NATO’s Transformation Command: Addressing Future Airpower Interoperability

By Theresa Hitchens

WASHINGTON: As it grapples with the advent of Multi-Domain Operations (MDO), NATO is asking industry how companies can help ensure interoperability among allied fighters, tankers and airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platforms.

The NATO Industry Advisory Group (NIAG) is readying its recommendations on how NATO members can build interoperability into next-generation airpower systems, said Col. Cécile Marly, acting branch head for Federated Interoperability at Supreme Allied Command Transformation.

NIAG comprises senior industry leaders from all 29 NATO member states, and provides advice to the Conference of National Armaments Directors (CNAD) that coordinates allied weapon systems developments and acquisitions.

The industry advice is aimed at helping NATO “build standards for tomorrow” to enable “interoperability by design,” rather than as an add-on to incompatible platforms, Marly told AFCEA’s Military Communications conference in Norfolk, Virginia on Wednesday.

NIAG’s “Joint Air Power Strategy Implementation -Interoperability Considerations” study — now in its final stages — is looking at both how to improve interoperability for current allied platforms, as well as look ahead to how “interoperability by design” can be implemented for future allied airborne counter-air, attack, mobility and ISR systems.

In particular, it will look beyond Link 16, the tactical data network now used to connect NATO nation aircraft — for example US F-16 fighter with France’s Mirage 2000 and UK Eurofighter Typhoons — as well as ships and missile defense systems. While the US Navy is leading an effort to equip US and allied military services with a next-generation, software-defined radio, called the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS), many nations still rely solely on Link 16 — and perhaps not even the latest modular upgrade of the terminals. (Indeed, JTRS will continue to support Link 16.)

NIAG’s finding are being integrated into a NATO staff study on how to implement its year-old Joint Air Power Strategy via the establishment of procedures, training and organizational changes. The implementation study also will examine what NATO calls Federated Mission Networking — a term of art for command, control and communications across the various member nation networks.

Recognizing that allied air power capabilities will continue to be provided by a mishmash of modern systems based on state-of-the-art software and older systems, the intent of the NATO effort is “to avoid too significant of a technological gap between different generations of equipment which will allow every Ally to contribute to NATO joint air operations keeping interoperability at the forefront,” the NATO solicitation to NIAG explains.

The goal of both efforts is to enable NATO to “better prepare and operate within a multi-domain environment,” according to the NIAG website.

Since the release of its groundbreaking Joint Air Power Strategy (JAPS) last year, NATO has been working to figure out how to provide the greatest amount of interoperability to the fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft already being introduced. For example, NATO’s Joint Air Power Competence Center has issued a series of publications on technical issues, as well as holding a conference on MDO last month at its headquarters in Germany. Breaking D readers are well aware of the difficulties even the US Air Force is having in ensuring that its F-22 and F-35 — both built by Lockheed Martin and both flown by the Air Force — can communicate machine-to-machine without giving away their positions and undoing the advantages their expensive stealthy designs are meant to provide.

This article was first published by Breaking Defense on November 15, 2019 as Multi Domain Drives NATO Industry To Craft New Air Power Interoperability