Major General Andreas Kraak, commander of NATO’s Deployable Air Command and Control Centre takes a different view. Speaking in an interview for a NATO Communications and Information (NCI) Agency documentary he states “Information technology is … the primary weapon system for NATO”. The reason is simple: “… without it we can’t work” .
The same is true for just about any modern organisation, but sophisticated IT is particularly vital for NATO. The nature of a multinational coalition means that it faces a diverse set of challenges compared with a homogeneous force. Where differences in language, doctrine, training and technology can reduce effectiveness and organisational efficiency, IT enables communication and can help overcome obstacles to effective operation of coalition forces.
Just one of the collaboration problems that has faced coalition commanders in the past is that the forces provided by contributing nations each have their own individual communications networks. Messages move rapidly within those networks but more slowly across network boundaries between NATO allies. In extreme cases the only way to move data between networks has been to resort to “Sneakernet”, using removable media . That being the case, it’s not surprising that one of the key elements of NATO’s Connected Forces Initiative (CFI) is to improve the exploitation of technology to help deliver interoperability . That includes enhancing the network architectures that are used by forces engaged in coalition operations.
Experience in Afghanistan showed how different networks could be linked effectively to share operational data. The method that evolved there is now being rolled out more widely in the form of Federated Mission Networking . This approach enables information sharing not only among military networks but by networks used by other organisations such as civilian security forces, emergency services and NGOs.
Another exciting prospect being actively investigated by NATO is the potential for configuring networks using Software Defined Networking (SDN) . With SDN, one physical network can be dynamically managed by software so that it behaves differently at different times depending on the changing needs of its users.
It has been said that "to develop software is to build a machine, simply by describing it” . The underlying computing device simply acts as a platform for any computing machine that can be built on it using software. SDN offers the prospect of being able to do the same for an entire network: effectively, to build a network simply by describing it.
A description of a network must take into account more than just the details of the network itself. As Koen Gijsbers, General Manager of the NCI Agency says: “Networking is not a technology environment; it is a human activity” . The description of a network – the network architecture - must include the roles of the people and systems it supports, and the processes they are tasked with executing. It must show the services provided on the network, and how they can be accessed. It must also consider potential vulnerabilities and risks, which are high, considering that adversaries will be trying to disable or subvert it using a full range of kinetic and cyber effects. There is little margin for error. A communications breakdown in a combat situation can be catastrophic.
The architecture of your IT system and its associated networks - electronic and human - is a set of descriptions of your primary assets. And if you are going to maintain, protect and employ those assets effectively, those descriptions have to be very good indeed.
MEGA will be at the Complex System Design & Management (CSD&M) event on 12-13 December in Paris. Full details and a discounted registration code are on this link if you would like to take the opportunity to talk with our experts in NAF and MODAF architecture.>