What are the challenges and opportunities for the defence industry in Slovakia now and in the near future? Our research fellow Tomáš A. Nagy talked about these issues with Peter Dostal, the CEO of Aliter Technologies.
Q1: The support for the national defence industry is one of the valid commitments within the current governmental memorandum. How would you evaluate the fulfilment of the mentioned commitment – also within the context of the government´s long-term approach towards the national defence industry?
A1: Unfortunately, I must say that this commitment is not being, in my opinion, fulfilled. Similarly, the approach of previous governments towards the national defence industry had been rather passive and in declaratory terms only. Moreover, to date, we are witnessing no concrete positive results in the increase of self-sufficiency and independence of the Slovak Republic in terms of defence production.
From the industry side, via the Association of Security and Defence Industry and Slovak Chamber of Commerce and Industry, there is however an ambition to elevate the level of cooperation with the governmental institutions (in this case mainly with the Ministry of Defence of SR) to a qualitatively higher level. However, the matter of state support for the domestic security and defence industry shall not only be an agenda for the MoD, but also for the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Economy.
Q2: The currently updated Defence Strategy of SR will (allegedly) have an ambition to express direct responsibility of state institutions (i.e. the Armed Forces and the executive branch) for the development of the national defence industry – as a national-security interest of the country. Via which specific steps and measures shall be such an interest realised in practice?
A2: I am absolutely convinced that the state support for the defence industry and also for the security-related industry must be a national-security interest of the Slovak Republic. It is being realized in all of the developed nations of the EU and NATO. What is important, however, is what we specifically understand beyond the notion of “support“. In my opinion, such ambition of the state, if it is to be considered seriously, must be organized systematically, actively and purposefully. I also believe that the mentioned process shall be managed from the level of the cabinet and first and foremost, our laws shall reflect that accordingly.
Q3: As a subcontractor for multinational producers, such as the BAE Systems, Airbus and Ericsson, your technologies and services are utilized by armed forces across the Alliance – from Canada to Estonia. How have these cooperative ventures enriched you in the last years – both in terms of the width of the portfolio of services and in terms of the quality of offered technology?
A3: Our involvement in projects at a multinational level brings us a new experience and naturally simultaneously with that an increase in the quality of our products and services. In terms of the quality standards, these constitute a key aspect for us – whether it’s a domestic or foreign customer. Succeeding with defence and security products at the international level often requires references and experience in cooperation with the national armed forces. Obviously, this is one of the factors that cannot be realized without the support of the (Slovak) state institutions.
Q4: The cyber domain of the Alliance is slowly turning into the actual very core of allied security affairs. In which ways does the national cyber expertise constitute a value-added and where does the competitive advantage rests – compared to the established western industry leaders?
A4: Cybersecurity today represents a huge challenge. For a number of years, it has been (just like other domains) neglected, under-financed and lacked systematic build-up. Today, facing the numerous attacks on our critical infrastructure, we are starting to realise its relevance as the conventional attacks and threats are being replaced by hybrid and asynchronous ones. The national cyber-security expertise is already potentially more important than the expertise in the other domains of defence. In an eventuality of a conventional attack, the remaining Allies will come to our help, but in a case of a potential cyber-attack, we must first identify what happened, identify the attacker and apply a defence strategy. In this regard, the capacities and capabilities of our Allies are not entirely useful (for us) or useful only to a limited extent.
Our company has been building competence in cyber-security essentially since its very inception. Besides, the detailed knowledge of the domestic environment and the state´s critical infrastructure, we possess expertise in numerous cyber-security instruments and technologies which we regularly utilize both domestically and internationally. As a specific example, I would note the services of our specialists provided to one of NATO´s agencies in Luxemburg.
Q5: As a company providing information systems for NATO command centres (both in Europe and globally), what role you do potential business opportunities outside NATO and beyond “the West” play in your strategic considerations?
A5: We do regularly analyse and consider business opportunities beyond the boundaries of the EU and NATO. Of course, this happens fully in-line with the adequate national laws, EU and Slovak embargo rules and other relevant limitations of exporting to specific territories.
Q6: Beyond the military industry, Aliter has been supplying also the institutions of internal security apparatus – such as the police corps and border guards. What room does your company foresee for orienting towards the expertise addressing internal security threats – especially within the context of changing the European security environment (terrorism, crime, illegal migration)?
A6: Our solutions and products are not solely oriented towards the armed forces, but also to the institutions of internal state security and civilian protection. We are talking about, e.g. information and communication technology solutions (for border-protection, facilities of special importance, special operations units, rescue corps, crisis management staffs, etc.) that are utilizable within the set of processes aimed at enhancing internal security subjected to threat factors such as terrorism, illegal migration and conventional crime.
Q7: The area of unmanned aerial vehicles is current one of the most progressively developing wings of the “hardware-oriented” defence industry. What kind of perspective does your company foresee in building technologies for the new generation of UAVs?
A7: In general, we perceived the UAV area being swiftly developing – whether it is the civilian or the military branch. Currently, our portfolio contains the development of a drone for mounting bird-scarers on high voltage power lines and our developers are working on a version for military purposes. Hence, we do see a clear perspective in this piece of technology especially within the area of special technologies and it is indeed becoming one of our priorities.
Q8: The European Union and the European Investment Bank have announced their gradual “offensive” is supporting the European defence industry – in the name of R&D and joint innovation project-support for the industry leaders. Does this policy constitute a real opportunity for the leaders of the Slovak defence industry? Be it either with a short-term or a long-term time framework?
A8: Personally, at this very moment, I would be modestly cautious about the mentioned ambition. We will see what specifically it will eventually represent. Our experience in securing financial support from the common development projects financed by the EU has been rather negative – to this very date.