NATO Agency Combats Inertia

September 2002
By Robert K. Ackerman
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Command and control group strives for fast changes after September 11.

The increasing importance of network-centric warfare and the new war on terrorism have accelerated the urgency for NATO to implement new information technologies across the spectrum of its political and military operations. However, obsolete procurement architectures, differing political cultures and outright national chauvinism have been the major obstacles to rapid integration of new command, control and communications systems for NATO, according to a leading alliance official.

Several key NATO programs, ranging from a communications backbone to theater missile defense, are in the queue for development and procurement. Many of these programs have become more vital to the alliance even as they have fallen behind schedule or risk becoming hamstrung by internal conflicts or burdensome procedures.

To address these critical issues, the NATO Consultation, Command and Control Agency (NC3A) is promoting a new planning process that emphasizes military requirements over political and industrial considerations. Maj. Gen. H. Peter Dicks, GEAF, is the NC3A general manager. The agency does not play a role as an initiator for new capabilities, but instead serves as a provider and facilitator for commanders to fulfill their mission, the general maintains.

“National industrial interest can sometimes conflict with NATO goals and objectives and with achieving capabilities that we need,” Gen. Dicks declares.

He relates that he has reorganized the agency to focus more on achieving a better proposal to help NATO’s political and strategic commanders in fulfilling their mission, rather than just achieving customer funding. His changes have included a better process review, centralized competencies and linkage with the 1998 Defense Capability Initiative (DCI).

The events of September 11 did not change the agency’s mission significantly, Gen. Dicks notes. However, NATO has increased its emphasis on some elements of the agency’s activities.

The agency did project that broad-based terrorist activities would alter NATO’s missions. As part of its objective to establish long-term plans for the alliance, the agency’s defense requirement review methodology develops scenarios to be chosen by NATO members as a baseline for long-term planning. Two years ago, Gen. Dicks relates, the NC3A developed asymmetrical scenarios that closely resembled the current war on terrorism, but the alliance did not establish them as a defense requirement. Since September 11, however, these scenarios have been more favorably received and are included in long-term planning processes.

The agency always included terrorist attacks in its own considerations of command and control (C2) design, Gen. Dicks continues. The attacks on September 11 merely changed the emphasis and recognition of the agency’s mission, he adds.

NATO tends to be slower to act than its member nations, he notes. While many nations responded quickly to the terrorist attacks, the alliance as a whole has not moved as quickly to shift its overall emphasis. However, network-centric warfare has increased in importance and concentration. Gen. Dicks offers that making surveillance data more readily available to all nations and commanders is coming along slowly.

Emphasis also has increased on the integration of NATO planning and C2 capabilities. Gen. Dicks notes that the 1998 Washington summit produced the DCI that, for the ensuing two years, largely was “lip service” rather than a strongly dedicated effort. With the post-September 11 emphasis on network-centric warfare and C2 integration, the NC3A is “slowly but constantly” more involved in their development. Converting these initiatives into real procurement measures or capability generation measures still will take some time, however.

One reason that NATO takes a long time to implement changes is that its requirements often are influenced more by political and industrial considerations than by military needs, Gen. Dicks declares. The agency has developed a set of better requirements capture principles that he hopes will do a better job of defining what NATO really needs to fulfill its mission. He believes that this will be the center of gravity where the agency places its emphasis for the next few years.

This is not to say that the alliance’s emphasis on consultation is wrong, Gen. Dicks adds. These processes have helped NATO define its existence. The problem facing the 19 nations lies in converting ideas into real capabilities. “NATO is still on the wrong path, and that can improve a lot,” he says of that issue.

It took NATO seven years to adapt its procurement and capability generation structures after the Iron Curtain fell, Gen. Dicks observes. One year after September 11, the alliance still is not in position to cope with its challenges. “Politically, [NATO is] a super organization; administratively, it is a tiger without teeth,” he states.

Ironically, one area that has moved faster than Gen. Dicks expected is the integration of NATO’s three newest members into the alliance’s information system infrastructure. The three nations—Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic—worked hard on alliance interoperability before their integration into NATO. Their first focus was on the tactical level, followed by the operational level.

