NATO Forces Prepare For Global Operations

November 2005
By Henry S. Kenyon

NATO is transforming its logistics capabilities to allow its rapid reaction force to deploy anywhere in the world. Key to this effort is the development of a suite of technologies and doctrines that will allow commanders to tailor their supply needs to a specific mission, increasing operational efficiency and decreasing a unit’s logistics footprint.
Transformational logistics capabilities will allow alliance units to deploy more efficiently.

As NATO shifts from a defensive alliance to a more responsive multinational organization, it is developing technologies and doctrines that provide commanders greater control over their assets. Key to this effort is a suite of systems that allows NATO commanders to establish logistics bases quickly to support a mission while minimizing its supply footprint.

The ability to move forces beyond the borders of member nations is a new challenge for NATO. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s led to a reconsideration of national priorities in Europe and the United States, explains Capt. David Baucom, USN, NATO’s deputy assistant chief of staff for logistics transformation, Headquarters Supreme Allied Command Transformation, Norfolk, Virginia. While many European nations invested resources in social programs, the U.S. government pursued military modernization, creating new organizations such as the U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM).

The consequences of these policies became apparent during NATO’s first overseas deployment to help oust the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. During that campaign, serious interoperability issues hampered allied coordination. “We were no longer interoperable with our NATO partners because for the last 10 years or so they had not been reinvesting into transformation,” he says.

Following this experience, the United States strongly encouraged alliance members to modernize their command and control systems. One result of this effort was the launching of two NATO strategic commands: Allied Command Operations in Mons, Belgium, which is responsible for day-to-day operations, and the Allied Command Transformation (ACT) located in Norfolk.

Alliance members also agreed that current threats are significantly different from those faced during the Cold War and launched a NATO Response Force (NRF) to meet these new challenges. The NRF is a 20,000-person force capable of rapidly deploying to any part of the world and responding to a full spectrum of operations, from peacemaking to peacekeeping. The NRF is scheduled to be fully operational by late 2006.

Since its launch in 2003, ACT has focused on the NRF as the driving force for military transformation in the alliance. Because it soon will have deployable units, the NATO logistics community is now considering technologies and doctrines to support forces overseas. “Before, the nations had everything in their own backyard—host nation support was always assumed. Now, wherever we may go, we may not have that support to rely upon. So we need to be sustainable, and we need to be deployable,” he says.

These requirements spurred ACT to develop operational concepts and doctrine that support this new mobile capability. In 2004, NATO conducted its first of four logistics experiments. These events included a test of reception, staging and forward-movement capabilities and a radio frequency identification (RFID) experiment in Afghanistan. Capt. Baucom notes that the latter exercise allowed NATO to conduct consignment tracking for logistics assets, a first for the alliance.

The command also conducted experiments in delivering fuel to expeditionary forces and re-examined how projections for the medical services logistics footprint are developed for each mission. “It’s easy to deploy if you have all the strategic lift in the world and if you don’t have to worry about the size of the logistics footprint. But if you want to be fast, if you need to be efficient, you cannot simply drag the logistics footprint of five or six participating nations along with you. You have to single up the supply chain coming into and going out of theater,” he says.

For example, the RFID effort established an operational logistics backbone from Europe through Uzbekistan to Afghanistan. Capt. Baucom explains that one of the reasons for the RFID experiment was to determine whether existing NATO consignment tracking standards could be applied to RFID systems.

In 2006, NATO will experiment with unique identification (UID) methods in a live NRF exercise. A UID differs from a serial number because it provides highly detailed information about a piece of equipment. It is based on a U.S. Defense Department policy stating that equipment worth more than $5,000 must have a unique identifier to track it from acquisition through life-cycle maintenance to disposal.

NATO also is experimenting with generating and providing potable water in the field. The captain notes that some 60 percent to 65 percent of the coalition military transport vehicles on the roads in Iraq are transporting bottled water for the troops. As part of the efforts to reduce the NRF’s logistics footprint, ACT is experimenting with several different technologies for producing water. The command has partnered with the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop methods for gathering water from the air and from sources such as vehicle and equipment exhausts. Other processes include the use of reverse osmosis to purify water. He adds that DARPA researchers have extracted water from air with humidity levels as low as 10 percent.

Besides the ability to produce drinkable water on site, NATO is examining methods to bottle it in the field. The goal is to have a mobile system for bottling water in 1-liter plastic bottles that can be airlifted in a C-130 transport aircraft. “Why should we be flying water into theater and transporting it on trucks when we can make it very close to where the soldiers really need it?” he asks.

