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 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.
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.
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.