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Catalyst Hosts Five Eyes Event on Emerging Technology

March 18, 2022
Lindsay Shingler


On February 17, Catalyst, in partnership with San Diego-based trade leadership from Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom, hosted a multinational panel to discuss the implications of emerging tech for the growing rivalry between democratic states and authoritarian regimes. The Catalyst initiative, which launched in 2019 with support from IGCC and UC San Diego, aims to drive investment in, and adoption of, security innovations by strengthening connections between the national security community, innovators, investors, and policymakers. The panel, titled “Close Allies and Emerging Technology: Innovating and Fighting Together,” explored the implications of autonomous systems, quantum computing and communications, advanced materials, and bio-health science and was moderated by Catalyst director Scott Tait. It included official representatives from the Australian and UK Embassies, the U.S. Department of Defense, and industry.

“As we look at the rate of change in both the challenges we’re facing, and the emergence of new technologies, it is apparent that none of our nations will succeed alone” said Tait. “We must find more and better ways to collaborate with our close allies, and that is the purpose of this panel.”

Col. Elliot Schroeder, Ms. Lois Nicholson, Mr. Bruce Gilkes, and Ms. Joanne Smail discuss ways to improve collaboration on national security innovation.

The panel was part of an Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association International (AFCEA)-U.S. Naval Institute West conference that brought together representatives from across the Five Eyes, an intelligence alliance comprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Panelists discussed which technologies would likely be most important; whether governments, established industry, or start-up companies would be most important in leading development and operationalizing capabilities; where national and international barriers would hinder collaboration and innovation; and where examples of success might be built upon.

The discussion revealed several areas of common perspective and interest. There was consensus among participants about the importance of considering how new technologies will be used in the field. Can innovations be easily integrated into existing work routines or do they require new training and operational concepts? Many also stressed the need to develop durable multinational partnerships across government, military, industry and academia. The prospect of forming multinational communities of practice linking research, development and capabilities generation in technology areas was of keen interest among panel participants. And many expressed hope that new venues will be created to bring together operations concepts, human factors and new technologies to rapidly evolve effective capabilities.

Ms. Lois Nicholson, Ms. Joanne Smail, and Rear Adm. Angus Topshee provide remarks at the evening social.

There were also contrarian warnings, including the caution that many of the barriers that are in place that slow the adoption of new technologies by militaries—both nationally and internationally—are both useful and necessary. Although requirements such as acquiring international patents, and national reviews for release of key technologies may slow the security innovation process down, they also reduce risk by forcing rigorous review; protecting the intellectual property of those involved; and reducing the chance that potential adversaries gain access to key emerging capabilities. Greater standardization was proposed as a way to improve cooperation, but this was noted as potentially a dangerous double-edged sword, as greater standardization might hinder the ability to innovate and create barriers to entry for incumbent providers that could influence the development of standards to thwart new approaches.

Overall, the panel agreed that the current era of competition is fundamentally different, as it represents the first time in the modern world that great power competition has truly included every element of national power—military, geoeconomic, and geopolitical—and that it was unlikely that any nation could prevail on its own. Great power competition will require close allied cooperation.

Panel participants included Joanne Smail (Senior Trade and Investment Commissioner, Australian Embassy, Washington, DC); Lois Nicholson (Counsellor, Defence Acquisition and Technology, UK Embassy, Washington, DC); Marv Langston (former Navy CIO, former DoD Deputy CIO, and former head of Communications and Intelligence at DARPA); Rear Admiral (Ret) Jim Rodman (CEO, XSite LLC); Captain William Quinn, RCN (Canadian Naval Attaché to the U.S.); Colonel Elliot Schroeder, U.S.A. (Commanding Officer, U.S. Army 75th Innovation Division, Southwest); Damien Tyrrell (Regional Director for Americas and Japan, Sentient Vision Systems, Australia); Lieutenant Colonel (Ret) Bruce Gilkes (Sr. Business Development Manager, VizworX Inc., Canada); and Scott Tait (Executive Director of the National Security Innovation Catalyst and CEO of Pacific Science and Engineering).

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