Battlefield Lessons Show Network-Centric Way for Germany

May 2009
By Robert K. Ackerman
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Rüdiger Wolf, the State Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Defense in Germany (r), visits German army troops with Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Hans-Otto Budde, GEA (l). Wolf predicts that better use of information technology will reshape the German military, especially in terms of personnel allocations.
The NATO nation’s military transformation is flavored by the dust of Afghanistan.

Germany’s operations in the coalition supporting Afghanistan are helping reshape a force transformation that is well on the way to bringing the NATO nation military fully into the network-centric world. The harsh and complex environment of the Southwest Asian battleground has re-emphasized some traditional approaches and illuminated others that will require changing the country’s military procurement.

Much of Germany’s transformation into a fully network-centric force follows patterns similar to those of other Western militaries. The country is using information technology to increase effectiveness and improve efficiencies. The goal is a better use of assets, faster command and control, and a reallocation of vital personnel.

The mountainous terrain of Afghanistan has provided a real-world laboratory that no amount of research can equal. Given that Germany’s future military operations are likely to be as part of a coalition, the NATO ally has learned valuable lessons in interoperability and network centricity. And, Germany has learned the importance of new technologies that now are moving up the country’s priority list.

This force transformation is essential for Germany to achieve command and control (C2), information and effects superiority, according to Rüdiger Wolf, the State Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Defense in Germany. Being able to conduct network-enabled operations is the key to this capability, he says, adding that the Bundeswehr has made substantial progress in recent years.

“Large-scale networking offers us chances to go beyond the boundaries set by the way in which functions are assigned at present and to render our organization and procedures more flexible and agile,” Wolf offers.

“The old way of thinking—in terms of platforms—must make way for a network-based approach,” he declares. “An increase in the possible ways of communicating and gathering information, however, also poses new challenges for command personnel at different levels. I am sure that this will bring about changes in all sectors of the armed forces.

“We must change our way of thinking and learn how to deal with the chances the technology offers,” Wolf states.

Greater use of information technology will help reshape the German military, he warrants. The force will be able to release personnel for core functions and operations, and it will lessen the threat faced by deployed forces. Germany will be able to reduce the number of personnel deployed in theater, as it will be able to employ reach-back activities to tap resources based in Germany.

“By using information technologies, we are providing our staffs and commanders a secure data and information network that grants them access to the information and services relevant for the accomplishment of their jobs anywhere,” Wolf declares.

This does not mean that Germany is prepared to eliminate the traditional chain of command. “I am convinced that in our principle of mission command, we in the Bundeswehr already have a foundation on which to build our capability to conduct network-enabled operations,” Wolf says. “We must stick to it, strengthen the responsibility of our command personnel at every level, and at the same time we systematically have to counter the opportunities advanced information technology offers for personnel to communicate across all the command echelons down to a single tactical vehicle.”

Wolf reflects on how Afghanistan has illustrated for German forces the importance of interoperable and secure equipment for tactical communications with multinational partners. This interoperability can allow nations to swap equipment and systems while ensuring seamless combined operations. The use of common standards is a key enabler, he notes.

All data center and network activities are monitored centrally at a new BWI Monitor and Control Center. Germany’s public-private partnership approach to information technology incorporation is designed to speed the newest capabilities to the force.
On a more operational level, German commanders now recognize how they need access to relevant reconnaissance data. Given the nature of coalition operations, Wolf is calling for reconnaissance systems that can provide their sensor data to all participating national forces at the appropriate echelon levels.

Above all, Afghanistan’s operational and environmental conditions mandate flexible, robust and adaptable information and communications infrastructure, he relates. These capabilities must be built into future systems before they are developed and procured.

Germany has several programs underway to provide network centricity to the force. Because its current radios cannot meet existing demands, it is striving to network on the tactical level. An ongoing software-defined radio effort aims to fill that high priority. And, to reflect its new global perspective, Germany is planning to orbit two new military communications satellites by 2010.

The country already has established an important base by introducing the Joint CCIS, an open command, control, communications, computers and intelligence (C4I) system that is based on commercial off-the-shelf technology. This system lies at the heart of German efforts to improve interoperability in information sharing. Wolf allows that the goal is to have a shared common operating picture.

But interoperability remains a major challenge, particularly with more complex information systems and increased multinational operations. Wolf notes that this challenge entails technical interoperability as well as procedural and operational interoperability. Germany’s proactive approach involves working with multinational bodies such as NATO along with international cooperation to establish multinational standards. Using these standards for national projects already is providing Germany with greater international interoperability, Wolf says.

However, German forces must adopt commercial technologies to a greater degree than they have done previously, he adds. And, the nation “has a long way to go” in using interoperability standards in a comprehensive migration strategy for Bundeswehr information technology subsystems.

One area that will see increased emphasis in the coming years is reconnaissance, which is a need that was highlighted in Afghanistan. Wolf states that unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) will be a boon for the German military by providing the ability to cover the entire reconnaissance spectrum. Data from new UAVs would be combined with that of other systems such as Germany’s Lupe synthetic aperture radar satellite system.

Germany has committed €7.1 billion to a 10-year information technology program known as HERKULES. A consortium featuring Siemens Business Services and IBM will upgrade nonmilitary defense information technology. This effort involves building a fiber network to link 50 Bundeswehr sites throughout Germany and upgrading computer software and services (see page 69).

Moving military technologies rapidly to the force is another priority for Germany. Wolf explains that the country has a multistage research and technology concept that allows it to continuously examine developments in technology. Researchers can develop specific system demonstrators and prototypes for suitability testing in the armed forces.

And this is important to ensure that German forces receive the right technologies. Wolf allows that, in the future, Germany will define projects to limit a system’s functional requirements. This approach also will take into account technology innovation cycles for rapid development and procurement. The goal is to speed the right operational products to German forces as quickly as possible.

“We make extensive use of the openings that CD&E [concept development and experimentation] yields us,” he continues. “We already can exert an influence on projects in their early stages and adjust them to meet our requirements.” He adds that the country’s extensive networked simulation and test environment allows researchers to examine both a technology’s applicability and its interoperability.

Since 2001, Germany’s customer product management process has emphasized economically rational procedures to provide German forces with goods and services. Describing this process as highly flexible, Wolf adds that it includes using proven technologies, particularly commercial off-the-shelf components. For critical needs, the country resorts to its Urgent Operational Requirements procedure that allows exceptional rapid response.

“We must pay greater attention in the future to ensuring that the terms allowed for projects are short and that, whenever possible, use is made of commercial products already on the market,” Wolf declares. “This will minimize the financial and time-related risks our projects involve.”

One strong point for German military information technology is that the small and medium-size companies that constitute that sector of industry are known for their innovativeness, Wolf says. These companies are involved with research heavily and are networked with related companies throughout Europe and, in some cases, firms in other continents. This makes Germany particularly strong in the development of information technology components and subsystems, he explains.

However, incorporating advanced information technology systems is not an inexpensive process, even with the use of commercial components. Germany faces the same budget pressures that its allies are confronting with the global economic slowdown. Wolf emphasizes that the nation must maintain a balance in development of key capabilities such as C2, intelligence collection and reconnaissance, protection, effective engagement, mobility, support and sustainability. While Germany must continue to protect its forces, the ability to conduct intelligence and reconnaissance operations and to exercise C2 also are key. “We will continue to attribute these areas the importance the overall budget permits us to,” he says.

Web Resources
German Ministry of Defense (German language, English offered):
Bundeswehr (German language):