Funding Constraints Help Define Dutch Military Networks

May 2011
By Robert K. Ackerman, SIGNAL Magazine
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Dutch soldiers use their Integrated Staff Information System (ISIS), a command and control information services layer that provides situational awareness at the tactical level. The Netherlands military is working closely with NATO on its command, control, communications, computers and intelligence (C4I) systems to improve the interoperability of its evolving systems.

Limitations lead to innovation as the Netherlands improves its military information systems.

Faced with budget restrictions amid broadening mission requirements, the Netherlands military is adopting new tacks as it sets sail into a strong network-centric future. Its already sophisticated systems are being modernized to meet a growing international mission set that relies heavily on interoperability in joint and coalition operations.

The reach of existing systems is being extended to connect with more users and offer greater networking capabilities. Previously separate domestic and theater networks are being consolidated. And, information architecture changes are under consideration as the Dutch military deals with the likelihood of greater data flow at all levels of military operations. These changes are the focal point of efforts to speed innovation to the user.

“We want to have a very short innovation cycle to be able to improve our systems to meet the latest operational demands,” says Maj. Gen. Koenraad Gijsbers, RNLA, chief information officer of the Netherlands Ministry of Defense.

Many of these innovations are born of combat experience in the field. The Netherlands participated in International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) operations in Afghanistan for eight years, ending its commitment in 2010. However, Dutch forces continue to train police in northern Afghanistan, Gen. Gijsbers notes. Experiences from operations such as those in Afghanistan have influenced Dutch command, control, communications, computers and intelligence (C4I) efforts.

One key focal point for the Dutch military is a reorganization of the country’s network and information architecture. At the heart of this modernization is a thrust to connect the static and mobile domains. The goal is to view these two environments as a single network based on identical standards, the general offers. This will include going to a black-core type network that ultimately will permit multibearer and multilevel security.

The Netherlands is working with NATO on the Afghan Mission Network architecture (SIGNAL Magazine, January 2011). That work will provide input into helping the Dutch military link its operations network seamlessly to that of NATO.

Another major program involves the implementation of enterprise resource planning (ERP) in both the logistics domain and the operational environment. The Strategic Program for ERP Enabled Re-engineering (SPEER) aims to link the deployed domain with static assets such as depots. The result would be a single logistics chain that allows deployed forces to address their logistics needs at the source back in the Netherlands. SPEER currently is in the execution phase, in which it is being rolled out to Dutch forces. It should be fully ready in early 2014, Gen. Gijsbers notes.

The Netherlands defense budget took major hits in the iteration released in April. The government is faced with cutting about 15 percent of the defense budget over the next four years. This works out to €1 billion ($1.45 billion) out of the previous budget of €8.2 billion ($11.8 billion). Gen. Gijsbers notes that these deep cuts will affect the operational capability of the Netherlands land, sea and air forces.

The ripple effect of these budget cuts will reduce funding for investments and innovation for the coming two years, the general predicts. However, some information technology areas will benefit from increased funding.

The Dutch military will expand the development of its network enabled capability to include the implementation of the Multisensor Aerospace-Ground Joint ISR Interoperability Coalition, or MAJIIC, in the fire support domain, Gen. Gijsbers reports. This will provide better support for fire support teams, including forward air controllers. The Netherlands also is expanding its satellite communications capacity by participating in the multinational U.S.-led Wideband Global Satcom program.

Dealing with budget cuts will require reducing information technology expenses, the general notes. One approach may entail rationalizing the military’s information technology organizations. The government will reorganize its four information technology organizations into a single organization.

The military also is looking at outsourcing the commodity and static domains, the general allows. The military must devote the maximum amount of funds for the deployed domain. To ensure that essential capabilities are available in the static domain may require using commercial services to a greater degree than currently is done, he offers. This outsourcing, along with rationalization of information technology support, should allow for a 15 percent cost reduction in information technology, the general adds.

Regardless of its spending authority, the military will face an increased demand for information technology, particularly with other military elements facing their own fiscal constraints.

The first piece of the future information architecture is the Netherlands’ network and information integration strategy. But, equally important are the overlying services that are attached, and these may have special military requirements. The third element is security, and many of these requirements are not common to the civilian domain.


A member of the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee maintains links with a C2000 communications center. These military police, among whose duties are border protection, operate under the authority of the Minister of Security and Justice but their information technology support comes from the Ministry of Defense.

Gen. Gijsbers relates that the Netherlands initiated a major network-centric warfare modernization program in 2004, when it was readying for its role in the NATO Response Force. A network-enabled capability steering group was created to develop these capabilities and prepare Dutch forces for their new mission. In addition to this group’s efforts, the military budget contains a separate line item for speeding network-enabled capability innovations to the troops in the field.

The Netherlands has won several prizes for superior network-enabled capabilities within NATO, Gen. Gijsbers states. One prize went to the Theater-Independent Tactical Army and Air Force Network (TITAAN) information system, which provides network services over Internet protocol (IP) for operational army, navy and air force personnel. Command posts use local area network connectivity, and they are linked to one another via wide area links such as satellite or radio connections. 

