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11 24 2021

NATO 2030 and the NCI Agency: What does it mean to sharpen our edge?

Op-ed article by NCI Agency General Manager Ludwig Decamps

This opinion article was originally published in the Berlin Security Conference magazine.

NATO 2030 and the NCI Agency: What does it mean to sharpen our edge?

In June, Leaders agreed an ambitious and forward-looking agenda for our future security through the NATO 2030 initiative. It will ensure that our Alliance remains ready for the challenges of today and future-proof for the threats of tomorrow.

This includes enhancing NATO's resilience, boosting our cyber defences and sharpening our technological edge. Leaders also agreed to develop NATO's next Strategic Concept to reflect NATO's core values and purpose, and our changed security environment.

So NATO is setting its direction of travel for the next decade – and the NCI Agency will play an integral role in this future, particularly in ensuring NATO continues to maintain its technological edge.

The NCI Agency's work

The 2030 agenda reflects the reality that, in a world of growing global competition and complex security threats, the Alliance must respond to many challenges at the same time, including from sophisticated cyber-attacks and disruptive technologies. At the NCI Agency, we are helping NATO keep its edge, from upgrading technology across the NATO enterprise, to lending expertise in applications of artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Our core business is planning, designing, and delivering an arsenal of modern, secure capabilities and services across the NATO enterprise, from NATO Headquarters to the Commands. That includes everything from digital transformation, to air command and control software and services, to exploring potential military applications of 5G technologies. Afghanistan was no exception, with staff from the NCI Agency providing critical communication services right until the end of our Resolute Support Mission there.

The 2030 agenda also calls for enhancing NATO's resilience. Cyber security is no longer a support function – it is a core part of capability and service delivery and integral to maintaining the Alliance's resilience. Through our NATO Cyber Security Centre, we monitor and defend NATO's technological infrastructure in the midst of an ever-growing cyber threat landscape, involving thousands of suspicious events per day.

As we modernize NATO's technology and seek to enhance its cyber security, training remains essential. Technology is of little use without training. Our NCI Academy in Oeiras, Portugal, trains civilian and military staff from NATO and partner nations, helping them to advance their skills in Communications and Information Systems (CIS) and cyber security. The NCI Academy plays an integral role in ensuring the Alliance is ready to adopt and rapidly implement new capabilities.

The way ahead: working in partnership

As NATO prepares for new challenges, transatlantic cooperation remains the cornerstone of our security. Working together as Allies will always be essential to credible deterrence and defence. In an increasingly complex and competitive world, transatlantic cooperation is even more essential to ensuring NATO remains ready to face any threat.

The NCI Agency works with nations through common-funded capability development, as well as through multinational initiatives, which allow several nations to share expertise or co-develop capabilities. Several NATO Allies are considering a combined effort to harness 5G technologies for military applications – a multinational approach facilitated by the Agency. The Agency manages a broad range of multinational projects and partnerships today with NATO Allies and partners in areas of shared interest.

Bringing nations together is only one facet of our work. To harness the top technologies for the Alliance, we need to explain NATO's needs to nations' industries, academia and not-for-profit organizations.

In the past year, we have introduced the new Not-for-Profit Framework. This allows us to work with national defence labs, as well as academic, scientific and research institutions from within NATO nations. We intend to launch the first competitions among our not-for-profit partners soon. The framework supports the NCI Agency in its scientific programme of work, research and development studies, capability requirements, blueprints, change management, and project and service provision assurance.

Partnering more effectively with nations and industry to bring in new capabilities and services is a big part of what we do, but such partners are also critical to enhancing our resilience. The Alliance's resilience lies not only in securing military systems, but civilian infrastructure as well. We know that cyber security is a team sport, so we work with a variety of partners to share technical information on cyber threats, including the European Union and industry. Through the NATO Industry Cyber Partnership, we have signed partnership agreements with the private sector to share and receive timely information on cyber threats, and enhance our collective situational awareness.

Sharpening NATO's technological edge requires all of us to share critical information and work together on complex challenges. Whether you are part of industry, or working for a nation, you play an important role. The NCI Agency stands ready to work with you to boost Alliance capabilities for the next decade and beyond.