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NATO and United States Set to Test Missile Defense Link

May 16, 2011
By George I. Seffers, SIGNAL Connections
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For the first time, the United States and NATO plan to test an operational link between the NATO missile defense system and the U.S. system, which is in the early stages of deployment to Europe. NATO officials disclosed the plans for the tests following the March 26 to April 2 deployment of the USS Monterey, an Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense cruiser, to Antwerp, Belgium. The virtual link between the U.S. European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) missile defense system and NATO’s Active Layered Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence (ALTBMD) program has already been tested in a battle laboratory environment and will soon be tested in an operational environment. The operational test is expected to be conducted this summer, and if successful, will prove for the first time that the command, control and communications (C3) elements of the two systems are compatible.

“The weapons systems and sensors in the EPAA, including Aegis cruisers, are already part of the planned ALTBMD program and architecture, and integration efforts have already been initiated. The interfaces exist and have been tested,” says Alessandro Pera, head of NATO’s ALTBMD program. The upcoming test will be the first time the two systems are formally linked, and it is expected to lead to the establishment of a permanent link over the course of 2011.

The ALTBMD Integration Testbed at NATO’s Consultation, Command and Control Agency (NC3A) facility in The Hague, the Netherlands, paved the way for the upcoming test. “We have a testbed framework, which allows us to create a virtual environment, allows us to interject a scenario and then record the results of the test,” explains a NATO program manager. “We have a way to create a simulated communications environment, disruptions to communications and what have you. We use this testbed not only to test how our systems work but also to test their interfaces with the systems contributed to the NATO capability by the various nations.”

Approved in 2009, the EPAA began initial deployment aboard the USS Monterey. The EPAA architecture will feature deployments of increasingly capable sea- and land-based missile interceptors, primarily upgraded versions of the Standard Missile-3, and a range of sensors in Europe to defend against the growing ballistic missile threat from Iran. The phased approach creates the capability to augment current protection of the U.S. homeland against long-range ballistic missile threats and to defend against near-term ballistic missile threats.

Launched in 2004, the ALTBMD is designed to protect deployed forces against short- and medium-range ballistic missiles—those that can reach targets approximately 1,800 miles away. The system was originally designed only for force protection, but at the NATO November 2010 Summit, officials agreed to expand the program’s objective to cover the protection of NATO territory and populations against the growing missile threat. In January, the program handed over a first interim capability to NATO’s commanders.

The NATO program’s focus is on the upgrade, test and integration of NATO’s C3 systems to provide effective information exchanges between various NATO and national missile defense systems in operations planning and in the execution of wartime missions. NATO is implementing the program incrementally.

The ALTBMD will link a wide range of sensors and weapon systems delivered by various nations. NATO’s Air Command and Control System will play a central role in tying together all of the various systems and providing situational awareness. In addition, the planning environment to be established will be one of NATO’s first uses of service-oriented architecture concepts similar to those used in many commercial applications, such as banking.

In December, NATO’s system was tested in the laboratory with a myriad of systems from other nations, including Germany, Italy, France, the United States and the Netherlands. “We have a tool called the Combined Federated Battle Laboratory Network that allows us to conduct these experiments efficiently, providing connectivity for all of our major systems,” the program manager says. “We’re testing with the major national components that are being contributed. What we’re doing is making sure we understand how each system interprets the NATO standards that are the basis for system-to-system communication. It helps us to understand the adjustments we have to make when we’re talking to a U.S. Patriot versus a Dutch Patriot or a U.S. Aegis cruiser.”

NATO already is planning an array of upgrades, including a communications capability with civil authorities such as emergency responders. The upgrades have been estimated to cost nearly $300 million, but officials now believe they may be able to deliver the same capabilities for half that cost.