The general notes that their interoperability efforts worked extremely well in air defense. Only a couple of weeks after their entering NATO, a temporary connection line for air defense surveillance was working. Their own national air defense systems are moving step-by-step in the right direction, he notes, adding that they have tasked the NC3A to procure seven common-funded new radar systems.

On the naval front, the alliance’s C2 system was already analyzed and adapted to receive the new countries. Many tasks remain for army systems, but these are being addressed well in two joint and combined exercises. One, Combined Endeavor (SIGNAL, September 2001, page 21), has been enabling alliance nations and would-be members to test equipment for interoperability with NATO standards since 1996. Gen. Dicks describes it as a most important exercise because new nations can learn where they must invest in interoperability. “Combined Endeavor helps us to overcome the most dramatic interoperability problems,” he states.

The other exercise, the Joint Warrior Interoperability Demonstration, or JWID (SIGNAL, August, page 57), tends to focus more on industry’s C2 capabilities. All three new NATO members participate in JWID, Gen. Dicks notes, and they have demonstrated that they have analyzed their C2 problems and that they can solve them.

The alliance extended its backbone NATO ground communications system to the three nations, and Gen. Dicks notes that it is prepared to take the same step with any other new nations admitted after the Prague summit in November. Up to seven nations may be admitted in this round.

The interoperability area where future members should pay the most attention is air defense, Gen. Dicks offers. These nations must combine their sovereign air priorities with those of NATO for overall air defense as well as support Article 5 missions. Other areas comprise peace support operations and strategic interoperability aspects. These may include information security principles and procedures, and Gen. Dicks allows that NATO will place considerable emphasis on standardization in this area.

Despite the success at integrating the three newest members, Gen. Dicks does not believe that lessons learned from that experience will speed the process for future members. “Nations are not learning from other nations’ experience,” he allows. “Everybody has to burn his fingers by himself. They will make the same mistakes. The integration will take the same amount of time.

“When it comes to tactical integration, all of them have been to Combined Endeavor. So, they have learned where their gaps and discrepancies are and how to solve them,” the general says. He predicts that the future members will need one to two years for a basic integration and, for a deeper integration in operations, about four years.

Not all efforts at integrating the three newest nations have gone smoothly. Gen. Dicks reveals that one nation’s official contacted him to complain about the country being pressured to buy certain equipment from a certain industry instead of choosing a procurement that would enable greater future interoperability. The general points out that these new nations trust the NC3A to be an unbiased party in equipment selection, and in turn the agency helps them avoid bad investments. It plans to take the same approach with any future NATO members, he adds. “We are a little bit more aggressive now in trying to inform them about the possibilities we have. We are not only helping them in designing their administration, their command structure, their ministries of defense and their forces structure, but we also can help—without being too aggressive—in procuring,” he emphasizes. This is especially helpful in nations that are still developing their own industry and government institutions. The NC3A offers impartial advice without an agenda, unlike that of some nations’ government or commercial groups. This advice also helps companies learn for future procurements.

The future of communications and information systems procurement is likely to be international, Gen. Dicks offers. The agency has taken this step in some of its invitations for bidding by calling for trans-Atlantic fusion companies, he notes. In a feasibility study for theater missile defense, all four bidders had at least seven trans-Atlantic companies behind them.

“Without trans-Atlantic cooperation, there is no chance at all in the future,” for winning large bid invitations, the general declares. “Don’t forget, several European nations don’t like a majority or a dominance by the United States. NATO works on unanimous decisions—when one nation is blocking a capability package, then that capability package is dead.

“France would never accept a pure, big NATO procurement with only U.S. companies. Neither would Germany, and I could go on. Therefore, the reaction of industry to engage in trans-Atlantic cooperation shows the way to the future. Big procurements in NATO can only work with trans-Atlantic companies,” Gen. Dicks maintains. Small items such as ground terminals or small elements of information systems may still be won by individual companies, he adds.

