Nations Seek Ways to Operate in Concert

January 2007
By Henry S. Kenyon

Discussing interoperability issues facing NATO nations are panelists (l-r) Tony Patterson, managing director, Systematic Software Engineering Ltd.; Dr. Hermann Wietgrefe, director, NATO Consultation, Command and Control Agency; Peter Pharaoh, NATO Headquarters Consultation, Command and Control Staff; and Lt. Cmdr. Mario Angelov, BU AR, associate professor.
NATO conference examines new methods for sharing information, decision making during coalition operations.

As a multinational alliance, NATO requires a high degree of interoperability across all of its command, control, communications and computer systems to function effectively. This interoperability also is necessary at all command levels as the alliance concentrates on overseas missions.

The need for interoperability and the ways to achieve it were the focus for the alliance’s sixth computer information systems (CIS) symposium, “Interoperability Challenges in Coalition Operations,” held in Sofia, Bulgaria, on October 18, 2006. The event was in conjunction with AFCEA’s TechNet Europe 2006 conference and symposium.

The changing nature of the alliance and the European community were highlighted by Brig. Gen. Boyko Simitchiev, BUA, chief of the CIS Directorate, General Staff of the Bulgarian Armed Forces, in the keynote address. As a new member of NATO, Bulgaria’s military is striving for interoperability with alliance forces. Gen. Simitchiev outlined steps his nation’s military is taking to modernize its CIS systems to meet NATO requirements.

Gen. Simitchiev noted that the military is developing a fixed and tactical CIS infrastructure and building a friend-or-foe tracking system and an identification system to track coastal shipping. Other CIS goals include a national tactical communications system and a national electronic message-handling system using NATO protocols. Bulgaria also is investing in information services such as secure e-mail, Web services, videoconferencing and the exchange of authorized messages for NATO and coalition operations. He said that Bulgaria will build its own Internet gateway to connect to the NATO global network as part of his nation’s responsibility to achieve full interoperability with alliance forces.

The challenges to coalition interoperability were outlined by Adam Boothby, director of strategic development, L-3 Communications, London. Speaking about the difficulties involved in operating time-sensitive applications such as intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) systems, he explained that even the most advanced sensors have difficulty tracking ground targets. 

One difficulty is that ISTAR and many other networked systems are stovepiped. In recent joint exercises with the United States, a forcewide interoperable joint and coalition ISTAR network was formed, explained Boothby. But creating this network was a challenge because of the varying security requirements of a coalition force. The technology to create an operating network is commercially available, but developing the operational concepts, tactics and procedures to use it remains an issue, he said.

Dick Whittingham, a principal technical coordinator at NATO’s Headquarters Consultation, Command and Control (HQ C3) Staff, Brussels, Belgium, outlined ongoing work to identify system archi tecture and guiding principles for consultation, command and control (C3) system interoperability experimentation, test and validation to support the NATO response force and NATO network capability (NNEC). Noting that version 2 of the current alliance C3 system architecture is outdated, Whittingham explained that the guiding principles and the NNEC are drivers for policies and processes to implement a new alliancewide architecture.

The requirements for an updated NATO C3 system include resources, armaments and force planning in the NNEC. The system will allow commanders to set and establish interoperability points for NATO operations. Whittingham said that these changes represent progress to full NNEC that goes beyond creating a new standard. He closed by noting that interoperability remains a challenge but added that the key to the process lies with NATO nations’ willingness to follow and implement standardized solutions.

The state of the restructured NATO consultation, command and control technical architecture (NC3TA) standards and profiles for coalition interoperability was discussed by El Wells, chairman of the NATO Open Systems Working Group, Brussels. Noting that the current version of the standard has been in use for eight years, Wells said that it is being restructured to comply with NNEC and to meet NATO response force needs.

NC3TA is a platform-centric standard for Web services, messaging and browsing. It is based on fixed interoperability points. Wells noted that the standard is evolving toward a service-oriented architecture with network-centric and integrated information services for sharing data with coalition partners. He said that the standard and its protocols were developed to assist coalition operations and that it also provides a reference model, techniques and guidance to support the transition to NNEC.

The Swedish perspective on network-based defense was provided by Maj. Johan Ivari, SWAR, head of enterprise architecture, Swedish Armed Forces Headquarters, Stockholm. He described how Sweden established a center to develop command and control systems, satellite communications and naval technologies. Twice a year, this center conducts joint experiments with the Swedish armed forces to test network-based design concepts. Maj. Ivari noted that during the exercises, security was not the key information assurance goal because timeliness of information often trumped security for tactical operations.

Tony Patterson, managing director of Systematic Software Engineering Ltd., Camberley, United Kingdom, described steps NATO is taking to achieve coalition interoperability through network-centric standards. Noting that alliance standards must be kept up to date because military lives depend on unambiguous information, he added that the methods used for managing structured information standards are 30 years old and centered on paper-based systems that cannot keep pace with rapidly changing requirements. However, NATO is addressing this need by developing a generic core framework. Patterson said that the vision is to manage structured information standards by focusing on the maximum reuse of information with minimal changes to national networks. Another goal is to create an online repository of interoperability standards that could be managed and shared by NATO nations.

Efforts to develop an interoperability, experimentation, testing and validation (IETV) testbed to support NATO expeditionary operations were outlined by Dr. Hermann Wietgrefe, director of the NATO Consultation, Command and Control Agency (NC3A), the Hague, The Netherlands. He explained that because the alliance is focusing on overseas missions, interoperability is necessary at all command levels. The IETV capability will provide commanders with information about the interoperability of their systems before they are deployed. Wietgrefe noted that the initial phase of the program produced a limited IETV version in 2006. However, he cautioned that the system should complement—not replace—NATO’s test and validation efforts.

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