NATO unveils tech accelerator footprint, with plans for more than 60 sites

STUTTGART, Germany — NATO is set to establish a new transatlantic initiative to accelerate the development of critical technologies, with a Eurocentric headquarters based in London and more than 60 partner sites around its alliance.

Last summer, at the 31st annual NATO summit in Brussels, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced his intention to create the North Atlantic Defense Innovation Accelerator, or DIANA, based on Defense United States Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Nearly a year later, NATO foreign ministers are set to approve a formal charter for DIANA and commit to providing an initial innovation fund of €1 billion ($1.1 billion). US dollars). Ministers will approve the DIANA charter at their April 6-7 meeting in Brussels, Stoltenberg said April 5 during a pre-ministerial press briefing.

The initiative is accompanied by more than 60 innovation sites. This includes a headquarters in Europe and another in North America, approximately 10 “accelerator sites” that provide funding, mentorship and exposure to business opportunities to participating startups, and more than 50 dedicated test centers housing labs and equipment.

“In total, the initial footprint will cover 20 NATO countries, which represents a true transatlantic undertaking, and we expect it to continue to expand in the future,” Stoltenberg said.

The Technology Accelerator will be a new body within NATO, tasked with bringing together innovative civil and military organizations to develop cutting-edge solutions in the areas of emerging and disruptive technologies, said David van Weel, Deputy Secretary General of NATO. NATO for Emerging Security Challenges.

The plan is for the allies to agree every two years on a new strategic direction, which will then dictate critical defense and security issues and desired solutions.

“This provides strong signals of market demand and opportunities for innovators,” van Weel said during a Tuesday press briefing.

From there, startups, academic institutions, and non-traditional industry members can participate in so-called challenge programs that work to solve real-world problems — such as operating in a GPS-free environment — and submit proposals to participate in the DIANA acceleration effort.

Member countries have submitted proposals for more than 90 institutions to be part of the DIANA footprint; after assessments, NATO narrowed it down to more than 10 accelerator sites and more than 50 test centers, many of which already exist, van Weel said.

Among these selected sites are the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, which will focus on quantum technologies, and a new site in Turin, Italy, which will be dedicated to space.

Imperial College London will host the European headquarters as well as a DIANA accelerator, in a space currently housing the UK Defense and Security Accelerator, according to the UK government. The UK program will be “twinned” with a new accelerator based in Tallinn, Estonia, to help share expertise, test cyber-innovations and explore the viability of “virtual sites” to test new technologies such as autonomous vehicles.

“The UK and Estonia are two of the most innovative nations in NATO, and our hosting of DIANA will harness this innovation for the benefit of all allies tackling future military threats,” the UK secretary said. to Defense, Ben Wallace, in a press release.

While the centers on the European side have all been selected, the North American footprint will be announced at the NATO summit in June in Madrid, Spain. The goal is for DIANA to reach full operational capability by 2025, van Weel said.

Alongside the technology accelerator is a fledgling venture capital fund, dubbed the NATO Innovation Fund. “Ultimately, reinventing NATO’s engagement with civilian innovators is only credible if we also provide the right funding mechanisms,” van Weel noted.

Twenty-one members worked together to establish the fund’s underlying framework — outlining the investment strategy, capital pool, and determining the fund’s structure and governance. They also provided initial financial support. The Innovation Fund will invest 1 billion euros in “deep-tech startups” over 15 years. These are public funds that participating nations can allocate, either from their existing defense budgets or from established innovation funds, a senior NATO official said on Tuesday.

Nations participating in the DIANA Innovation Fund currently include Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Turkey and United Kingdom.

Other member nations may decide to contribute to the Innovation Fund at a later date, but they will have no say in its framework, the NATO official said.

A key aspect of DIANA will be to support NATO’s work in exploiting critical technology areas known as Emerging and Disruptive Technologies, or EDTs. The alliance recently identified propulsion and new materials as two new EDTs that deserve attention, joining artificial intelligence, autonomy, big data processing, quantum technologies, biotechnology, hypersonic technology and systems related to space.

NATO has published public strategies for several of these EDTs – for space, AI and big data processing. The alliance’s strategy on autonomy is expected to be released this year, and one on quantum technologies will come the following year, the official said.

Vivienne Machi is a journalist based in Stuttgart, Germany, who contributes to Defense News’ European coverage. She previously worked for National Defense Magazine, Defense Daily, Via Satellite, Foreign Policy and the Dayton Daily News. She was named the Defense Media Awards’ Best Young Defense Journalist in 2020.