NATO lags behind Russia and China on defence tech, must invest more

27 May 2018

Warsaw, 27 May 2018 – NATO was warned Sunday that it is lagging about a decade behind Russia and China in some areas of military technology development and must put research into cutting-edge equipment high on its agenda to have any hope of keeping up with competitors.

Introducing a draft report on defence innovation to the Assembly’s Science and Technology Committee, Canadian parliamentarian Leona Alleslev said: “If we are going to deter and defend we need to be in the same game as our enemies.”

Russia boasted earlier this year that it is developing new nuclear weapons, including an unmanned nuclear-armed underwater vehicle, while China is investing billions of dollars in artificial intelligence.

“We are actively concerned that we’re not doing as much as needs to be done, and we’re not doing it perhaps as effectively as it needs to be,” Ms Alleslev said, appealing to her colleagues to inform national governments and citizens about how urgent the challenge is.

One piece of key military equipment set to become obsolete in coming years are AWACS aircraft, which NATO has been using to help manage airspace over Syria from neighbouring Turkey.

The NATO official leading investment in Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance capabilities, Robert Murray, said that important political decisions are needed now to ensure there is no vacuum when the life of the planes runs out in 2035. Mr Murray warned: “It will be unsafe to go beyond 2035.”

Mr Murray underlined the need to accelerate decision-making. “We need a starting point. We need to build that momentum. For me, the obvious starting point is an air system,” he said, adding that a political decision on that now “will go a long way to keeping that timeline on track.”

Allies could then build upon an air system gradually by adding new innovations as they mature.

One area where Britain’s tech sector is making great strides is in gender equality, according to Jennifer Henderson, former Transformation Director at the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory.

Ms Henderson said that, after a long battle, the laboratory is on track to establish a 50-50 gender balance. She showed the parliamentarians how mentoring circles – meeting groups where junior women can air concerns about everything from promotion opportunities to work-life balance and countering harassment– have helped to turn the work culture around.

In the Defence and Security Committee, lawmakers debated the need to invest more in special operations forces, which have increasingly become the weapon of choice due to their size and cost effectiveness.

“Our special forces are increasingly overtasked, under-resourced, or insufficiently built up for today’s requirements,” said Madeleine Moon, a British MP and author of a draft report on Special Forces in the modern security environment.

The draft report notes Special Forces are better adapted to deal with asymmetrical threats from Russia or jihadi groups inspiring terrorism and unpredictable lone-wolf attacks in the Euro-Atlantic area. Ms Moon said NATO must “pay far more attention to how our governments are funding, outfitting, and structuring our armed forces” in light of these challenges.