Late last year, senior Pentagon leaders announced a slew of initiatives to modernize and streamline the development and acquisition of weapon systems, while calling for a closer relationship with NATO in the prototyping and testing of future military technologies.
Better Buying Power 3.0, the new "offset" strategy and Defense Innovation Initiative are still in their early stages, but there has been much talk about how the defense industrial base leaders in the US and Europe can collaborate in the future to meet the need for their countries' forces to increase interoperability and drive down costs.
French Air Force Gen. Jean-Paul Paloméros, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, is right in the middle of these debates.
Q. Why is this new Pentagon Defense Innovation Initiative important, to both sides of the alliance?
A. Industry needs to do everything possible in terms of innovation for defense. There has been a lot of bad news in the recent past about the reduction in defense budgets. We see that in France, but in other places as well. There is a real difficulty in trying to define a long-term perspective for the industry. We have heard that many times from industrial leaders. They have no clear vision about what the future potential is for defense investment in European countries. What this innovation initiative brings is a new perspective, a new vision, and a new hope for industry to be involved in the preparation of the new strategy.
Q. How will you engage NATO and EU allies about this initiative, which US Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work insists must include European allies?
A. As the head of Allied Command Transformation [ACT], I consider this as a part of my responsibility.
ACT is really the command that is looking at the future. This is for us to propose a vision on those initiatives and to open the doors. I hope that will be carefully followed. We have a lot of interesting ideas about how to transform NATO. The US initiative itself is new, but the mindset is very much embedded in what we try to do when we work with NATO and EU allies. Perhaps we will help the European countries make up their minds about what they want to do for the future, where they want to invest, and how they want to use science and technology. This is fine to get a pledge for 2 percent or 20 percent of funding for defense spending and investment. The question is what the priorities are.
Q. You have talked about not looking at things as NATO or EU, but more broadly as an alliance. What role can you play in explaining this innovation and partnering initiative?
A. I see a great potential in partnering with the EU, which would be of great benefit for NATO. Obviously, we have to be very smart in presenting this opportunity to the European Council. It might have started as a US initiative, but in a conversation about a trans-Atlantic initiative we must be frank. The reason is, we know, that this is seen as a US-only initiative. That is why NATO, being associated with this, must assure allies that the European nations can have their say and make up their minds about how much they want to push this initiative, and how much currency they want to give to this initiative with their US partner.
Q. DoD acquisition chief Frank Kendall recently said a sixth-generation fighter would be part of Pentagon's 2016 budget. Is this an area of trans-Atlantic NATO collaboration?
A. The job of NATO is really to focus on providing deployable troops, command and control, information sharing, cyber, and anti-ballistic missiles and collective defense. NATO can help to define a concept for the future but is not really in charge of defining the platforms of the future. The aim of NATO is that those platforms can be integrated within the overall system.
Today we have 16 key shortfalls in the NATO inventory. We will need to exert a lot of effort to fulfill or bridge those gaps in the near to middle term. I cannot imagine it will be done in the short term, as this is a very demanding roadmap. We must be very careful, as far as NATO is concerned, in pushing too hard in certain demands. This is why if nations want to develop a specific platform, this is their business. NATO has its key priorities, as defined by the heads of state. We must keep this roadmap in front of our eyes when we are making priorities for the future.
Q. Many large companies view this DoD offset strategy with concern, fearing disruptive ideas that will undermine existing programs. How do you get everybody pulling together?
A. You put your finger on the key issue. On the one hand, we are promoting partnership with industry. On the other hand, we are promoting competition as well. More than ever, we have to manage this dual approach, which is not only for states but for the industry. We are looking to improve our defense capabilities, and the environment is such that there is a sense of great priority and perhaps urgency.
The defense industry needs a vision for the future. They cannot invest their own money and the money of their stakeholders without a clear vision and strategy. In many ways they know that the military research and technology investment accounts are no longer the key driver, but still important. They will see the benefit perhaps in a new opportunity.
On the other hand, they are compelled to invest in breakthrough technologies. In getting more involved in the advance projects, and getting more of their view taken into account in how we imagine the future. You see that there will perhaps not be a place for everybody. That could mean some restructuring.
Q. Is this a challenge for industry?
A. The industry is very agile at the end of the day. Depending on the priorities we have set down in the past, they have been able to adapt. If they are not able, they die. I am sure that providing a better vision — and I mean not only the vision of what should happen in the next few years but our longer-term ambitions — will be critical. That is exactly what the heads of state say as well — they pledge for reinvesting in defense. They did not say that they were launching an innovation initiative. That could be the next step. Perhaps NATO needs a NATO innovation strategy.
We have the tools to do that in the science and technology world. We have a relationship with industry. We have the Connected Forces Initiative. We have Smart Defense. We have many tools in our inventory to foster innovation. It is not as visible, but I can tell you that when we move in a step-by-step approach on cyber, we are innovating. When I see the last cyber coalition that we organized, it was amazing to see how much innovation there was, and to see the many nations bringing their skills and expertise.
Q. How critical are ideas and technologies from commercial sectors like cyber and communications?
A. It will be critical to do that as well, but we have to be careful when we open our doors to the commercial sector. There is a question of confidence in the industry. We must be selective in a certain way, building a network of confidence if we really want to move forward. This game could not be open to everybody and anybody. I took part in one seminar in northern France recently on information communication and cyber. I was really amazed to see the small businesses, which were really able to innovate. They were not obviously driven only by technology. It was more the know-how, the perception, and the ability to conceive the problem and the solutions.
Q. You were the chief of the French Air Force. How did America's first offset strategy and the second affect France and other nations? How do you expect the third offset strategy, this time in partnership with the US, to change the whole alliance?
A. This is striking, to see a strategy affecting the offset. When you look at long-term effects of the second offset strategy, it defined more or less the systems that we are using today: command and control, long-range precision guided munitions, and intelligence and reconnaissance.
The questions raised by this kind of offset strategy are key questions for the future. Everything is really on the table. For instance, let's take drones, which is one of my favorites. It has proved indispensable. But it was never tested in the contested environment. We cannot operate them in the future without knowing what the risks are there. If they are so important for our strategy, and tomorrow we have to use them in a contested environment, we should not be surprised if we have some problems. We must take that into consideration now. In battle, it could be too late. You see those questions about electronic jamming. We cannot take the risks.
Q. Is speed in fielding new technology, systems and operational concepts key?