Phenomenal Feat in Afghanistan

November 03, 2009
by Maryann Lawlor
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With the help of industry, the NATO Consultation, Command and Control Agency (NC3A) had communications in one of the two headquarters in the heart of Afghanistan up and running in three months. The project began by scooping out the insides of a gymnasium then filling it with the e-guts of a first-rate joint operating center. The result is a multinational command nerve center that includes equipment for voice, data, videoconferencing, Web connection, e-mail and full-motion video. After beginning work in July 2009, the headquarters achieved initial operational capability in mid-October and is scheduled to reach full operational capability by November 20, 2009.

According to information revealed at MILCOM 2009, the North Atlantic Council’s decision in June 2009 to create separate headquarters for the strategic and tactical missions in Afghanistan initiated the creation of the new headquarters facility. Approximately 1,000 members of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) were relocated from downtown Kabul to the Kabul airport. According to Malcolm Green, with the help of the Thales Group the NC3A had the new headquarters up and running four weeks after the airport facility, which had been converted into a gym, was cleared out. Green is the chief of the NC3A Capability Area Team 9, which oversees network information infrastructure communications infrastructure services. “I can say that in all the time I’ve worked in NATO, that is a phenomenal achievement,” Green says.

When the nations realized the need for a well-equipped command and control center for the headquarters, representatives from each country met to determine if the systems setup could be provided by one country. They quickly determined that no single nation—not even the United States—could simply plop the required capabilities into the three-star headquarters.

To address future needs, the new headquarters was “flooded” with wire when it was built. Bundles of wires, each color coded to the various security levels of national networks, have been put into place, though in actuality they are not immediately needed. However, as the headquarters continues to connect with additional commands and centers throughout Afghanistan, there will be no need to install additional wire. Instead, the headquarters technicians simply will bring another network on line.

A number of factors enabled the quick turnaround time of this project, Green shares. Underpinning many of them was that the NC3A already had a partnership arrangement with Thales that included mutual respect and understanding, he says. As a result, the challenge of controlling the cost to the nations was well understood by the contractor, which enabled the agency and company to address the bottom line as needs changed. “Normally, the NC3A is given the authority to sign a contract [with a company]. In this case, we went forward with the authority within a financial envelope because this is a moving target, and we don’t know what we’ll need in the future,” Green says.

The contract with Thales has a value of 150 million euro, with an annual maintenance fee of 35 million euro. The cost is being shared between NATO and the individual countries of the coalition in Afghanistan: 10 percent is NATO funded, while the remaining 90 percent is shared by the nations.

The initial contract with Thales was due to expire in October 2010; however, this time period was extended two years, and the NC3A is recommending that it be extended to three years. As it now stands, the contract would go through the traditional contract bidding process at that time.

“What were the lessons learned [from this project]?” Green asks. “Well, we don’t want to do it again. It was a success, but the cost of that success was a tremendous human burden on everyone involved. …The information technology only worked because we had already contracted with the crew and we had the supply chain that could get the information technology equipment in quickly.”

The NC3A also learned that it will need to set up a technical coalition that resembles its military coalition to understand who can bring what to the table and how to fill in the gaps. “What will we do in the future? We want to be able to anticipate. We will work better and smarter. We can’t do it any quicker, but we can anticipate and plan,” Green states.

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