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NATO fuels defence innovation, Estonian startups ready to face the challenge

Defence DemoDay brought together the Estonia's finest defence, cybersecurity, and dual-use tech innovators alongside representatives of NATO’s innovation arm.

The war in Ukraine has united its allies against a common foe. In the global DefenceTech sector, it has significantly increased demand for armament and ammunition, but also for truly innovative approaches to defence.

Estonia, which has been supporting Ukraine with aid equivalent to 1% of the country’s GDP, is applying its technical know-how to bolster the defence and security sector, enabling the deployment of smart solutions on and off the physical battlefield. Located as it is, next to Russia, defence has always been a priority for Estonia. Technology entrepreneurs and engineers have teamed up over the years with the army to develop world-class solutions that would empower this small but mighty country to hold its own on the global stage. Beyond that, dual-use technologies, which can be used for both civilian and military applications, are a cornerstone of innovation.

As a showcase of this, Estonia’s flagship technology conference Latitude59 put DefenceTech on centre stage, with a deep dive into how global crises are drivers of human ingenuity and why underfunding dual-use and DefenceTech is a luxury NATO cannot afford. Moreover, one of the conference’s most impressive side events, Defence DemoDay was hosted by the NATO Innovation Fund and Invest Estonia.


Why is NATO leaning into innovation in the private sector — and why are eyes on Europe and Estonia?

James Appathurai, NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges, spoke on stage at Latitude59 about NATO’s commitment to fuelling innovation across the alliance — through their launch of a billion-euro fund for investing in developing dual-use technologies including AI, big-data processing, quantum-enabled technologies, autonomy, biotechnology and human enhancement, novel materials, energy, propulsion, and space.

“Innovation is becoming more important to defence than ever before,” Appathurai said at Latitude59. “Ukraine is numerically outmatched against Russia but holding their own. Part of the reason for that is the speed of disruptive technologies. Innovation is saving a huge amount of lives in Ukraine right now. 80% of innovation is coming from the private sector, and NATO needs to support it. It is important that we do this together.”

A similar sentiment was echoed on the Latitude59 stage by Philip Lockwood, Head of the Innovation Unit, Emerging Security Challenges Division, NATO HQ, “There’s become a disconnect between governance and security,” Lockwood said. “Defence used to be the primary driver of innovation but isn’t anymore. Our task is to bridge the gap.”

Philip Lockwood and James Appathurai were in Tallinn to participate in the NATO Innovation Fund I-LPAC meeting. The meeting included a business seminar focusing on crisis adaptation and innovation, presenting Estonia’s dual-use DefenceTech, CyberTech, and Smart City companies such as Cybernetica, Nanordica Medical, GScan, Lightcode Photonics, Krattworks, Varjo (Finland), AuveTech, Starship Technologies, and Clevon.


Standout innovations emerging on the Estonian DefenceTech landscape

What better place to look for ways to bridge the gap than Estonia, where technological innovation for societal advancement and security has become somewhat of a national pastime?

Siim Alatalu is the CEO of Foundation CR14, a government-funded cyber defence and security innovation centre in Estonia. CR14 has been serving the development of NATO’s capacity in this area since 2014 as a cyber range to boost the alliance’s preparedness for cyber attacks. It provides a controlled technology environment for learning how to detect and mitigate cyber threats by simulating worst-case-scenario attacks on IT infrastructure, networks, and software.

This year’s Latitude59 showcased the vital role of cyber ranging in preparing the world for an unseen war, Alatalu stopped for a quick word on the state of Estonia’s DefenceTech. All in all, it seems, there’s plenty to be excited about and for.

Milrem has secured a huge investment, making it a big player globally. Vegvisir is an interesting player and how they build their virtual reality solution is going to be really interesting to see,” Alatalu pointed out a selection of the Estonian DefenceTech landscape’s strengths and standouts — Vegvisir’s mixed-reality situational awareness system provides armoured vehicle personnel a better understanding of their surroundings both in daylight and, thanks to thermal sensors, in the dark. As evidenced by the lineup at Latitude59’s DefenceTech track, those names constitute merely the tip of the iceberg.

“The cyber ranging field is also growing; there is increasing demand,” Alatalu continued. Indeed, there is an exciting activity in the field, in addition to CR14 with its 10+ years of military-grade cyber range experience in cybersecurity training, exercises, testing, validation and experimentation. CybExer Technologies has developed a highly scalable cyber range platform that supports both cloud and on-premise demands.


On the battlefield, too, innovation is everywhere. Founded by veterans with a combined 140 years of experience in defence, SensusQ fundamentally changes how the defence industry turns data into actionable knowledge and is already working with global defence players as well as NATO.

Wayren is creating easy-to-implement, scalable, and secure communication systems for defence operations and other non-military use cases. Marduk’s world-class electro-optical anti-drone platform uses patent-pending AI and machine learning algorithms to detect, recognise, and target drones. TrackDeep uses AI-powered tracking to monitor designated areas for security breaches. DefSecintel provides AI-powered border surveillance and battlefield intelligence.

And the list goes on: The lineup also included Tactical Foodpack, Bristol Trust, Pulstech, HEVI Optronics, Threod Systems, and Nordic Armory, showing that Estonia’s DefenceTech sector packs a punch with a list of impressive names longer than the country’s shoreline.

There’s innovation aplenty, and an evident deep desire to go all out for a more secure world. Send your request for e-Consulting and an advisor will reach out to help you line up investment opportunities.

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