Agency Supports Alliance Forces In Southwest Asia

Tuesday, September 08, 2009
By Henry S. Kenyon


NATO’s Consultation, Command and Control Agency (NC3A) is managing more than 60 projects supporting International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops in Afghanistan. These services range from logistics and technical support
to establishing and managing communications networks for ISAF forces such as these British Royal Marines Commandos operating in Helmand Province.

Fast-track capability releases new systems, capabilities to troops.

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.

One of the responsibilities of the NATO Consultation, Command and Control Agency (NC3A) is to provide scientific and technological support for deployed alliance forces, such as the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. The NC3A facilitates the rapid development and acquisition of new command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) capabilities for ISAF through its Crisis Response Operations (CRO) program, explains Tim Murphy, CRO program manager, The Hague, Netherlands.

In addition to supporting forces in Afghanistan, the NC3A’s CRO effort also supports NATO operations in the Balkans and Iraq. Murphy emphasizes that the NC3A delivers capabilities across many lines of development support and adds that he focuses on five areas: programmatic, scientific/engineering, contracts, logistics and through-life support for agency staff and contractors working across some 62 ISAF projects. “We haven’t completed our job just because we’ve delivered an Afghanistan-bound piece of equipment to a European airport. Only when the operators [warfighters] are utilizing the associated capability have we done our job,” Murphy insists.

The NC3A provides scientific and technological support to ISAF for C4ISR acquisitions of transformational systems. The acquisition programs operate on six-month to two-year cycles, depending on the procurement strategy chosen by NATO nations. Murphy explains that there is a formal procedure in place, supported by rules and regulations, to ensure that C4ISR procurement is conducted in an unbiased and impartial manner with full accountability to the alliance’s member nations.

The NC3A CRO commitment has two main threads. The first is a scientific program of work that executes across all of the operational lines in the theater. This program can be used to enhance existing C4ISR capabilities such as systems upgrades, provide operational analysis and requirements capture, inform and support staff officers, produce prototypes to help programs under development, and provide additional manpower to accommodate surge, scientific and engineering support efforts in theater. For example, if commanders in the field have a blue-sky idea for a requirement, the CRO can dispatch specialists to visit and then help inform the evolving requirements.

The program typically supports a variety of software packages for intelligence and information-sharing applications, such as the data displays on the decision walls of NATO combined joint operations centers (CJOCs). Murphy notes that the CRO provides roughly a dozen applications for use in ISAF and NATO command centers, and it offers support and training for the software. The ISAF program of work is managed on a yearly basis with governance provided by Allied Commander Operations (ACO) staff at Joint Forces Command Brunssum, Netherlands.

Murphy says that the second thread is NC3A support to operations and states that his main responsibility is supporting the NATO Security Investment Program (NSIP), funded by the NATO nations. NSIP is designed to ensure that urgent operational requirement requests are met to provide NATO with a fast-track capability to put C4ISR capabilities into the field. He adds that during his three-year tenure he has seen the number of projects grow by 25 percent annually. Programs range from supporting intelligence and logistics to planning and communications. The NC3A delivers communications networks in theater, from terrestrial radio networks to satellite communications services and information services. Murphy notes that the future challenge will be to manage the software applications layer and rationalize the decision layers for these new systems as they plug into the NATO communications and networking infrastructure.

Murphy cites some of the highlights of the 62 CRO-supported programs in Afghanistan. One of the NC3A’s key efforts is a dedicated communications backbone now known as Full Operational Capability (FOC) Plus. This program is providing 66 points of presence across the theater to provide networked communications core services (SIGNAL Magazine, September 2007). He describes it as one of the largest and most difficult programs ever undertaken by NATO.

The NC3A also is deploying biometrics systems to stop potential suicide bombers from trying to enter coalition facilities. These systems will include iris scanners and forensics kits. In addition, NATO has deployed counter-improvised explosive device (IED) scanners in Kandahar and Kabul, Afghanistan. ISAF forces also are being equipped with force tracking equipment, which display friendly units on tactical maps. About 1,000 of these blue-force tracking sets have been provided to foot patrols and installed in NATO vehicles, Murphy says. He adds that these systems already have saved lives.


The NC3A’s Crisis Response Operations program allows commanders in the field to submit requests for needed operational capabilities. These efforts are screened, vetted and given a fast-track development priority to help ISAF units.

The agency also is helping to build a new air traffic control capability in Kandahar. The new tower is being equipped with communications equipment, and the agency also will deliver new approach radars and navigation aids. The NC3A is developing force protection systems arranged in defensive rings around Kandahar consisting of sensors and reporting systems to detect and track enemy artillery. Murphy adds that of the many software packages designed and maintained by the NC3A, the Joint Operations Center (JOC) Watch has become so popular that it is the primary incident reporting tool for ISAF forces across the theater. He maintains that the successful delivery of projects involves a team effort with other NATO agencies, particularly the NATO Communication and Information Systems Services Agency (NCSA) and the NATO Maintenance and Supply Agency (NAMSA).

NATO nations provide governance and leadership, while operational requirements are managed through the ACO and driven at the strategic level by NATO’s Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), in Mons, Belgium. Aside from formal governance and staffing procedures, Murphy explains that one constant challenge of alliance C4ISR systems is interoperability. Citing the example of the FOC Plus program, he says that the NC3A has to inform participating nations about compliance requirements such as technical details and staffing rules if they wish to attach their systems to the NATO C4ISR cloud.

Although the operational tempo in the theater has increased, Murphy says that it is business as usual for the NC3A. He adds that the agency is heavily regulated and must follow alliance procurement rules. Formal NATO staffing chains must be followed as well. “There are no shortcuts,” he says, adding that all of the stakeholders and alliance nations strive to work as quickly and flexibly as possible within this structure.

Murphy explains that the CRO operational timeline for project development is set by nations against their agreed procurement strategy. A full international bid usually takes 18 to 24 months. He stresses that the NC3A’s top priority is supporting CRO operations and helping C4ISR stakeholders deliver mission capabilities to ISAF personnel in theater.

NATO Consultation, Command and Control Agency (NC3A):



Enjoyed this article? SUBSCRIBE NOW to keep the content flowing.