: ensuring sufficient military support to Ukraine’s self-defence, replenishing their own depleted stocks and investing in new equipment to meet future challenges. Russian aggression, renewed war in the Middle East and beyond, and escalating great power competition are all challenging the international order – a reality increasingly evident across multilateral institutions, particularly the United Nations (UN). In such times, global leadership is needed more than ever – the stresses and strains of which are challenging the US more than at any time since the end of the Cold War. 

To better understand the United States’ defence industrial base’s response to growing international security challenges, views from the United Nations on global challenges and US foreign policy priorities, a delegation from the NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s (NATO PA) Sub-Committee on Future Security and Defence Capabilities (DSCFC) visited Boston, MA; New Haven, CT; and New York, NY from 11 to 15 March. The delegation was led by the Vice-Chairs of the DSCFC, Rebecca Patterson (Canada) and Nicola Carè (Italy). Nineteen members from thirteen NATO Allies joined this visit.  

US Defence Industrial Base and Emerging Defence Technologies 

NATO Allies understand they face a significant challenge to meet the competing demands on their defence industrial bases. The Defence Production Action Plan, announced at the 2023 Vilnius Summit, is a strong signal of the political will needed to revive defence industrial bases and break down barriers to strong transatlantic defence trade and investment. Strong and resilient inter-Allied defence-industrial trade and investment are essential to maintaining the Alliance’s leading edge in the face of a dynamic and degrading adversarial international security environment.  

In January 2024, the US Department of Defence released its first-ever Defence Industrial Strategy, outlining the Pentagon’s plan to meet current and over-the-horizon challenges: One priority area is integrated air and missile defence (IAMD) innovation. Global missile proliferation is a clear and growing challenge; Russian air strikes on vital military and civilian infrastructure, Houthi attacks on merchant shipping in the Red Sea and escalating North Korean missile tests are all daily reminders. 

Russia’s war against Ukraine has featured successive air strikes from cruise and ballistic missiles to attack drones. Ukraine’s air denial campaign is dependent on vital air and missile defence support from NATO Allies from the man-portable FIM-92 Stinger to the long-range advanced MIM-104 Patriot system to create the necessary layered defences Ukraine needs for its citizens and forces. During a visit to Raytheon RTX in Andover, MA, briefers emphasised the scale and scope of advanced defence system consumption in the war – in the first thirty days alone, Ukrainian forces used thirteen years of Stinger stocks and seven years of Javelin. In response, Raytheon has significantly expanded its production capacity.  

Allies recognise integration and interoperability are critical for effective, modern IAMD capable of meeting today and tomorrow’s complex air threats. Companies such as Raytheon RTX play a key role in this pursuit. In January, NATO’s Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA) announced it would support a coalition of Allies, including Germany, the Netherlands, Romania and Spain to procure one thousand Patriot missiles to strengthen their collective air defences. Raytheon briefers also highlighted the importance of advanced sensors and command and control systems for rapid detection and strike, such as the Lower Tier Air and Missile Defense Sensor (LTAMDS) and the AN-TPY2 advanced radar.  

Briefings at LM Sikorsky, which is most known for its Black Hawk and CH-53 helicopters, stressed the company’s focus on new technologies, autonomous systems and multi-role aircraft to contribute to the Alliance’s efforts to implement its new deterrence and defence requirements. Sikorsky parent company Lockheed Martin has been awarded a contract to identify, analyse and compare open system architecture concepts for NATO’s Next Generation Rotorcraft Capability programme. Touring LM Sikorsky’s main production facilities in Connecticut, delegation members were shown how engineers are incorporating cutting-edge technologies to scale production, eliminate inefficiencies and advance new platform designs.  

The Coming Technology Revolution 

Beyond the application of existing technologies to defence capabilities in production or design, the delegation also visited the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to learn about the impact emerging and disruptive technologies will have on Allied security. Leading academic experts made it clear to the delegation that advances in artificial intelligence (AI), quantum computing, synthetic biology, new materials engineering and fusion will have an outsized impact in the coming decades. With some technologies on the precipice of practical system application, Allied militaries and societies will experience a sea change in the way they operate.   

Perhaps one of the most immediate areas that will see revolutionary change will be the application of advanced of AI. As briefers noted, AI learning is revolutionising autonomous systems quickly. These advances will have a tremendous impact on both the warfighting and civilian spheres, representing new potential challenges and opportunities. The advent of drones has already revolutionised the conduct of modern warfare, and they will continue to be a future enabler of both offensive and defensive campaigns.  

Unchecked, the application of emerging technologies across a spectrum of applications and domains will be very disruptive. Briefers and delegates exchanged at length about the potential for the very near-term disruptive impact of AI on democratic processes. In 2024, 50 elections will offer a vote to nearly 2 billion people: legislators expressed grave concerns about the scale and scope of the impact of AI-generated disinformation on outcomes. Briefers told the delegation that effective governance of AI and other technologies is required, but that any attempt to control technology development and proliferation would have to be global, which all conceded would be difficult in the current geopolitical environment. 

