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Review: Accelerating Defense: Techno-Security Rivalry, AUKUS, & the US Presidential Election, James Galkowski (29/01/24)

The CCW Emerging Threats Group convened on January 29, 2024, to discuss defence innovation, techno-security rivalry, AUKUS, & the US Presidential Election. Led by James Galkowski of the Silicon Valley Defense Group, the session offered insights into defence innovation and government-industry relations in the US as well as international cooperation efforts such as AUKUS and NATO DIANA. The Group’s discussion focussed on how government and industry may better adapt to each other’s needs, and how hurdles key hurdles to innovation can be overcome.

US efforts

There are several productive programs and projects in the US context that have proven to be successful in improving public-private cooperation in matters of defence innovation and acquisitions. The DoD’s Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) has been successful in accelerating innovation and acquisition of commercial technology for national security. The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs also have been highly promising as seed funds to encourage domestic small businesses to engage in Federal R&D. Yet, these programs remain underused. In the intelligence community, IQT has been highly successful and could be a good example for public-private cooperation in defence innovation to learn from. 

International Efforts

Several international efforts at collaboration between industry, governments, and/ or international organisations were also discussed in the session. Ukraine’s BRAVE1 platform is a remarkable case of international private-public cooperation which works very well for the purposes and interests of Ukraine in its war against Russia, especially as a channel to signal demand to industry. Yet, the impact of this project will largely be limited to the specifics of the conflict and will not have a significant systemic impact on defence innovation as such. NATO’s new innovation accelerator DIANA, meanwhile, is a promising project but has not yet reached full operational capabilities. 

AUKUS

AUKUS, the trilateral alliance between Australia, the UK, and the US, is a potential vessel for change and improvements in both public-private and international cooperation in defence innovation. Yet, doubts about the feasibility of AUKUS remain, especially in regard to industry capabilities (Pillar I). Pillar II offers a broad vision of innovation and tech development but may lack some clarity and detail, which could form a hurdle for understanding of demand by industry. Nonetheless, AUKUS has the potential to overcome traditional barriers to public-private cooperation

Barriers to Defence Innovation & Cooperation 

Central barriers to public-private cooperation in defence innovation can be found in differences in culture and language between the two sectors. The governmental culture emphasizes transparency, accountability, and bureaucratic processes, which are sometimes at odds with the business-like, fast, and flexible culture of industry. Moreover, governments are far more risk-averse than the private sector and thus less flexible regarding investment spending. A difficult balance to strike is regarding information sharing, as governments tend to overclassify information, sometimes to the frustration of industry. Yet, governments feel constrained in who they can share information with, as information security standards cannot always be met.  Many of these challenges are also reflected in the different ‘languages’ of the public and private sectors, which can hinder mutual understanding. Particularly in the US, the complex bureaucratic and hierarchical structures of government acquisition can hinder innovation as there are many stakeholders whose approval is needed. Moreover, innovation and private-sector cooperation are also politicised as government depends on the political support of Congress. Congress can thus be a significant hurdle in public-private cooperation on defence innovation. 

Potential Solutions and Key Takeaways 

Many of these challenges can be overcome by making governmental funding guidelines and the availability of capital more flexible. At the same time, the industry must recognize that the government has many more interests to balance beyond innovation and profit, including ethics, transparency, and oversight. The group discussion highlighted how both sides must learn from each other more and try to gain a better understanding of their respective needs and capabilities. Another central issue is the way in which needs are defined and communicated. Closer tie-ins with PEOs and COCOMs who actually field the tech should allow acquisitions to reflect needs on the battlefield and thus be driven by demand. These demands should also be broadcast more widely and be less secretive. Today, there is a risk of supply shaping demand, which could lead to badly selected requirements that reflect what industry has available rather than what is needed. Without clearly communicated requirements, R&D investments with private capital are also risky, which can lead companies to hedge until needs clearly emerge. This can stifle innovation. AUKUS and similar programs can be great opportunities to reduce risks by bounding the extent of tech sharing and funding within set parameters. To succeed in this, though, AUKUS Pillar II needs to be defined more clearly. 

Looking Ahead

In our next session, we will host Brigadier Rob Rider CBE, former UK Defence Attaché to Germany (2015-20). Rob will discuss Germany’s response to the Ukraine invasion, drawing on his experience in the MoD and the private sector. His talk is set to cover recent dramatic changes in Germany’s defence and security policy, Germany’s role in supporting Ukraine and the role private industry is playing in supporting Ukraine’s Armed Forces. The session on Monday, February 26, will be led by our Ukraine lead Jack Nebe and chaired by group lead Chris Morris.

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