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Warfighting Network May Become NATO Standard

August 22, 2011
By George I. Seffers, SIGNAL Online Exclusive
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International Security Assistance Force commander recommends Afghan Mission Network concept for future NATO operations. 

The commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan has recommended that the network architecture approach established in that country be developed for future alliance and coalition operations and exercises.

The recommendation from Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, USA, supports assertions by warfighters and NATO officials that the legacy of the Afghan Mission Network (AMN) will extend beyond the current conflict into the future of coalition warfare.

The AMN is the primary coalition, command, control, computers, communications, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C5ISR) network in Afghanistan and allows the various nations to share information classified secret and below. It includes the ISAF Secret network at its core and the networks of individual nations. The AMN enables the various nations to share such things as full-motion video surveillance from unmanned aircraft, incident reporting and mission planning.  Earlier this year, France became the fifth nation to complete the process of fully joining the network, and several others have lined up to do so.  

Some in NATO are interpreting the recommendation from Gen. Rodriguez, which was made in the form of a letter to NATO’s operational and resource communities, as a preemptive strike against the possibility nations could resist providing further funding for the AMN. While the system has not lacked funding so far, tighter defense budgets could potentially strain funding for ongoing improvements and expansion of the network.

“I think the intent behind this letter is to send a signal to the nations that the investments they make in AMN are investments they can leverage after the war,” says James White, the technical lead for software application integration for the NATO Consultation, Command and Control Agency. “AMN is something they can bring back. If the nations perceive that the mission is drawing down, they may be reluctant to invest in it, especially in information technology spending. This letter says that when they invest in the AMN, it’s an investment that outlives the war. The work we’re doing now for ISAF is going to be carried out of theater and brought back to be used as an alliance mission network of the future.”  

In his letter, Gen. Rodriquez describes the AMN as having addressed a number of coalition warfare challenges, including the need for rapid, detailed information and intelligence sharing and says successful use of the network in the warzone validates the AMN concept as a model for future coalition operations. He recommends that NATO establish and maintain a core network based on the AMN approach in order to rapidly establish C5ISR for other operations. Doing so, Gen. Rodriquez states, would reduce the time and investment required to deploy a network architecture capable of supporting coalition forces across a wide array of current and future operations.

The general  strongly recommends a federated network approach that is scalable in order to link with partners outside the alliance’s boundaries. He also suggests the core components include: a core network ready to support operations and exercises; standard functional service tools to support command and control and network management processes; a governance structure that includes the criteria nations must meet to join the network; the ability to develop and implement solutions rapidly; use of the network for exercises; and a catalog of nations that have already met the AMN requirements as a starting point for the coalition network.  

The AMN’s influence already is spreading, according to NATO officials. The concept is being adapted, for example, for the fight against piracy. Also, the 2012 NATO Coalition Warrior Interoperability exploration, experimentation and examination exercise (CWIX) will exploit the AMN model for application interoperability, which is important because CWIX influences national technology development for interoperability. By agreeing to work on experiments that leverage the AMN model, the NATO nations already are investing in efforts to use the concept beyond Afghanistan. In addition, knowledge from the AMN is being applied to the NATO Bi-Strategic Command’s Automated Information System—NATO’s core command and control capability.

Lessons learned from the AMN virtualization are being applied to the new NATO headquarters currently being constructed. In addition, the AMN model of a federated network and coalition members working off one single information domain has also been endorsed in interoperability policy documentation outlining interoperability standards for NATO and will likely influence future national procurements.   

White points out that the AMN’s influence feeds efforts for military transformation. “We’ve been working on transformation for a long time,” he says. “Usually transformation comes from research and development. This is one aspect of transformation that comes directly from theatre. This is coming from practical experience. And that makes a difference,” White says.