WASHINGTON — NATO’s Allied Command Transformation, based in Norfolk, Virginia, serves as the alliance’s nerve center for developing new capabilities, advancing training and doctrine, and experimenting with new technologies. Italian Army Gen. Paolo Ruggiero was named deputy supreme allied commander for transformation on July 19, 2019. An artillery officer by training with a number of deployments under his belt, Ruggiero readily admits his move to ACT has been a unique challenge, but one he is excited to tackle.
He sat down with Defense News during a visit to Washington in November to discuss his view of future challenges, how NATO must operate in space and future adversaries.
You come from an operational background as opposed to an acquisition background. How does that impact your thinking about tools needed for NATO’s future?
From my perspective, some of the capabilities that we need currently are probably the same ones [needed] in the future. Let me give you an example: We need fire support today for the current operations we are running and probably we’ll see in the future. Probably, the level of operation, the kind of operation, the theater of operation, will be different; the environment will be different; the challenge that we will face will be different. But I think there’s still the same capacity we would need in any case. With our process, we need to better identify what way, what means, to express or to use this capacity better in the future, according with what we foresee as the potential new security environment and security challenges.
What do you foresee as that new environment?
You are very familiar with cyber, hybrid; space is a new area of interest. There are new potential adversaries or new potential ways to put threats on the alliance or to put threats on the global organization. In these areas, probably we need to be a little bit more specific to find the best solution. But still we need to rely on what we have available today and see, from the experience that we do today, what is still available and what is still good, what is still capable with a different reorganization.
The most important thing is to maintain the hedge on these things. When we develop something where we want to maintain our hedge on a potential adversaries, we need to look at the problem with a different perspective and try to think forward.
In what is the alliance not hedged correctly, as you put it?
I was talking about space, not because it’s something new, but because within the 29 nations, not all the nations of the alliance [are] current with the same capacity. It’s something that we need to work together to share information, to see what is the availability of the assets, exchanging formations, and establish at the early stage at least a common vision and common way, a common approach. Also, a sharing of our capabilities in case we should use or we should have an emergency — we need to consider this domain as something that is relevant.
Space is tricky because only a few NATO members have space capabilities. How do you get contributions or buy-in from allies who don’t have that capability?
The bottom point is that all the nations, they should receive the same kind of — not the same capability in terms of assets, because they cannot afford these assets, but the same capability in terms of quality of the service, the same information and the same utilization of the capacities for their defense or for the common defense of the alliance. I think this is the best answer. A quarter of the nations have more capabilities, or they have more resources, or they are more technologically advanced. But it’s to let all the members of the alliance use the same capabilities when they need them for the benefit of the entire alliance.
Another one is cyber. Cyber has been already declared as a domain that we are facing. Again, in cyber not all the 29 nations have the same capacity. At ACT, our task is to link all the countries to coordinate and to leverage the level of knowledge, the level of capabilities and also try to develop the same approach. In terms of intelligibility, there is standardization to have the same answer to face this challenge in this new domain.
From where you sit today, what are the game changers the alliance will struggle with for the next five years? The next 10 years? What will be different from today?
I think that within 10 years, probably, we need to realize that what we consider nowadays our potential adversaries, it may be that they will not be the same. Again, when we talk about artificial intelligence, big data, collecting information and so on, I think that in the future the potential adversaries, or who will have the power, will be who will have the capacity to manage the largest amounts of data and information. Because they really can — I don’t want to say they can decide the way that the world is running, but they can really influence a lot in the decision-making process. They can really influence a lot the social approach to problems.
As the military, we think still with the mentality that we have an adversary and this adversary has to have a name, a flag or something. In the future — and this future is coming very, very soon — I think the problem with this potential adversary [is they] will not have a flag, but we’ll have some kind of international, let’s say, arena that will cover some area of interest common to all the globe. Economically speaking, technologically speaking, something that, again, having the power to manage the large amount of information, the large amount of data and to use this data using technology available at the time, I think that they can really influence the society. But also specially they could influence the decision-making process. It is something that we need to start to care about.
China is doing a lot with big data to impact society. Do you envision a future role for the alliance when dealing with China?
Nowadays, China is considered like [any other] country. And you have to consider also the many, many countries in NATO. All the countries in NATO have some kind of relationship with China. Economically speaking, [look at] Italy: You have a very large community of Chinese people who are working in Italy, and they are resident there.
In the future, of course, China could be a competitor, but I think mostly in the economical way. China is growing, especially on the economical side. We can see that China is more interested not only in the Asian area of the world but also, for instance, Africa. It’s coming also to Europe, so it’s expanding it’s economical environment.
NATO is a defense organization. So far we don’t see China as a potential adversary in terms of security, in terms of defense. In the future? I don’t know.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.