Global Security Challenges and the Impact on the UN System 

Intensifying great power competition, spreading violent conflict and increasing geopolitical fragmentation between states is taking a serious toll on the UN. The UN Security Council (UNSC) has been paralysed. While geopolitical constraints on the organisation are not new, the current number of challenges is unprecedented in the post-Cold War era. 

Since 2022, the UNSC has been unable to adopt any resolution pertaining to Ukraine and is ineffective at dealing with the range of other conflicts or escalating security crises across the globe. James Kariuki, UK Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, told the delegation that consequences of Russia’s aggression are now seen across all issues at the UN, including with regards to Iran and North Korea, while Moscow is showing a lack of cooperation on issues they previously worked with Western countries on within the UNSC. As Kariuki noted, “to get the Security Council and the UN more broadly securely back on its founding pillars, we must win the war [in Ukraine].” 

Members were also briefed on other areas of focus at the UN, such as ongoing peacekeeping operations and the global arms-control, disarmament and non-proliferation structure. Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, highlighted the myriad of challenges facing peace operations today. While the UN is working to adapt its mandates for greater peace operation effectiveness, it is increasingly undercut by regionally-led initiatives or, worse, private operations by Russian mercenary groups, whose interference only further exacerbates instability.  

The global non-proliferation and disarmament architecture on weapons of mass destruction is also under strain. Izumi Nakamitsu, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, admitted the current moment is “very difficult”, particularly with an increase in nuclear sabre rattling. The erosion of key arms control agreements and transparency and confidence-building measures, coupled with the unacceptably high risk of the use of nuclear weapons demands urgent risk reduction efforts amongst the great and regional powers alike. 

Despite these challenges, the UN remains vital for contributing to peace and stability – its missions, initiatives and operations simply take on the challenges no other great power alone is willing or capable of managing alone. As Poland’s Permanent Representative, Krzysztof Szczerski, argued, the UN is also a valuable clearing house for global debate and narrative shaping. By example, he cited its value for tracking Russia’s global disinformation efforts and voicing strong and continued Allied support for Ukraine and the values of democratic nations. Mr Szczerski and Khrystyna Hayovyshyn, Deputy Permanent Representative of Ukraine, also highlighted the organisation’s indispensable role in delivering humanitarian assistance to Ukraine over the last two years.  

American Foreign Policy Priorities in 2024 

2024 is a key election year in the United States – its outcome promises potentially significant foreign policy changes. Key issues focusing minds today, however, should come as no surprise: Topping the list are the wars in Ukraine and Gaza, and escalating competition with China. Gideon Rose, Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), told members that Ukraine is facing its ‘Battle of Britain moment’. The future of the international system may very well be decided in Ukraine, Rose argued. NATO Allies and their partners “only need to spend a fraction of their wealth to sustain the world order they created, and which benefits them greatly,” he stated.    

The United States is also working to engage regional partners to promote stability after the renewed outbreak of war in Gaza in the wake of Hamas’s heinous attacks on Israel on 7 October 2023. The provision of greater humanitarian assistance, particularly through a recently established maritime corridor in conjunction with Allies and partners, is an immediate priority. With the mounting scale of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, the necessity for a political settlement is pressing. As Mr Rose told the delegation, “we have been debating the details of the two-state solution for over 50 years, the trade-offs are clear to all involved.” He warned, however, that the involved parties may view more benefits in the process rather than committing to a genuine final peace.  

David Sacks, Fellow for Asia Studies at CFR, also briefed the delegation on US-China relations. The China challenge, he noted, is one of the few genuinely bipartisan issues among US political leaders, as China presents the most serious long-term challenge for the country. The recent vote by the House of Representatives to approve a bipartisan bill that would require ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, to sell control of the social media app is a sign of where the US sees relations and economic competition with China, according to Sacks.  

There is a view in the United States that Xi Jinping is qualitatively different than any of his predecessors since Mao Zedong, and has centralised power within an increasingly repressive state. Aggressive behaviour in the South China Sea, coupled with attempts to undermine US Allies, like Canada, Lithuania and Norway in recent years, has pushed Washington to work with partners to enhance regional deterrence and stability. Examples include: AUKUS, the trilateral security agreement with Australia and the United Kingdom; the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) with Australia, India and Japan; as well as enhanced trilateral cooperation with Japan and South Korea. Regional partners are undoubtedly looking at how Russia’s invasion as well as support for Ukraine progress in the near-to-long term.    

For the transatlantic Alliance, there are converging issues to consider with regards to the security environment in Europe and the Indo-Pacific. Russia and China’s independent aggressiveness towards their neighbours should be addressed, but the Allies will also have to consider deepening ties between Moscow and Beijing. While there remains distrust between the two parties over the war in Ukraine, historical territorial claims and competition in Central Asia, both will continue to cooperate publicly as they seek to undermine the United States and its partners, as well as rewrite the international order to suit their own interests.  

Photos of the visit

© Raytheon RTX 
© Sirkosky Aircraft LM 
© NATO Parliamentary Assembly 

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