Bulgaria Seeks Industry Teaming for New Military Information Systems

May 2000
By Robert K. Ackerman
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A U.S. study addresses command, control, communications and computer needs for Atlantic alliance interoperability.

The path to Western alliance membership will be paved with silicon if the modernization plan for a former Warsaw Pact nation is successful. The Republic of Bulgaria is looking toward building its revamped military around advanced information systems assembled through U.S. guidance and commercial partnerships.

The nascent democracy’s defense modernization priorities include command, control, communications, computers and intelligence (C4I), logistics, air defense, training, and building operational capabilities for military units. A U.S. Defense Department study of Bulgaria’s command, control, communications and computers (C4) capabilities and requirements focused on the operational system and technical architecture as well as on different types of communications and their roles. It will serve as a framework for a new information infrastructure considered to be the key to Bulgaria’s drive for membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Currently, 9 percent of the country’s military budget is devoted to achieving the necessary interoperability for accession to NATO. Plans call for this allocation to rise to 38 percent of the total military budget by 2004. Most of this funding, especially in the early stages, is devoted to C4I systems. Available capabilities must be integrated, and information technologies are essential to attaining most other military goals, according to Dr. Velizar Shalamanov, deputy defense minister of Bulgaria.

In addition to serving wartime needs, the armed forces’ C4I system is planned to be an indivisible part of the country’s communications and information systems (CIS) for central and local administration. It also is designed to be part of a national system for crisis management. Shalamanov explains that planners of this network are aiming for interoperability with all civil government agencies. Accordingly, commercial off-the-shelf equipment will play a significant role in making up the system.

Last year saw the approval of an official military doctrine with a strong emphasis on C4I systems and interoperability (SIGNAL, October 1999, page 33). This in turn spawned an overall study of defense capabilities, including C4I. For Bulgaria’s military modernization thrust, NATO membership is the goal, and C4I is the tool.

The country is moving toward establishing chief information officers (CIOs), based on the U.S. model, to spearhead these efforts. If approved, an information technology management act would establish CIOs within the Bulgarian Ministry of Defense and other government ministries and agencies to oversee efforts “during this period of very crucial changes,” Shalamanov says.

The military’s overall CIO would be responsible for coordinating all architectural and life-cycle support issues as well as interoperability and “aggressive use” of new technologies. Shalamanov hopes that this civilian position will be created this spring.

The Ministry of Defense also is establishing a central CIS command to be the main operator backbone of CIS for all of its armed forces. This avoids the pitfalls of having separate CIS organizations among the services and the general staff. The command also will be outsourcing information systems activities that are not military-critical.

Shalamanov maintains that it is essential to build a backbone, have a blueprint, and sustain an organization that is dedicated for information resource management not only to provide communications but also to provide computer support and ensure interoperability among forces.

Several needs have emerged as important elements of Bulgarian military progress. These include a joint technical architecture, a command operating environment and a model for C4I system life-cycle support. Efforts in these areas would be compatible with U.S. and NATO approaches, Shalamanov emphasizes. For organizational units, the ministry must establish a new type of information resource management organization that can oversee the rapid changes in information technologies.

All programs suggested by the armed forces general staff are reviewed for relevance to the country’s priorities spelled out in its doctrine, in the membership action plan and in subsequent studies. Shalamanov relates that the country has received more than 85 partnership goals from NATO, and more than 20 of these are directly related to communications and information systems, especially command and control capabilities.

Several key programs already are underway. The air sovereignty operations center (ASOC) project is in progress, and a field integrated communication-information system for it was finalized recently. A CIS for the multinational brigade based in Bulgaria was built with cooperation from seven regional countries. Shalamanov relates that it was successfully tested with NATO procedures in December, and it proved to be fully interoperable with NATO standards.

An automated information system for the central administration, general staff and service headquarters is under development. Known as the automated management system-Bulgarian armed forces, or AMS-BAF, this system is in the final stages of implementation. Designed to provide information for peacetime decision support among commands and subordinated units, this system is physically separate from NATO systems. It begins operation to the corps level this year and will be extended to brigade level in 2001.

Bulgaria’s participation in the combined endeavor exercises provided valuable experience for personnel and a testbed for systems and approaches. This expertise will be applied to implementing the results of the U.S. C4 study, Shalamanov explains.

