On September 27th, the industry gathered for the annual conference on international defense cooperation. After two years of virtual events, COMDEF returned to in-person conference at the Convene in Arlington. The topic for this year’s conference was Integrated Deterrence, focusing on Europe and NATO efforts to preserve the peace.
As a featured nation, Norway provided a Scandinavian perspective on the international cooperation in defense industry. The program explored major trends in defense R&D, and strengthened allyship and streamlined cooperation between likeminded countries with a core set of democratic values, in the context of a changing budgetary environment, technology and cultural shifts, commercial and political pressures and external factored shaping the defense landscape. The approximately 150 attendees of the conference were served a varied program lifting perspectives from both government and industry.
The conference was kicked-off by the president of IDEEA, Inc. Mr. Quentin Whiteree, who introduced the conference co-moderators, Joseph J. Klumpp from the DoD (A&S) and the Norwegian Army Defense Attaché Major General Odd-Harald Hagen.
Dak Hardwick, the Vice President of AIA had a fireside chat with the Deputy Assistant to the President and Coordinator for Defense Policy and Arms Control in the National Security Council, Ms. Cara Abercrombie. The topic for their conversation was an International Cooperation Outlook.
After a break the Brigadier General Fritz Urbach, Defense Attaché of the EU Delegation to Washington and Ottawa spoke of European Defense Perspectives. In his keynote speech he emphasized the need for more coordination and cooperation, highlighting how the current scarred landscape is not in best interest of the military. A soldier wants the best equipment available. The desire of the military should be that one’s allies has this. The Brigadier General wanted to tackle this scarred landscape in order to improve military capabilities and ensure a capable defense industry.
How initiatives within the EU framework, such as Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), can be a tool to tackle the deteriorating security environment in Europe was a key point for BG Urbach. Better coordination, increased investments and more collaboration are necessary to jointly develop and use the military capabilities that Europe needs. Working together on security and defense enables EU Member States to undertake the most demanding military operations abroad and protect its citizens at home. EU Member States build groups that work on specific capabilities and projects, creating cyber rapid response teams, secure software defined radar and so forth. Third states can participate in PESCO projects. In May 2021, for example, the US, Canada, and Norway was given authorization to join the PESCO project on Military Mobility.
The European Defense Fund is a €8 billion pot of money for coordinated and transnational R&D. The Fund is meant to give incentives to bring companies together and develop capability requirements, thereby reducing fragmentation and inefficiencies. The Brigadier General highlighted how there is not a risk of interoperability or duplication of effort with NATO because the Member States decides where and what the state procures, and because it will incentivize less protectionism. The overlaying aim is that the soldier on the front line gets the best equipment and that there is healthy competition in the industry.
Lastly the Brigadier General spoke of connectivity and radio/digitalization. He highlighted how the main command and control tool in Kabul was WhatsApp and how the German Army have received €100 billion, whereof the equivalent to $12 billion were to go to measures in digitalization and communication.
After his keynote, the floor was opened for questions. When asked about the likelihood of a European Army, BG Urbach answered he saw that as unlikely within the next 25 years, as it would demand a European government, for which he did not currently see any political appetite. When asked for a guiding document, the Brigadier General referred to the European Commission, which is where the expertise and the money lies.
The fact that Ukraine is in wartime was a backdrop for the entire day, also for the panel on Expanding Industrial Base Security. There has been paid a lot of attention to cyber-attacks, both on informational technology, but also on operational technology. With allied participation in armed conflict, the global supply chains were a topic of conversation. The common supply chains face many obstacles that prohibit foreign partners in selling abroad, thereby limiting cooperation and effective supply chains.
The panelists talked about how TikTok is a major supplier of software, highlighting that one must actively maintain the security capabilities. The software is often vulnerable to updates, and there is a need for modernizing the software supply chain to make it secure. Active maintenance of software was argued to be underprioritized. There was a call for CEOs to start setting aggressive timeframes for maintaining secure software.
The second half was kicked off with a panel on Enhanced Security Cooperation with representatives from the US, UK and Canada. The different countries shared their perspective on “how we can do things together”. From the US perspective, the increasingly complex situations and weapons were highlighted. During the Cold War, the approach was a flexible response, but it was argued that the situation is not as simple and there can only be integrative deterrence when a different intellectual approach is taken. There is a need for a more ambitious strategy of integration across organizations, services, allies, and partners. From the UK perspective, defense security exports and investments were emphasized. Getting the conversations starting politically is vital and can be done through success stories such as the F35 or the AUKUS. Canada pushed for accelerating innovation and delivering modernized capabilities. Increasing tolerance and sharing strategic analysis among partners were drawn upon as important and highly needed measures.
An important takeaway from the discussion of the panel is to reflect on what is at the heart of your bullseye. Stripping away the things that do not matter and sending clear demands to the industry will be key in ensuring effectiveness. One cannot expect the industry to respond to wishes and potential purchases, but rather through investing in the things that matter, and making it clear what matters, whether it is cost efficiency, speed, operational requirements, or something else. Seeing it from the industry point of view and understanding that they are risk managing will be crucial in enhancing security cooperation.
International Perspectives of Industrial Cooperation was the topic of the next panel. The panel discussed the Buy America policy and what one can do as a smaller country to make oneself known to the US and to make the US approach said countries in a more open way. Innovation and development are served by cooperation, and a better dialogue would not only serve in terms of money, but also in human resources.
The panel discussed how the current security situation make it understandable and necessary to think of short term needs and have a sense of urgency. They did however stress how it is important to have a long-term view at the same time, looking at questions such as: What will the threats be 10 years from now? What will Russia be like when it rebuilds its military capabilities? These are also questions who needs answering, which can be done though strengthening of industrial cooperation and R&D.
In light of this, the harmonization of policies was drawn out as very important, as well as the need to control foreign investment to keep bad actors away from owning important companies. Furthermore, the need for ensuring workforce mobility and collaborating on cybersecurity was drawn upon as important possible advantages of continued cooperation in R&D.
Lastly, the panel spoke about Sweden and Finland joining NATO. The Finnish Defense Attaché spoke about how there is not expected to be huge changes due to this, partly because of the already existing structures in the EU and good bilateral connection.
The final panel of the day was on the topic of Export Control.
The conference was wrapped up with a reception and a terms of reference signing, where the Honorable Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Heidi Shyu, and the Head of the Department of Defense Policy and Long-term planning, and Norwegian Capability Director Major General Henning Frantzen signed the terms of reference.