Technology Transforms NATO Forces

December 2007
By Cdre. Robert Howell, RN (Ret.)

Alliance members juggle interoperability, new missions.

Simulation and training, technology transfer and unconventional warfare were just a few of the topics discussed by a star-studded series of speakers representing some of the highest ranking officers from NATO countries. These leaders spoke at Allied Command Transformation’s (ACT’s) annual Industry Day 2007 (ID-07), held September 26-27 in Warsaw, Poland. For the fourth consecutive year, AFCEA International’s European office was responsible for administering the two-day event.

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, NATO secretary general, provided a video message to welcome the delegates in which he emphasized that through ACT, NATO should be gaining better insight into technology development and that both the alliance and defense industries have the chance to benefit from mutual cooperation. He noted that modeling and simulation, especially within the civil sector, is a key component to reduce costs and risk. It also provides opportunities for distributed training, which logically improves the quality of forces assigned to NATO. Scheffer stressed the need to speed up the cycle between concept development and operational deployment, and said he sees ID-07 as an essential mix of national procurement authorities, defense agencies and industry.

Bartlomiej Grabski, undersecretary of state and national armaments director in Poland’s Ministry of National Defense, welcomed the delegates on behalf of the host nation and then spoke of how the changes in the security environment have brought changes to international organizations and national activities. Poland fully accepts the need for it to take part in multinational expeditionary operations through its commitment to NATO, but the nation has to transform to remain effective. To field fully deployable, sustainable, interoperable forces is more than just a technological challenge as is the need to counter unconventional asymmetric threats. He sees the transfer of technology as an essential component of the cooperative process.

Gen. Lance Smith, USAF, Supreme Allied Commander Transformation (SACT), talked of capability development and management, and he echoed the secretary general’s point on streamlining NATO’s acquisition process. The future security environment lies somewhere between counterinsurgency and full-scale warfare with more and more discussion focused on unconventional warfare. He noted that in earlier times the best way to fight a tank was with another tank, but now an enemy tank is more likely to be attacked by an aircraft. Thus it is important to concentrate on an anti-tank capability rather than a specific anti-tank weapon. NATO’s responses have to be dynamic to counter an agile enemy that often has time and technology on its side. The general added that he is happy to deploy an 80 percent solution rather than wait for a 100 percent solution. He also is reluctant to acknowledge the importance of system ownership, believing instead that it is short-sighted and unimportant. What is needed is trust and confidence in a system, regardless of nation or service provider.

Maj. Gen. Ton van Loon, NLAR, chief of staff, Allied Land Component Command Heidelberg, recently returned from Afghanistan and gave his operational perspective. He started from the premise that Afghanistan is not a “failed” state, because no state—as Western democracies might understand—had existed in the past. In Afghanistan 60 percent of the population struggles for survival, and there is a fear of warlords and the Taliban with an endemic distrust of the police. Governance can be achieved only by developing human capital, fighting corruption and offering training and mentorship. He related that NATO troops fought hard when needed and supported when possible. The general stated that his operational requirements are for good intelligence, helicopters, medical care and sound logistics. Technology is needed to increase the range of capabilities and to bring improved system accuracy. He sees NATO’s multinational forces as one team with one mission, although he expressed a wish that this might also include one language. He ended his remarks by saying that fighting the Taliban without reconstruction is futile, but reconstruction without fighting the Taliban is impossible.

Gen. Franciszek Gagor, Poland’s chief of general staff, offered a national perspective on the current security environment and its mix of terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, regional conflicts, state failures and organized crime. In 2007, 58 percent of the Polish Armed Forces (PAF) are conscript, and Poland has a goal of achieving a 100 percent volunteer force by 2012. Against that background, the PAF is working closely with ACT and the U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) to ensure strong support to national transformation programs. This is reflected in work to establish a single command for operations as well as integrated logistics, integrated medical support and an enhanced role for special operations forces. As an aside, the general said that he hopes to reduce the 44 national command, control, communications, computers and intelligence systems and nine NATO systems currently being used by the PAF.

Peter Flory, NATO assistant secretary general for defense investment, spoke of the challenge of coordinating the nations’ capability investments. NATO’s 26 different democracies, national industries, political positions, legislatures and military structures are a great strength, but they make delivering capability difficult, particularly with 26 different defense budgets. He stressed the need to identify, harmonize and prioritize capabilities. In response, Jacek Kotas, undersecretary of state, Polish Ministry of National Defense, spoke about the required cooperation with international organizations and industry in the transformation process. He touched on the roles of NATO’s standing Conference of National Armament Directors and the NATO Consultation, Command and Control Board. He emphasized the need for industry to improve its collaboration, particularly with respect to technology transfer. Pawel Poncyljusz, secretary of state, Polish Ministry of Economics, concluded the session by speaking about the way Polish industry has had to adjust to the realities of trans-Atlantic cooperation and ACT’s business processes.

One ID-07 session provided an industry perspective. Susan Zeleniak, group president of Verizon Federal, opened by stating that it is the consumer that is driving Verizon’s business by looking for network access anywhere, anytime and in any media. This has meant some changes in technological thinking. For example, whereas previously security had been thought about after network build, now security is an essential element of the planning process. The new realities are that voice, video and data all are Internet protocol-based, and the last half mile is being achieved increasingly by wireless. She stated that networks now are providing critical information technology tools and that the global threat requires significant flexibility in information technology delivery.

Joaquin Uguet, general manager, defense operations, for the Spanish company INDRA, stated that wide access to state-of-the-art technologies is confronting the alliance with new threats. It is necessary for industry, with military involvement, to define, respond, provide, install and operate the right solutions. The March 11, 2004, terrorist attack in Madrid led to the creation of a government homeland security division that provides an immediate response to crises and anticipates future attacks.

Slowomir Kulakowski, president of the Polish Chamber of National Defense Manufacturers, discussed the challenges that Polish defense industries face as they move from the era of the Warsaw Pact to being a key player within NATO and the European Union. It has been necessary to diversify and modernize while moving from a military focus to a civilian market. This has not been achieved lightly, as it introduced severe job losses, forced retirements, management changes and an outflow of educated employees after other European labor markets had been opened. But today Poland has re-established its industries with a strong research and development base, low labor costs and a world-class range of niche products, particularly in the armaments market.

Three afternoon panels made up of industry representatives and NATO staffers, primarily from ACT, reported to the delegates on their progress working over the past year in three areas: joint intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; modeling and simulation support for training; and future world/future technologies. Their findings and other presentations from the day can be found by following the links from after clicking on the ACT button.