The NC3A is tasked with providing the alliance with four deliverables: unbiased scientific advice; engineering and scientific design, such as prototyping or first steps in evolutionary procurement; implementation of programs; and procurement.

In the procurement arena, the agency is involved heavily in more than $1 billion in programs. A primary one, SATCOM Post-2000, aims to replace NATO’s existing communications satellites, which are expected to reach the end of their service in 2004 or 2005. The alliance has agreed to replace them by buying into national satellite programs to provide service to NATO. The NC3A received its authorization to pursue this track in July, so the process is only about six months behind schedule. This delay might be overcome, the general offers.

The satellite replacement effort has been complicated by NATO’s decision to include ultrahigh frequency, super high frequency and extremely high frequency elements. Then, the program became a contest inspired by jealousy among the involved nations, Gen. Dicks charges. He says they all were interested only in getting back as much as possible from the $800 million program. The overemphasis on national interests caused the six-month delay, but finally the participants realized that further delays could kill the program. So, a decision “based on logical and pragmatic grounds” was made to clear the way for the program’s progress. The general expects that, “with a little bit of luck,” the program should be able to replace NATO’s satellite capabilities in early 2005.

Another large program, which falls more under the category of feasibility analysis and operations research, is theater missile defense. A U.S. initiative targets spilling over the U.S. national missile defense program into NATO as a long-term project. The NC3A is involved deeply in the feasibility study for this effort, and Gen. Dicks describes it as the second-most important study on the agency’s menu.

Just starting a capability package initiative in this effort would never receive unanimous approval by NATO members, the general notes. The first step must be to convince the nations that Europe needs a theater missile defense. So, the first-phase feasibility study aims at getting all 19 nations to agree on the need for this capability rather than design a theater missile defense architecture. “I personally am convinced that Europe needs something like that,” Gen. Dicks declares. “But to define it is much more a matter of diplomacy than a matter of technology.”

A third program is the Bi-Strategic Command Automatic Information System (Bi-SCAIS), which is designed to be the alliance’s new C2 system. Over the past 10 years, this thrust has steadily—and in some cases dramatically—shifted into a modern approach that encompasses considerable funding and effort in study and procurement.

Gen. Dicks offers that, over the past 20 years, NATO has not been able to see a clear way ahead for its C2 infrastructure. Accordingly, the automatic information system that the alliance needs was always indirectly boycotted, so commands required interim solutions. The NC3A developed prototypes that, in some cases, were fielded and used in intelligence, logistics and operations fields. Bi-SCAIS always was behind the power curve, he adds, so some of these systems were folded into Bi-SCAIS.

As an example, principles of the Crisis Reaction of NATO Open System (CRONOS) network, which was developed in three months for 1995 operations in former Yugoslavia, were incorporated into the Bi-SCAIS core system. Gen. Dicks states that the now-extended CRONOS network and the NATO Initial Data Transfer Service (NIDTS) will become the Bi-SCAIS transport layer. Other separately developed elements that have been fielded offer the potential to migrate rapidly to Bi-SCAIS. “On the one hand, we still have to live with the prototypes and the interim solutions we have developed,” he says. “On the other hand, the Bi-SCAIS approach is much more consistent and congruent, and I expect that we might have some initial operating capabilities in this field of functional services in 2004 or 2005.”

Another priority Gen. Dicks cites is the NATO general purpose segment communication system, which he describes as the backbone system for NATO communications. The agency recently incorporated the package transport component and the circuit transport as new elements in this program. Gen. Dicks emphasizes that these two elements are important for a new communications means for NATO, which is a capability where the alliance lags behind many of its member nations.

This effort has advanced to the point where connectivity to the nations’ capitals is funded, although some problems have arisen with the development of individual national systems. Nonetheless, Gen. Dicks foresees its completion within about one year.

The agency also is working on a deployable communications and information system for combined joint task forces. That long-standing process was hampered by an overly ambitious design that proved too expensive for full procurement. So, the NC3A is helping with the concept of operations construction and the architectural construction. Gen. Dicks offers that the alliance is “on the concept stage—not even the definition stage,” for the system’s final capabilities.