Technologies Empower Coalition Information Sharing

August 2006

Lt. Gen. Ulrich Wolf, GEA, the director of the NATO Communications and Information Systems (CIS) Service Agency (NCSA), leads off AFCEA Europe’s 6th annual Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) 2006 symposium and exposition.
But not all interoperability challenges are equipment-based.

NATO nations are incorporating new military and commercial technologies to extend both the capabilities and the reach of the alliance’s communications and information systems. But, many technological challenges lie ahead before the alliance and other allied nations can interoperate in coalition operations. And some cultural barriers found at the heart of intelligence and military operations remain to be overcome.

These and many other issues were raised at AFCEA Europe’s 6th annual Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) symposium and exposition, held June 1, 2006, in Mons, Belgium. The aim was to explore information exchange in coalition operations under the title “From Guarding to Sharing,” and the underlying intention was to change some existing mindsets.

Brig. Gen. Luis Aguado
Gracia, SPAF, ACO, discusses the Afghanistan International Security Assistance Force at SHAPE 2006.
Lt. Gen. Ulrich Wolf, GEA, the director of the NATO Communications and Information Systems (CIS) Service Agency (NCSA), led with a review of the CIS support that his organization is providing to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. With two transportable satellite ground terminals (T-SGTs) providing 9 megabits-per-second reach-back links to NATO ground terminals in Euskirchen, Germany, and Izmir, Turkey, NATO also is making significant use of contractor support to maintain the range of different systems in country. Gen. Wolf said that air-gap solutions are inevitable to meet some of the multilateral security requirements but that steady progress is being made with interoperability. Operational planning often outpaces CIS planning and procurement, he added.

Brig. Gen. Luis Aguado Gracia, SPAF, the ACOS J-6 at Allied Command Operations (ACO), also discussed ISAF as the current example of information sharing. He noted the large number of national contingents (not all NATO), the huge area of operations (Afghanistan is larger than France or Texas) and the lack of a robust CIS infrastructure. He was challenged by the six-month rotation of NATO forces that arrived with their own equipment that had to be made interoperable—or at least compatible—with the in-country infrastructure. This equipment would then be removed when these forces departed, and the entire procedure would be repeated with the next nation.

Speaking to conferees at SHAPE 2006 are (l-r) Vice Adm. F. Sanfelice di Monteforte, ITN; Lt. Gen. Ulrich Wolf, GEA, NCSA; and Brig. Gen. Luis Aguado Gracia, SPAF, ACO.
Vice Adm. Ferdinando Sanfelice di Monteforte, ITN, the Italian military representative to the Military Committee, gave a national view on the subject. He reviewed the post-Cold-War landscape with its end of direct military confrontation, its instability and failing states, as well as regional power struggles and the slow emergence of a multipolar world. The admiral also discussed the structural changes that had been introduced—jointness, transformation and multinational operation being key features. The admiral highlighted the disadvantages of service-specific expertise, particularly stovepiping, and he envisaged some solutions, especially information and knowledge management and networking. Italy was moving from a “need-to-know” mindset to a “need-to-share” approach entirely consistent with the theme for the day.

Col. Jared Kline, USA, treated the audience to another national view. Standing in at the last minute for U.S. military representative Lt. Gen. Ed Hanlon, USMC, Col. Kline listed the ISAF information exchange requirements and noted that the issue of releasability makes such exchanges difficult. The colonel emphasized the challenges of trying to predict the future five, 10 or 15 years ahead, but he stated that he is looking for equipment that is light, mobile, quick to install, handheld and that includes voice, data and videoconferencing in one package.

Maj. Gen. Ruud van Damm, NLAF, J-6, Allied Command Transformation (ACT), discussed the evolution of NATO command, control, communications, computers and intelligence (C4I). He noted that it is moving toward being a collaborative network-centric system that is both interoperable and interdependent. Information sharing and collaboration are functions of education, trust and sharing, he added. ACT wants to teach the benefits of sharing and emphasized that the diversity of solutions that the nations can provide is hugely beneficial.

Brig. Gen. Thomas Verbeck, USAF, director of command, control, communications (C3) and warfighting integration at the U.S. European Command (EUCOM), was keen to make the point that C3 is not just about signals anymore. Changing doctrines, network warfare, transformational command and control (C2), datalinks, laser communications and spectrum management are just some of the elements that built up to today’s C3 vision. He compared the traditional and nontraditional approaches to C3 development, and he ended by stressing a need to take risks, as opposed to the old thinking of planning for success. The two are not mutually exclusive, he added.

The general also demonstrated that the EUCOM sphere of interest covers a region far larger than NATO. In particular he spoke of the international exercise Combined Endeavor, which involved 41 nations engaged in multilevel data sharing and protection. He explained how this year’s exercise Africa Endeavor included 25 African nations, including the three host nations of Ethiopia, Botswana and South Africa. The intention in this first exercise was to run a single channel radio in support of a simple wide area network (WAN). He confidently predicted that all African nations would take part next year.

Two industry presentations followed. A former AFCEA director, Tony Patterson of Systematic, spoke on structured information (SI) standards and the need for rapid execution of change proposals. He postulated an online system functioning in much the same way as antivirus software operates. His company already has a prototype system under evaluation with the Royal Navy.

Tom Cooper of Cisco Systems reviewed today’s system architectures that are made up of multiple networks with duplicate equipment, which has led to challenges maintaining computer security management across multiple systems. His aim is for an information-sharing network architecture for coalition operations. The target architecture should be a single network using commercial off-the-shelf products with secure data and access by multiple “in-depth” means, which would be achieved by leveraging existing hardware. Cooper emphasized that trust is based on defense in depth and that trust is both a political and a technical issue.

The final speaker, Maj. Gen. Georges D’hollander, BEA, director, NATO Headquarters C3 Staff, inspired this year’s topic with an idea from his presentation last year. So, his presentation this year was titled “Changing the Mindset.” He examined and categorized uncertainties in the world today: “knowns” such as terrorism and technology, “unknowns” such as the future direction of key countries and weapons development, and “unknown unknowns” that he described as potentials that no one can begin to postulate. There is a need to avoid surprise, so plans should be developed with surprise in mind along with an understanding of uncertainty. The general emphasized that the Free World should focus on capabilities that future adversaries might have and the capabilities it will need for its own use, thus moving away from equipment-oriented solutions. Information is a key factor in an effects-based approach to operations.

Question-and-answer sessions allowed the audience—with its mix of military personnel, industry and academia representatives—to feel that they had heard credible and authoritative views on what is clearly a challenging topic.


Photographs courtesy of SHAPE Photo Section.