Ammunition supplies are another logistics concern under consideration. The captain notes that NATO commanders currently do not know what kinds of ammunition to bring to an operation. The command is developing an ammunition requirements model to help commanders determine what types of supplies they will need for the operation.

It also is experimenting with base camp construction for the NRF. The program is examining ways to reduce equipment weight without compromising on issues such as force protection and sanitation.

ACT is currently focusing on acquiring and developing available technologies and systems. For example, Capt. Baucom explains that the RFID backbone linking Europe and Afghanistan uses unclassified Internet, laptop computers and radio frequency transponders for identification. “It was much less expensive than we thought. It proved that we could do it, and it’s up and running two years ahead of when NATO had asked to have any sort of consignment tracking capability,” he says.

Future operations will see NATO forces such as these French peacekeepers in Afghanistan operating far from national supply chains. The alliance is developing technologies such as water-generating systems and radio frequency identification consignment tracking systems that will allow forces to deploy quickly and operate in remote regions.
Because the program is a multinational effort, European companies are very involved in bidding to provide solutions and support. For example, a German firm is providing the water-bottling capability and several French companies are involved in the RFID effort.

The components of the mobile base concept are maturing at different speeds. Capt. Baucom notes that the water purification system was publicly demonstrated in October. A live exercise scheduled for the summer of 2006 will determine how alliance forces can apply this new technology under operational conditions. If the equipment meets alliance requirements, it will be issued to NRF forces, he says. Another important consideration is how to include these new systems in NATO operational doctrine.

When complete, the NATO base camp will consist of a scalable toolkit that will allow NRF commanders to pick and choose systems to meet their specific operational needs. He believes the alliance soon will determine the specific base-camp capability package that will be procured for NRF deployments.

But the captain notes that his priority is to reduce the size of NATO forces’ operational footprint because too many national stovepipes support multinational forces in Afghanistan. One example is the blood supply process. Capt. Baucom speculates that a future NATO experiment may involve changing the way blood is shipped to field hospitals. He explains that possible solutions such as using commercially available blood substitutes might be considered to extend the lives of injured warfighters. “Right now, every nation has its own stovepipe for blood supplies to support its troops. Nations don’t share blood,” he says.

New systems considered for the NRF, because of its international nature, must meet NATO standards; for new technologies, standards must be created.

In addition to his logistics transformation duties, the captain is the chairman of the NATO Asset Tracking Working Group, a 75-member body consisting of all of the alliance nations, several Partnership for Peace nations and Australia that works to develop interoperability standards for asset tracking. He notes that when NATO launched its RFID experiment in Afghanistan, the working group began writing an RFID standard for the alliance that NATO member nations ratified in August.

The captain shares that the greatest lesson learned from this multinational development process was that ACT’s customers for these new systems are individual NATO nations and operational commanders. “My products must fit my customer hand-in-glove. If at the end of the process I deliver a new capability to my customer, and he never uses it, we’ve wasted our time and money,” he says.

Concepts developed for NATO also can be applied to U.S. forces. Capt. Baucom notes that his office works closely with JFCOM, the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Logistics and NATO supply agencies. ACT also is working with JFCOM on technologies such as an in-transit global visibility project that will allow commanders to track their assets while en route to a deployment.

Besides developing new technologies, the program is creating operational concepts for force deployment. For example, NATO recently approved the logistics support concept for the NRF. “For the first time ever, the [NATO] nations have agreed that the operational commander needs to have control over the flow of logistics support coming into a theater,” he says. The captain explains that this is a major step because alliance nations had previously relied on their own national plans. The new concept allows the operational commander to prioritize, synchronize and integrate the flow of supplies entering a theater.

Many of the systems and ideas currently under development will begin to be deployed to the NRF over the next few years. Another concept scheduled for completion by 2006 is a medical casualty rate model. Capt. Baucom notes that NATO and the U.S. military use casualty rate models designed for very large forces going into theater but have nothing for forces of fewer than 20,000 troops. This model provides commanders with a projection of the types of casualties associated with an operation, which determines the size of the medical services logistics footprint. The small-force model will be ready to test in an exercise next year.

Another program that is being worked on between France and the United Kingdom is a disease surveillance model for forces going into a theater. It is designed for early identification of a biological attack on the force. It is scheduled to be ready for trials at the end of 2006.


Web Resources
NATO Allied Command Transformation:
U.S. Joint Forces Command:
NATO Standardization Agency:


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