VMI Collaborates with the NATO Innovation Hub

VMI is a founding member of the 'Academic Alliance' and is part of a pilot program that uses wargaming techniques to enhance problem-solving skills

Virginia Military Institute (VMI), the oldest public senior military college in the United States, is the first member of the ‘Academic Alliance’ to collaborate with the Innovation Hub on the Disruptive Technology Experiment (DTEX) initiative, which uses wargames and simulations to explore new ideas and technologies. “IH’s collaboration with Academia is a critical part of our Open Innovation strategy. From one hand, Academia brings an immense out-of-the-box expertise into the NATO projects, from the other hand it allows to draw the interest of the young generations to NATO's priorities,” said Mr. Serge Da Deppo, founder of the Innovation Hub. 

The Academic Alliance is an initiative founded and spearheaded by the NATO Innovation Hub (IH) with the support of  the Office of Collaboration with Academia and Industry (OCAI), and the Strategic Issues and Engagements Branch. All three are part of NATO’s Allied Command Transformation (ACT) Headquarters located in Norfolk, Virginia. The Academic Alliance, nicknamed the ‘A Square’, is a network of academic partners from NATO member and partner nations co-founded by Major Bart Jacobs, a staff officer at OCAI, and Mr. Girish Sreevatsan Nandakumar, a Fellow at the Innovation Hub. “The main effort within the OCAI team is to expedite the collaboration with Industry and Academia. The Academic Alliance is an important initiative to boost the ACT and military academia relationship,” said Major Jacobs.

VMI is part of a pilot project that’s exploring how the Innovation Hub’s DTEX program can be brought to classrooms and campuses. During DTEX events, participants ideate, analyze, and test new ideas and technologies that can solve problems for NATO and its nations. On April 18, 2022, Professor Colonel Atin Basu Chowdhury from VMI’s Economics and Business Department, who serves as VMI’s primary liaison to the Innovation Hub, held the first formal Academic Alliance DTEX event in his classroom. During this session, VMI students were guided by Girish Sreevatsan, who is also the chief architect of the DTEX initiative, on understanding a realistic yet fictional scenario, evaluating several futuristic technological ideas, and deciding which of those ideas were best suited as solutions to the challenges posed in the given scenario. The students were split into two teams. Each team presented its final choices alongside their rationale. The event was observed by LCDR (Retired) Jon Cederquist, a VMI alum (1993) who currently advises the DTEX team. Mr. Cederquist, a retired US Navy SEAL with significant experience in red-teaming, also spoke to the students about the importance of wargaming and simulations. 

However, the Innovation Hub’s partnership with VMI goes beyond DTEX. The Innovation Hub is also advising VMI on creating a Virtual Reality (VR) Lab to enhance students’ learning experience, especially in the context of military training. Christian Duer, a researcher in the field of VR-based learning, is advising Dr. Atin Basu Chowdhury. Mr. Duer is a German officer from the University of the Federal Armed Forces in Hamburg and is currently at the Innovation Hub. He has a background in psychology and is serving as an advisor on the DTEX initiative and the Academic Alliance initiative. "The Innovation Hub has enabled me to follow my passion in a friendly and stimulating environment. Without a doubt, the A Square initiative will do its part in replicating this experience for many other students across the alliance. I look forward to working with VMI and other institutions that are interested in joining these initiatives," said Christian Duer. 

“I am very excited to work with the innovation hub, and this collaboration will get our cadets to engage with cutting-edge technology and develop critical thinking skills. I hope we can expand this collaboration to engage with more faculty and students at VMI and serve as a source for developing best practices for such collaborative ventures at other academic institutions,” said Professor Colonel Dr. Atin Basu Chowdhury.