3 August 2021
When the Covid-19 crisis led to a lockdown of all activities, the lack of digital literacy from governmental bodies and defence personal exposed both a new threat and an opportunity. Bearing this situation in mind, NATO members (NM) have agreed at the 31st annual summit, held in June 2020 in Brussels, to initiate the Defence Innovation Accelerator of the North Atlantic (DIANA) that aims to reach full operability capacities by 2023. DIANA is NATO’s version of the U.S Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). It will reinforce transatlantic cooperation regarding critical technologies to assure the security and defence digital literacy of NM.
This initiative is a joint effort between private-sector entities, non-governmental entities, and academia. NATO’s Assistant Secretary-General David van Weel explains that although financial support from companies and start-ups are crucial for funding the research projects, intellectual property will not be requested (Vivienne Machi, 2021). This is where academia joins the operation, providing the necessary technical knowledge for the development and creation of technologies to improve Emerging and Disruptive Technologies (EDTs): Artificial intelligence (AI), quantum-enable technologies, and big-data processing. This takes place on top of supporting the remaining EDTs: Data and Computing, Autonomy, Biotechnology and Human enhancements, Hypersonic technologies, and Space (Tania Latici, 2021).
Assistant Secretary-General van Weel also pointed out that the defence community has a wide range of technological needs that go way beyond the expected ones. Interested start-ups and Small to Medium-sized Enterprises (SME’s) are welcome to get to know the project. Thus, they can enter a trusted capital marketplace that connects qualified investors pre-selected NATO with start-ups, generating a strong network crucial for the development of DIANA. Assistant Secretary-General van Weel further explained that SME’s and start-ups would not solely provide funds, as NM have exceptionally agreed on building a venture capital fund for providing economic support to companies that develop dual-use and key technologies that could be of use for NATO. The NATO Innovation Fund is a bold optional investment on a 15-year time plan with an expected budget of €70 million annually (Vivienne Machi, 2021). Nonetheless, as van Weel stated, “I read somewhere that NATO is not a bank — we are not, but it will be a country that will fund and give a general direction.” This fund was inspired by the US Department of Defense project “Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)” established in 2019 that has proven to be an efficient financial mechanism (Fuentitech, 2021) and aims to provide extra financial aid to DIANA.
By investing in disruptive technologies, NATO expects to be ready for the emerging security challenges facing the NM in this new era of warfare. By joining forces, efforts, and funds with SME’s, investors, and start-ups, NATO focuses on enhancing technological and digital defence mechanisms. These can create more independence and self-sufficiency, allowing NM to achieve the competitive military technological level of the United States and China. The Assistant Secretary-General argued that defence innovation has come a long way since the 1970s. The lack of proper investment in the field has put NM in a dependent relationship with the current world leaders in the area, namely the United States and China. In this sense, the DIANA initiative is presented as an alternative solution that will boost economic, military, and technological development for NM (Maija Palmer, 2021).
DIANA also aims to decrease the gap between SME’s and investors, positively affecting an economic exchange that will impact future disruptive technologies investment as a whole, benefiting all seven areas: artificial intelligence; quantum-enabled technologies; big data processing; hypersonics; biotechnology; space and autonomy not only the military and defence inclined ones (Jane Edwards, 2021). DIANA combines a multitude of strategic needs: the start-up function for trustworthy stakeholders while developing new technologies, the academic content producing function that provides the intellectual and technical support to the creation and analysis of imminent technologies, and the funding function from government and stakeholders that hold the capital power but lack the creational capabilities.
After reaching its full capacities, DIANA is scheduled to become the focal point for NM to cooperate and coordinate the development of new military technologies through the offices and tests centres that will be placed in the Alliance countries (Antonela Ionita, 2021). DIANA will have two headquarters, in North America and Europe, that will work closely together with their subordinated centres. Alongside this, the maintenance of the network line that will connect start-ups, academia, and stakeholders will be thoroughly coordinated by DIANA. Contrary to some doubts raised, DIANA does not present a threat to the NATO Industry Forum (NIF), but is instead a completely different community aiming to adapt NM’s military strategies to the challenges imposed by the new era of warfare (Fuentitech, 2021).
NIF and DIANA will operate independently and will both abide by the Secretary-General (SACEUR), Supreme Allied Commander Transformation (SACT), and NATO. It is key to allow both projects the freedom to create and innovate that comes with the risks of not always achieving a successful outcome. The world’s most impactful defence organisations and leading start-ups have embedded risk-taking in their culture, as it is the only way to assure innovation, even if it is not necessarily the safest. This is why the funding for this project is a collaboration between government and non-government actors, to allow the enhancement of military technology and disruptive technological advances of NATO Allies (Nicholas Nelson, 2021).
Written by Maria Vitoria Santana
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