NATO Focuses on the Bottom Line to Support Warfighters

September 2010
By Henry S. Kenyon, SIGNAL Magazine


Despite reductions in budget and personnel resulting from the global financial crisis, the NATO Consultation, Command and
Control Agency (NC3A) continues its core mission of supporting alliance forces in Afghanistan.

The alliance’s network management agency develops a new business model to operate in a tight fiscal environment.

The agency responsible for managing NATO’s computer and communications networks is redrawing its financial goals to deal with the global financial crisis. Not only is the NATO Consultation, Command and Control Agency reducing expenses, but it also is finding new sources of revenue, such as by providing research and development and procurement services to alliance nations.

Located at alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, and The Hague, Netherlands, the NATO Consultation, Command and Control Agency (NC3A) develops, acquires and implements C3 capabilities and provides scientific advice and support to its customers. Its main customers are NATO’s Allied Command Transformation and Allied Command Operations, the NATO Air Command and Control System Management Agency, the NATO Airborne Early Warning and Control Force Command and individual alliance nations. The agency supports major programs such as the NATO Network Enabled Capability, Theater Missile Defense, Alliance Ground Surveillance, and reconnaissance projects.

Despite the financial challenges it faces, the NC3A continues to provide vital communications and data services supporting NATO forces in Afghanistan. Operational support remains the agency’s highest priority, says NC3A General Manager Georges D’Hollander. But NATO and the agency also are involved heavily in managing the effects of the global financial crisis. D’Hollander notes that when he was selected as the agency’s general manager in late 2008, he realized that the organization’s growth over the previous five years would end. However, he adds, while the end of funding increases was not a surprise, the size of the financial crisis and its strong effect on member nations was unexpected.

Fewer available financial resources requires downsizing. D’Hollander explains that the agency is taking a dual-track approach to staff reductions. Most scientists working for the NC3A are hired on an indefinite contract basis, which is different from other NATO headquarters agencies that have a definite contract. Indefinite contracts are renewed every three years, so the NC3A staff reduction process will take place during contract renewals. Despite the staff cuts, D’Hollander maintains that his goal is to come out of the recession with a stronger organization.

The NC3A also is actively seeking new revenue streams. In addition to the NATO agencies, the NC3A’s primary customers are the alliance nations. D’Hollander notes that these countries are experiencing budget pressure, and they are seeking efficient ways to procure new capabilities and research and development.

This need for additional technical and scientific support also extends to larger potential customers such as the United Kingdom and France. D’Hollander shares that the NC3A recently signed a memorandum of understanding with France that will form a framework for increased cooperation. He explains that the document is a new type of business development process for the agency. “That’s the way I intend to go through this crisis [by creating new business]. But it keeps me very much awake at night because it’s all about people in the end,” he admits.

The memorandum provides a framework that makes it easier to agree with a nation about business possibilities. The document designates the parties on both sides responsible for discussing potential business topics and the areas in which the NC3A and a particular nation will agree to cooperate. Every time the interested parties agree to a more concrete business process, the memorandum allows NATO and the nations to form business relationships without involving national bureaucracies.

The NC3A also conducts business with nations without formal agreements. D’Hollander notes that the agency has worked directly with Poland in the past without the memorandum framework. The agency is procuring radar for Poland and Lithuania under this type of a direct agreement. He explains that when nations decide not to use their own national procurement agencies, they approach the NC3A because they believe the agency to be less biased than others.

Over the years, the agency has created strong expertise in command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) research, development and procurement, D’Hollander says. This deep pool of talent is attractive for nations interested in conducting research and development work but which may lack the resources or expertise to do so themselves. He notes that some nations conduct extensive research in certain areas but realize that they can tap the expertise of an existing NATO organization to augment their efforts. “This is the kind of concrete thing that we try to develop more of,” he says.

Such research and procurement arrangements extend beyond bilateral agreements, and may cover entire regions. The NC3A currently is very active in Southeast Europe, D’Hollander remarks. Nations such as Bulgaria and Romania are interested in support from the agency. He adds that another example of support is the agency’s experience in organizing exercises.

