The Royal Navy is creating an island on an isle in an effort to de-risk advanced communications systems early, easily and with less expense than traditional means. As Britain continues its development of the new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, those working with the technology systems have created a mock-up of the ships’ aft island, on which will go an array of equipment. The complexity is necessary for the support of all the personnel who will draw from its resources, and officials with the project are determined to ensure top-notch functionality before the carriers set sail.
A NATO program supporting alliance forces in Southwest Asia takes requests for new capabilities from commanders in the field and rapidly turns them into new equipment and services. The increased pace of operations in the region has provided an additional challenge to a very busy organization, particularly as NATO forces operating in Afghanistan require communications and infrastructure support for operations in that nation’s rugged and undeveloped terrain.
The crystal ball for U.K. communications and information systems is clouding as military priorities and economic realities are combining to limit high-technology spending. The Ministry of Defence has committed to several large-scale programs that will absorb the bulk of equipment procurement money, and it is reining in overall spending as a result of national budgetary constraints arising from the global economic downturn.
The United Kingdom’s defense industry is in a state of flux that may lead to a potential round of consolidations in the coming years as small and medium-size firms are acquired by larger national and international companies. This fluid state is being caused by two factors: the global economic crisis and upcoming general elections that could put the Conservative party in power for the first time since the late 1990s—a move that would trigger a major strategic assessment of the nation’s defense priorities.
British troops operating in Afghanistan and Iraq are using privately owned and maintained unmanned aircraft for battlefield reconnaissance and surveillance missions. The effort effectively leases the aircraft to the military while the private firm covers maintenance and operational costs.
European armies are networking their infantry. Driven by the need for network-centric forces capable of operating in multinational environments, the continent’s ground forces are pushing their information systems down to the individual soldier. But while these modernization programs are underway, nations and companies are taking different approaches to developing and marketing this new equipment.
A multifunction command and control system is providing the Spanish army with increased operational flexibility. The software application contains several discrete applications that form a network-centric information sharing battlefield network. Parts of the system are already in service, with new tools and components readying for deployment.
The French army is in the first stages of a far-reaching transformation program to digitize its ground forces. The goal of the effort is to connect all echelons of the service into a single network, with emphasis on forces at the battalion level and below. Additional developments will include streamlined acquisition and logistics, a new family of lightweight, fuel-efficient combat vehicles and robotic reconnaissance and surveillance systems.
NATO has centralized its computer support services to better provide warfighters with battlefield data and to effectively manage and protect alliance networks. By combining management, maintenance and network defense capabilities in a single command, NATO seeks to benefit from increased efficiencies and reduced manpower requirements.
NATO is transforming itself as it approaches its 60th birthday. Change is nothing unusual for the alliance, which has recently accepted a number of new nations into its ranks. But as the scope and nature of its military commitments change from simple defense to peacekeeping, the various national armies operating under NATO’s banner must be able to function together harmoniously in the field. But while harmony is vital in the era of network-centric warfare, achieving it remains a challenge.
The armed forces of the Czech Republic are wrestling with interoperability issues as they strive to modernize in place a military largely built around legacy systems. The 60-year-old Atlantic alliance to which the Czech Republic belongs still has not achieved complete interoperability, so the former Warsaw Pact member is trying to achieve compatibility with an organization that has not yet reached its own interoperability goals.
An innovative software-defined radio soon will help the Spanish government test and develop new capabilities for its military communications systems. Researchers will be able to evaluate software and equipment quickly so systems can be modernized and the military can participate in multinational research programs.
The French military has launched two programs to modernize its tactical and strategic communications systems. One effort will equip army logistics units with a wireless network allowing commanders to track supplies and to access the national military intranet. The second program, now in its preliminary phase, will link all of France's individual military networks into a single system.
Finland's military is facing its own force transformation as it alters its structure and its mission. The Baltic nation is looking at broad-based equipment modernization, substantial personnel cuts and a network-centric architecture to define its armed forces.
Long-neutral Sweden faces major defense changes as it shifts its military emphasis from homeland defense to coalition operations. A force built around defending the territory of a single Scandinavian nation now must open up to interoperate fully with other nations in distant locales. This is bringing about changes in funding, logistics and force size.
In the near future, robot warplanes could autonomously take off, navigate to their targets and identify them—all before contacting human operators for clearance to attack. This operational independence is the promise of a new program underway in the United Kingdom. Building on experience gained from several other recent technology demonstrations, the project emphasizes systems development and integration. The aircraft's situational awareness will rely on its ability to process and translate flight and sensor data without human interaction.
The Swedish Air Force is upgrading its command and control systems to become interoperable with NATO equipment. The nation's primary aircraft and sensor management system recently underwent a major upgrade designed to enhance its capabilities and to prepare it for future operations with alliance and coalition forces.
The Republic of Bulgaria is facing a challenge familiar to many former Warsaw Pact NATO members as it strives to build a modern interoperable force under domestic fiscal constraints. But not all new Central and Eastern European NATO members are active in overseas security deployments both for NATO and for other coalition operations. Bulgaria is facing short-term as well as long-term challenges as it rigs for interoperability concurrent with a transition to a professional military.
The French army soon will issue its troops an advanced suite of technologies that will improve their lethality, survivability and situational awareness. Consisting of an integrated system of communications, sensors and body armor, the equipment will allow small tactical units to integrate into larger network-centric formations.
Germany will deploy its first dedicated secure military satellite communications system before the end of the decade. The constellation is designed to assist the nation's forces as they support coalition and peacekeeping operations. The first satellite is scheduled to be in orbit by 2008, and the entire system is planned to be online by 2009.