In the previous 18 months, many financial and IT organizations, including true giants of the same field, began searching for ways to employ blockchain, the key tech behind the BitCoin cryptocurrency. But, the latest entry into the same field is definitely the biggest organization so far to extend its interest in this tech. The organization is NATO and its communication arm is soon going to be concluding the submission period of a contest that was looking for innovation in the domain of blockchain applications relevant to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
For some, the idea that the biggest military organization on the planet is looking into blockchain software and hardware might sound completely understandable, given its widespread applications possibilities and an overall flexibility that any military system would appreciate. But, at the same time, people who use BitCoin for gambling online or doing something similar might wonder why NATO, an organization with a budget that is measured in billions of US dollars, is perusing this mainly financial technology.
However, there is little doubt that the organization, which is, like any other similarly sized structure, very slow and calculated, recognized something important in the blockchain. This contest is just a clear proof of this idea and also a glimpse into the position that NATO has regarding this P2P networking technology.
NCIA and the Innovation Challenge
The contest which was announced in the final weeks of April 2016 is called the Innovation Challenge and it was created by NCIA or the Communications and Information Agency of NATO. The aim of the contest is to look for submissions that develop state-of-the-art tech solutions, especially those which are applicable to the alliance’s current structure.
The contest was not designed to last a very long time, which is the reason why the Innovation Challenge contests ends on May 10, 2016, and the winners should be notified by the commission in charge of this decision just 10 days later, on May 20.
When the contest was activated, NATO’s branch requested that military-grade blockchain tech solutions and applications come forward. According to the official documents, the organization asked for applicants working in finance, procurement, and military logistics. But the document also called for any other applications that could be of interest to a military organization like NATO.
At the same time, it was clear that the requirements were more than open-ended, with no clear instructions about the exact nature of the solutions or applications. The requirements were also open for interpretation when it comes to the development level of the project, so it appears that anything from a precise pitch to a finished software or hardware was welcomed to the contest. It is clear that here as well, the military mentality steered the contest into a form that allows the organization examine the entire playing field looking for anything that might prove interesting or useful.
The Potential Results
So far, there is little information about the course of the contest and the applicants which entered it so far. It is also not completely clear if and in what extend will NATO openly discuss and publicize the submissions. Currently, the official statement is that the organization desires to make a showcase of the most successful submissions during a conference that will take place in Estonia in June 2016.
This ambiguous statement is very much in line with the secretive nature of any military organization. If any of the submissions really present any potential for development, NATO has to protect this information as much as it can, especially if it poses a risk of either compromising the tech or reverse engineering it by a third-party. But, by making the contest public, it also lost the potential of making the result completely unknown, which was probably what the organization would do in the case of any direct tech procurement.
The problem is that blockchain cannot exactly be bought from Boeing or any other similar company that has been working with NATO since the middle of the 20th century. As an exceedingly new technology, it is still abundantly clear from the example of BitCoin, that it provides an incredible potential for all manner of applications. A well-placed investment now, microscopic in regards to other NATO-level projects, could provide the organization with an ROI that is almost immeasurable.
The Right Moment for Bright Ideas
Currently, NATO is in a dire need of out of the box thinking, especially when it comes to future threats that do not follow the rulebook that was created when the alliance was established. Things like asymmetrical warfare, terror threats and the looming (by some accounts, already ongoing) cyber conflict all make the future of NATO a very complex calculation.
Here, one of NATO members, the US, has already shown a big interest in the battlefield and active conflict application of blockchain technology. This year, the country’s Department of Defense, working with DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) issued a public call for a secure system for messaging that employs a blockchain staple application, the shared distributed ledger.
At the age of widespread cyber attacks, it is clear why US forces, which are engaged in active combat scenarios all over the globe, could be very inclined to get this secure technology as soon as possible. As a nation that can be only described as a first adopter when it comes to military technology, the US was also the first to employ things like first-person shooters for training purposes, sometime before they morphed into E-Sports and other planetary popular mediums. There are no reasons why blockchain would be perceived any differently.
But, when it comes to the Innovation Challenge, it is more likely that the distributed data sharing process of the blockchain tech could help NATO when it comes to logistic applications. The tech, according to the experts, could also be used for easy payments of services and goods. The savings produced by this method, which could free up a lot of unnecessary bureaucracy and unneeded work hours, are a big target for NATO, which is also looking for cost reductions wherever it can find them.
In the coming months, the solutions from the Innovation Challenge should surface in the news outlets, either through official channels or unconfirmed reports, but most likely through both. When these are made public, there is little doubt that many developers of both software and hardware blockchain solutions will start to weigh the option of creating their products for the military.