D’Hollander observes that some nations can find a common identity as part of a region. The ultimate goal of NC3A is to make alliance nations interoperable. The initial steps for interoperability for many nations often involve sharing data with their regional neighbors. The agency can provide advice and support to make new NATO nations interoperable at the regional and alliance levels, he says.

As a revenue source, the agency’s expertise can be used in a broader security environment than just the armed forces. For example, although it was not employed because of the pressing need to send humanitarian relief, the NC3A developed an application that could have been used to support relief efforts in Haiti. It is a command and control tool that can connect both military units and nongovernmental organizations, and it may provide an important service in future disaster relief efforts. “These are the kinds of expertise that we have and offer, not only to defense but to other parts of the government,” he says.

For example, D’Hollander notes, when he met with Bulgarian officials, in addition to consulting with the ministry of defense he also met with the heads of nonmilitary organizations such as the ministries of transportation and internal affairs. He explains that technical solutions for defense also can be applied to other activities such as homeland security.

Although the NC3A is operating with a tight budget, it still is fully funding and supporting information sharing across the alliance. One example of the agency’s efforts is the Afghan Mission Network (AMN), which has deployed recently to support NATO operations in Afghanistan. D’Hollander notes that Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, USA, former commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, believes that information sharing between alliance members is equally as important as tanks and other equipment; because without information sharing, the mission will not succeed.

Many multiple national networks in the Afghan theater do not communicate with each other. D’Hollander says that lessons learned from operations found that allied nations working with each other in the same region could not share information about threats such as minefields. The result was that people died unnecessarily because allies could not exchange data. The intent of the AMN is to connect all of the various national communications and data systems. The NATO network will serve as a core to connect all of the major NATO forces’ networks and regional commands. Other nations in addition to NATO allies also will be able to connect to the network. “What we create with the Afghan Mission Network is a federation of existing networks connected to each other, all working in the same mission domain,” he says.

The AMN achieved initial operational capability this summer. This capability consists of e-mail, chat, voice and video communications sharing. The next phase, which includes achieving full operation in July 2011, includes the ability to share information produced by different applications. D’Hollander notes that all NATO nations use similar applications to support logistics and sensor systems, but none of them is interoperable.

Information sharing makes NATO forces more agile and responsive to situations in the field. One example of an information sharing capability developed by the NC3A for NATO is the Networked Interoperable Real-Time Information Services (NIRIS) convoy tracking system (SIGNAL, July 2009). D’Hollander explains that ISAF was concerned that the Taliban was focusing on attacking convoys. Convoys are crucial because most of the alliance forces’ supplies are shipped in over land.

The NIRIS convoy tracking capability created a common operational picture for commanders to track convoys and to note where reported attacks took place. This visualization tool permits convoys to be rerouted away from active or suspected ambush sites quickly. NC3A scientists and engineers were able to develop a system within two months, D’Hollander remarks. But sharing information, as with any major initiative, requires willpower. He credits the United States, which is the largest NATO partner, with pushing for the development of the convoy tracking technology.

In addition to the AMN, the NC3A is installing an air traffic management system and establishing a centralized ISAF Joint Command Center. NATO also is moving counter improvised explosive device systems such as jammers into theater. Another capability is a vehicle scanning system designed to scan supply vehicles and trucks passing through checkpoints quickly.

The agency additionally is implementing joint ISR capabilities to collect, disseminate and analyze full-motion video. D’Hollander explains that the capability is based on national capabilities. Most NATO nations have their own ISR capabilities to collect video images from aircraft and transmit them to ground stations. But while individual nations have this image management capability, the alliance itself does not, he says.

By this fall, the ISR capability will be installed into the NATO headquarters database. D’Hollander shares that this system will allow commanders to view and review video in near real time, which is vital in counterinsurgency operations.

NATO Consultation, Command and Control Agency (NC3A):



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