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The Armaments Review: NATOs evolving role in equipping alliance forces

The Armaments Review, approved by allied ministers in December 1999, provides a compelling blueprint for reforming the policies, structures and procedures governing NATOs armaments activities, and equipping alliance forces more effectively and efficiently. Key aspects are a renewed focus on fulfilling essential defence capabilities and improving interoperability; a greater emphasis on agility and responsiveness in armaments cooperation; and a broader approach to managing armaments activities to take better account of other equipment-related capabilities, such as communications and information systems or logistics. The challenge now is to make sure that the Review has a lasting impact on the way NATO conducts its armaments work.

NATO has a long-standing role in promoting armaments cooperation among the allies, as a means to ensure that allied forces are equipped with effective means of defence, to facilitate equipment standardisation and to support the cost-effective use of resources for the research, development and production of equipment. From time to time, the alliance has sought to give cooperative efforts a new impulse by assessing the state of its armaments activities and reviewing the arrangements which support them.

The NATO Armaments Review initiated in early 1997 and completed last autumn, when ministers approved its recommendations represents the most recent and ambitious re-examination of NATOs distinct role in the field of armaments, since the establishment of the Conference of National Armaments Directors (CNAD) in 1966.

Armaments cooperation in a changing context

This Review was motivated by the need to take account in NATOs armaments structures and procedures of the momentous geopolitical developments since the end of the Cold War and the impact of the accelerating pace of technological change on military requirements and defence procurement. Three considerations, in particular, drove the approach to the Review:

  • first, the trend towards integrating individual systems and sub-systems into wider families or constellations of systems with multiple land, air and maritime applications, together with the growing and pervasive influence of information technologies;
  • secondly, the ever closer interaction between armaments, once procured and fielded with alliance forces, and the whole range of capabilities on which their operational effectiveness depends (force structures, communications and information systems, logistics, infrastructure, etc.);
  • lastly, as a result of these two factors, the need to embed CNADs work into the wider set of equipment- oriented activities conducted under the auspices of fellow NATO bodies (1) with the aim of pursuing a concerted approach to fulfilling the alliances essential defence capability requirements (see diagram, right).

It is in this last respect that the relevance and contribution of the Review to the Defence Capabilities Initiative launched at the Washington summit in April 1999 becomes apparent, particularly in terms of improving the overall coordination of alliance defence planning across various disciplines.

NATOs armaments arrangements must also remain responsive to resource constraints in member countries, by offering the appropriate planning and programming mechanisms to exploit opportunities for cooperative research, development and production of defence equipment between two or more allies. They must facilitate a dynamic exchange of information among the allies and, increasingly with Partner countries, on equipment-related matters and on lessons learned from NATO-led crisis response operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo.

NATO armaments cooperation is an important dimension of the transatlantic partnership. The Review provided a welcome opportunity to engage European and North American allies in a common reappraisal of the aims and forms of such cooperation, in a changing environment characterised by the increasing multinationality of alliance forces and operations, and the rationalisation and downsizing of the defence industrial base on both sides of the Atlantic. These trends underscore the need to strengthen, wherever possible, interoperability between allied forces and to pursue new avenues for transatlantic industrial cooperation.

Improving allied capabilities and interoperability

Against this background, the CNAD assembled a robust study team of national representatives and NATO military and civilian experts. The Review was conducted in three phases, addressing in succession the underlying purpose of NATO armaments activities, the supporting institutional arrangements, and a plan for reform. This sequential approach was chosen to ensure that follow-on work would be firmly grounded in pre-viously agreed principles.

Accordingly, the Review first considers the purpose of NATOs role in the armaments field. This is defined as assisting member nations, through international cooperation, to ensure that their forces are properly equipped and sufficiently interoperable to perform successfully the complete range of alliance missions, from collective defence to peace-support and crisis management. This reflects the current priority being given to energising the allies cooperative efforts towards fulfilling NATOs capability needs.

The Review next considers how best to orchestrate NATOs armaments activities to meet their stated purpose. To that end, several core functions are identified that should drive NATOs armaments work, ranging from harmonising operational requirements and improving interoperability to optimising defence procurement.

Concerning the harmonisation of operational requirements among allies an important prerequisite for successful armaments cooperation the Review recommends that the scope of harmonisation efforts be systematically broadened beyond narrow mission areas and categories of equipment. This broader approach to armaments programmes would aim to fulfil defence capabilities through various combinations of complementary systems, based on wider considerations of technical and fiscal opportunity and operational merit. Such an approach would also be more in tune with the growing omnipresence of technology. The Review therefore recommends that the pursuit of greater harmonisation should involve a range of complementary activities and should link the formulation of key alliance capability goals and armaments requirements (2) with agreement on the specifications of particular systems.

A NATO Committee for Armaments Coordination (NCAC) will be established in 2000 and will bring together representatives of member nations and relevant NATO bodies on a periodic basis. This committee will ensure the alliance-wide coherence of this broader approach, create conditions for the increased coordination between armaments and other NATO planning disciplines called for by the Review, and coordinate, where necessary, equipment-related activities. Eventually, the work of the CNAD and the NCAC will be supported by a state-of-the-art Armaments Information Management System, which is currently being developed.

Interoperability, always an important aspect of NATOs defence planning, has become even more relevant since the end of the Cold War, with greater emphasis on cooperation among allied armed services often termed jointness and on multinationality. Indeed, ensuring the alliances operational effectiveness and accommodating its expanding number of multinational formations through improved interoperability has emerged as a key NATO task in the new strategic environment.

To this end, the Review recommends that current equipment standardisation efforts be strengthened by identifying particular items of equipment that are of critical importance for the land, air or maritime formations (such as brigades, squadrons or naval task groups) of any NATO country to be able to train, exercise and operate with the forces of any other ally and, where appropriate, those of Partners. These items will be designated interoperability enablers to emphasise their particular contribution to improving interoperability at the operational level.

More flexible defence procurement

Defence procurement remains a national responsibility within the alliance. But allies have long relied on multilaterally funded and, occasionally, jointly funded NATO armaments projects as a source of efficiencies (3) . The Review recommends that these well-established cooperative acquisition options be supplemented with a coordinated acquisition mechanism. This fast-track procedure will allow two or more allies to pool resources to procure relatively large numbers of non-developmental items directly off-the-shelf. Furthermore, future decisions regarding NATO cooperative programmes should be informed by consideration of the costs of a systems entire life cycle, from the research phase through its operational service.

Making the CNAD more responsive to NATOs evolving operational requirements and NATOs armaments programmes more efficient implies that the NATO Research and Technology Organisation (4) should be involved earlier and more directly in the formulation of options for cooperation. A stronger input from industry through the NATO Industrial Advisory Group will also be needed. The North Atlantic Councils approval in November 1999 of NATOs first Strategy for Research and Technology contributes significantly to fulfilling this dimension of the Review.

A milestone in NATOs armaments work

Arrangements are being set in place to ensure that the work of the CNAD and fellow NATO bodies progresses in a complementary and coordinated way. In this way, the alliance will further strengthen its well-established role in facilitating armaments cooperation.

The completion of the Armaments Review is an important milestone in NATOs armaments work and the internal adaptation of the alliance. A clear path has been charted for NATOs overall equipment-related activities, which will feed into the allies concerted push to develop the defence capabilities and greater interoperability required of allied forces in todays evolving security environment.

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