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NATO countries will now be accelerating steps to increase its multi-national ability to deploy quickly in response to a crisis and massively step up coalition interoperability through common command and control systems.
Certainly the Russian attack on Ukraine has motivated NATO members to increase defense budgets, forward deploy more forces and heavily emphasize operational connectivity among member nations.
NATO Readiness For War
In a big-picture collective sense, NATO is rapidly evolving into a new status quo, requiring a much more aggressive stance when it comes to forward positioning assets and demonstrating readiness for war along its Eastern Flank.
“There are things that we can do and will do to make sure that it's a lot easier to rapidly-deploy forces forward. Some of those things include pre-positioning of equipment, putting forces that are at home stations on higher levels of alert, and streamlining command-and-control so that it's easier to fall in on a formation,” Austin said.
These two things, interoperability and rapid deployment, are inextricably interwoven as they reinforce one another. The more a multi-national force is connected and able to share time-sensitive information in real time using common standards, interfaces or interoperable datalinks, the faster a NATO force can move into position and conduct joint, multi-domain operations.
Engineering this interoperability has been a long-standing challenge for NATO forces as RF frequencies need to at times be aligned, computing protocol needs to enable data-exchange and datalinks between separate countries need to operate with interfaces to ensure information transmission.
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Common Command and Control systems, fortified by common technical standards, can ensure NATO members are increasingly able to act seamlessly in warfare formations on the Eastern Flank. One clear advantage to this effort can be found in the F-35, as the aircraft uses a data link common to all F-35s across multiple nations. The F-35s Multifunction Advance Datalink (MADL) enables F-35s from any country to interact with and share information across a multi-national formation of 5th-generation aircraft.
The alliance is likely working to extend far beyond this existing synergy and connect drones, aircraft, ground vehicles and surface ships from multiple countries to one another in real time using a common framework. Perhaps an F-35 from Poland needs to send targeting detail to US Abrams tanks positioned for attack from Finland? Perhaps NATO surface ships in the Baltic Sea could be given target details about Russian supply lines, force concentrations or weapons storage facilities?
NATO will likely seek to build upon the existing framework of its STANAG 4586 standard by NATO members to enable drones from different countries to exchange information in a common format. STANAG 4586 could perhaps be upgraded to reduce latency? Hardened to prevent hacking? Or expanded to other platforms using compatible technical standards, message formats and protocol.
NATO’s ability to rapidly respond relies to a large extent upon the alliance’s capacity for common command and control and data exchange, or else forces from different member-nations will be alienated from one another amid fast-changing combat circumstances.
Given the amount of breakthroughs the US military services are now achieving with joint information networking, it makes sense that Austin would emphasize ongoing efforts to extend this kind of real-time connectivity among NATO members. Reducing latency can be the biggest advantage. Say for instance a Norwegian drone identifies fast-approaching Russian threats from an armored vehicle convoy heading toward Eastern Europe, prompting an immediate need for NATO to mobilize a multinational force.
The largest need would simply be to reduce latency, so that time-sensitive data would not need to go from on member’s sensor to another country without needing to go through a ground command and control center to ensure common standards and a timely ability to quickly share threat information and connect weapons and sensors across a multi-national formation.
Kris Osborn is the President of Warrior Maven - Center for Military Modernization and the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.