Despite fiscal challenges, NATO members should work together to develop the right capabilities to adapt to future challenges, NATO’s top transformation officer said in Washington, D.C., Sept. 17.
At a Pentagon news conference, Gen. Stephane Abrial of the French air force, NATO’s supreme allied commander for transformation, encouraged the use of the alliance’s “Smart Defense” strategy for the future.
The strategy calls for pooling and sharing capabilities, setting priorities and coordinating efforts better.
“What we need to do is to make sure that through transformation we continue to enhance the alliance’s cohesion, [and] we continue to work hard on our interoperability, our ability to work together side by side and to collaborate,” he said.
The French general noted NATO already has an “intellectual and technical flexibility” to adapt, as evidenced by a “string of strategic surprises” in the world’s history.
“We cannot think that we can imagine everything, but we must make sure that we can adapt to every new environment,” Abrial said.
Two ways to be prepared, he said, are the main initiatives endorsed by the alliance’s heads of state and government at the Chicago Summit last May – initiatives NATO officials call Smart Defense and connected Forces.
“Smart Defense is the will to do more things at the multinational level in the field of capability development,” Abrial said. “Again, when we are faced with the fiscal difficulties in all our nations, there are more and more things that a nation cannot do alone anymore. Therefore, we need to find how to do it more together. This is the spirit of Smart Defense, how to be more efficient in developing capabilities and the best of ways of doing things together, and it works well.”
Abrial said the mindset on addressing capability is changing, and NATO is proving the validity of the concept through projects and proposals already under way.
“We’ve got 24 projects which are now agreed by the nations and being implemented, and we have good hopes that at least 10 more will be agreed before the end of the year,” he said. “All together, we have more than 150 proposals on which we work now, hard, to deliver with capabilities needed in the future.”
In pursuing Smart Defense, he added, the alliance has worked hard and closely with European Union institutions.
The European Union, he noted, has a similar initiative called “pooling and sharing.” This, he said, makes it necessary for the respective staffs to work closely to avoid duplication and provide complementary capabilities to an enduring effort.
The Connected Forces concept, Abrial said, is “totally complementary” to the Smart Defense initiative.
“We need to emphasize the way we enforce the human interoperability and the technical interoperability,” he said. “How do we improve education and training? How do we enhance exercises? And how do we make a better use of technology?”
Connected Forces means using the capabilities developed through Smart Defense efficiently, the general said. “These two initiatives are totally complementary and look way ahead into the future of NATO and will help us maintain visibility to face emerging challenges and to meet the level of ambition which our nations have decided upon,” he added.
A strong relationship with industry is important in the two concepts and part of NATO’s efforts to make them succeed, Abrial said. Though his organization does not deal with procurement, he said, it must work closely with the defense industrial base on both sides of the Atlantic to understand coming capabilities and what can be delivered in the future.
“[This way, the] industry is as informed as possible about our vision of the future strategic and operational environments,” Abrial said. “And the combination of the two will help us develop capabilities in the best way.”
Abrial, who assumed his post three years ago, will relinquish it later this month. During his tenure, he said, he has worked to keep NATO’s focus on tomorrow.
“Transformation means prepare for whatever could happen tomorrow,” the general said. “And tomorrow can physically be tomorrow, the day after, or could mean 30 years from now.”