TITAAN consists of plug-and-play modules that permit easy upgrades and automatic reconfiguration. The fourth generation of this system is being modernized with smart technology that will permit the incorporation of thin-client capabilities over IP in the operational domain, the general explains. However, this improvement likely will be delayed slightly as a result of the recently announced budget cuts.

The country’s Integrated Staff Information System, or ISIS, is another prize-winning system. It represents the military’s command and control (C2) information services layer, and it also has been improved since its introduction in 2003 as an army system. The general allows that the Netherlands has been working closely with NATO to incorporate the latest alliance standards into ISIS, which now is joint in the Dutch military.

The next step for ISIS will be to link its data across the force. Currently, ISIS is used as a battlefield management system at lower tactical levels in brigade and battalion static command posts. By linking static facilities with mobile platforms, ISIS will be able to provide a common operational picture to on-the-move vehicles ranging from command vehicles to tanks. Known as OSIRISM, the vehicle-mounted version also will incorporate Blue Force Tracker.

Further into the future, the Netherlands is working toward integrating data from the next-generation fighter that eventually will replace the air force’s venerable F-16 aircraft. The Netherlands has considered several candidates as part of its F-16 replacement project—an advanced version of the F-16, the Saab Gripen NG and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Ultimately, the F-35 won the evaluation competition, but its increasing costs have reduced the proposed number to be purchased and pushed back the delivery date at least two years to 2016. In its new smaller defense budget, the government has decided to buy a second test aircraft, but its selection of the aircraft is not final and ultimately may be made by a future government.

In addition to its air combat capabilities, the F-35 also is a flying sensor platform (SIGNAL Magazine, October 2006). Gen. Gijsbers notes that this aircraft would add a large amount of data to the military’s national information systems. So, its incorporation into the network would generate a new set of requirements for network-centric operations, including architecture issues for seemingly unrelated functions.

“Incorporating intelligent weapon systems will influence the military’s IT [information technology] architecture more and more,” the general says. “You must have the flexibility in your IT to be able to adapt that into your architecture.” The Netherlands may draw from other nations’ efforts in this realm, he adds.

As with many other Western militaries, the Dutch military shares information with civilian government organizations. For example, its military police—the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee—have an important role in Netherlands border protection, so in that realm these police officers work under the authority of the Minister of Security and Justice. However, as a defense entity, their information technology support comes from the Ministry of Defense. The general relates that his ministry is looking at a program for network-enabled capability systems for border security. This approach would link different types of networks and data to provide a better situational awareness picture of border issues.

The military also supports homeland defense organizations in the Netherlands. Each region in the country has its own C2 authority for disaster relief and recovery, and the military has worked with them to develop their C2 supporting systems. One system, known as i-Bridge and based on ISIS, allows sharing of information securely across homeland security networks. Gen. Gijsbers notes that this innovation program has been selected as the national system for disaster recovery, and a commercial firm is implementing it. Knowledge gleaned from Afghanistan operations has contributed to the military’s ability to support national homeland security efforts, he adds.

With all these ongoing and future programs and projects underway, cybersecurity remains a top priority for the Dutch military. Gen. Gijsbers allows that, as with most organizations, the Netherlands needs to do more to secure cyberspace. He offers that the Dutch defense networks currently are well-defended, particularly because planners made some smart decisions when designing the architecture. All of the Ministry of Defense networks are not linked directly to the Internet, as they have only a single Internet connection and indirect links.

Yet, the defense community is aware that the cyberthreat is increasing, and the Netherlands has developed a cyber strategy and a support plan. The next four years will see an increase in the defense cyber budget of about €50 million ($72 million), with annual increases of about €21 million ($30 million) afterward.

Foremost among cyber projects is the development of a Ministry of Defense cyber center of excellence. This facility will be networked with all of government as well as with the private sector and international partners. The center will participate in the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Center of Excellence (CCD COE), and it also will be active in academic cyber knowledge development at the Netherlands Defense Academy.

In addition, the military will strive to improve its digital resilience and cyber operations. These efforts include developing operational cyber capacities for the forces; expanding digital intelligence capabilities; and centralizing computer emergency response team capacity and improving dynamic network defense in all domains.

The future Dutch military likely will be more internationalized, the general predicts. He relates that discussions with his international counterparts on the NATO Command and Control Board illuminate that they share the same issues across borders. Key among these is a shortage of the funds necessary to carry out the information technology programs that they need. Accordingly, cooperation among the diverse nations may be a solution.

One of his endeavors involves linking the Netherlands’ national architecture with the service-oriented architecture (SOA) of NATO C2. This would permit the Netherlands to reuse software and services, and the country would have better interoperability with NATO networks and operational systems. Gen. Gijsbers allows that this does pose a challenge in that the Netherlands must link its national architecture and its national ERP supporting systems with the NATO C2 SOA. That will require flexibility, particularly for adapting special weapons systems. “A strong architectural approach for C4I is the most important piece to get those different requirements together into a single collaboration model where all those services work together optimally,” he declares.

Netherlands Ministry of Defense (English):
Netherlands Military Information Systems (English):


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