‘Pretty disruptive’: With DIANA pilots planned for spring, NATO leaders focus on software and C3ISR

‘Pretty disruptive’: With DIANA pilots planned for spring, NATO leaders focus on software and C3ISR
Secretary Austin hosts NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III speaks with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Oct. 4, 2021. (DoD photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jack Sanders)

WASHINGTON — The new “strategic direction” of a NATO innovation accelerator for 2023 puts a focus on “energy resilience, secure information sharing and sensing and surveillance” — priorities that likely reflect lessons the alliance has taken from watching Ukraine’s creative use of tech to hold off the Russian bear.

The Defense Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic (DIANA) was launched last June by NATO leaders in an effort to stay ahead of technological advancements and cyber challenges posed by adversaries like China and Russia. As part of the accelerator, the US will facilitate access to its test centers and accelerator sites, the White House said in a June 29 fact sheet. 

In December, DIANA’s board of directors established those three priority areas for the accelerator’s work on emerging and disrupting technologies, making up the “backbone” of its strategic direction for 2023. Each focus area will guide the board when developing pilot programs that are slated to launch this spring, according to a press release. 

NATO has not been shy about the fact it is watching the war in Ukraine for lessons learned for modern combat, from both a tactics and a technology standpoint. After years of a split focus towards counter-terrorism operations, the alliance is once again fully focused on Russia — and the DIANA priorities seem to reflect that.

“I think what NATO is coming to the realization of is, based on what’s happening in Ukraine, that the command, control, communications and [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] (C3ISR)…is actually the most important area going into the future,” Bryan Clark, director of the Center for Defense Concepts and Technology and senior fellow at Hudson Institute, told Breaking Defense.

Clark said that while the Ukrainians have Western weapons, they weren’t initially trained on them, but rather a “large part of why they’ve been successful is because they’ve had really effective communication… but also because they’ve had very effective ISR.

“They’ve had UAVs from Turkey… They’ve had loiter munitions. They use switchblades that can also act as surveillance,” he continued. “And then they’ve also been able to benefit from commercial satellite coverage. So they’ve had this sort of advantage in C3ISR derived in part from commercial technology. That’s largely because just there’s been a general improvement in those technologies over the last 20 years.”

Clark said establishing those specific focus areas signals a “sort of flip where much more of the military investment goes toward the software side” and toward the idea of C3ISR being a military advantage. It could also open up opportunities for nontraditional industry vendors to showcase their technologies. 

That could be a benefit for the newly elected chair of the board of directors for DIANA, Barbara McQuiston, formerly the Pentagon’s deputy chief technology officer for science and technology, Clark added, because she’ll be familiar with nontraditional vendors from her work in DoD. That will be especially useful because NATO is probably going to have to “tap into” a lot of DoD’s investments in software derived capabilities. 

“So I think…these priorities that NATO’s laid out, including energy resilience, all point to them tapping into what the commercial world has been doing over the last 20 years, and less so to traditional defense primes that they relied on for most of their military capability,” he said. “So it’s pretty disruptive.”