One major facet of the modernization effort will include new satellite communications, which Shalamanov describes as crucial for the future. This especially applies to Bulgaria’s participation in operations other than war outside its borders. The country is planning its contribution to European security around these types of operations.

Another key element involves maintaining reliable communications while employing legacy systems. This aspect only will encompass the transition period between old and new, but much of Bulgaria’s military communications infrastructure consists of older systems that lack digital capabilities.

Concentrating the military’s digitalization efforts is another aspect of the modernization that requires careful consideration. Shalamanov suggests that fixed systems located in buildings could become the first beneficiaries of digitization, especially because they can be more easily integrated with other government information systems. Field capabilities would follow on a step-by-step basis.

Shalamanov notes that many systems are developed in vertical programs, while C4I is “a glue that must integrate all these capabilities.” In addition to incorporating new systems, older subsystems must be modernized in line with the emerging C4I architecture.

As it is with other Free World nations, information assurance is a serious issue for Bulgaria. Shalamanov relates that the nation is moving rapidly into heavy Internet and intranet use, but it still does not have the broad experience inherent in other nations that have contributed to the evolution of these technologies. This in turn affects system management and network administration, particularly in security. When the military system is integrated with civilian networks, officials must ensure that the armed forces are “well-protected” against hostile information operations as well as against any leakage of sensitive data.

For Bulgaria, training is essential both to C4I implementation and to maintaining educated armed forces. Shalamanov explains that the nation is working closely with the United States in several training disciplines, especially distance learning and networked simulation-based training. This effort aims to establish an advanced training environment for all armed forces personnel, not just C4I experts, Shalamanov emphasizes. Some courses, including military English language training and new Partnership for Peace (PfP) initiatives, are already available in Bulgaria on the PfP information management system (PIMS), a U.S. Defense Department information management network promoting collaborative database development among the United States and PfP countries.

A PfP simulation network (SIMNET) is designed to train staffs at the tactical and operational levels in decision making during combined joint operations. Users can access it through PIMS Internet connectivity. The Bulgarian interoperability center is tasked with implementing SIMNET technology.

Outsourcing is key to the Bulgarian modernization program. Once, almost all production capabilities were internal to the Defense Ministry. Now, virtually all information systems production is external, Shalamanov reports, with some entities being transformed into trade companies. Research and development has been reduced and refocused on military-essential issues such as information assurance and system administration. Most research now takes place in academia and the private sector.

With this transition well underway, the next step is to establish a CIS life cycle. This would provide necessary checks and balances as well as a tool for rapid implementation of new ideas and technologies throughout the life cycle.

“There are a lot of computers and communications equipment already in the armed forces, and now we must focus on the issues connected with generating real results and measuring the effectiveness of these technologies,” Shalamanov states. Part of this effort includes determining where computers can serve multiple roles simply by adding software, instead of purchasing additional machines for users.

The private sector has a significant role to play in establishing this life cycle, Shalamanov maintains. “We are looking for a long-term commitment from companies—not just to provide computers and then go away but to establish a real partnership,” he emphasizes. The type of private-government partnership that Bulgaria seeks would feature building future systems through evolutionary prototyping and contracting out services for building a system, purchasing its hardware and software and supporting it.

Shalamanov relates that he has tasked Bulgarian experts with analyzing the capabilities of the foreign companies’ workers who are implementing the top-priority information system projects. The goal is to have “the best mix” of companies for cooperative programs.

The Defense Ministry is working with other Bulgarian ministries as they sign framework contracts with companies such as Microsoft, Lotus and IBM, he relates. These contracts provide for upgrades and “permanently improving” the government’s information systems.

Some bilateral government programs already are supplying important resources to the modernization effort. Shalamanov cites foreign military sales from the United States and secondhand computers and software from the United Kingdom. Foreign company partnerships with Bulgaria increasingly are sources of new technologies and training.

In November, the ministry signed a contract with British Aerospace Systems, Sterling Software and Unisys Federal Systems to design and develop the Bulgarian land forces (BLF) CIS and provide the technical support. The contract, which includes training BLF C4 specialists, encompasses subordinate units down to the company level.

As with many NATO members, one of the biggest challenges facing Bulgaria is retaining expert personnel. People equipped with information system knowledge and understanding have many professional opportunities outside the armed forces, Shalamanov notes. This adds a sense of urgency to many of the changes underway in Bulgaria, as the country must establish an environment in the armed forces that can attract and retain young people for a period of time.

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