NATO to Take Overhead Surveillance Burden Off U.S. Forces
The alliance is organizing a new joint ISR initiative cosponsored by France and the United States that will share some of the overhead intelligence-gathering work. The European Union is also organizing a consortium that will field new tanker aircraft, he told defense reporters in Washington, D.C.
“Each nation contributes its own information and has its own restrictions … Getting the operators what they need in a fast-moving battlefield environment is not easy,” he said. “As far as intelligence sharing, there are still some firewalls within the alliance to overcome,” he said.
It took a couple of years for NATO to do this in Afghanistan, but despite that effort, there was a sense that the alliance had to “reinvent the wheel for Libya,” he said.
The ISR initiative is aimed at building up both the network infrastructure to integrate information, plus the platforms that gather it such as airborne warning and control system aircraft (AWACS) and the unmanned Global Hawks the alliance plans to acquire. NATO wants to pull these resources together and gather, analyze and disseminate the intelligence within its military command structure.
It is one of “the more exciting initiatives” that was launched at the recent NATO summit in Chicago, Vershbow said.
At the May summit, NATO members signed the alliance ground surveillance (AGS) acquisition contract that includes the purchase, initial operation and maintenance of unmanned aircraft equipped with advanced ground surveillance radar sensors, according to a NATO statement. The system will provide a real-time and long-endurance ISR capability to NATO forces in a range of missions, including protecting ground forces, crisis management, peace support operations, border and maritime security and humanitarian assistance, the statement said.
Northrop Grumman Corp., builder of the high-altitude, long-endurance Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle signed a $1.7 billion contract to supply NATO with the system.
The United Kingdom has its Sentinel R1 manned reconnaissance aircraft, and France may also acquire a UAV. They could both contribute intelligence to NATO in conflicts, Vershbow said.
AGS, which will be a wholly owned air-ground surveillance capability, would have been very useful in Libya, he added. “What’s missing in NATO is taking all these different capacities and linking them all together through a network-based approach,” he added.
NATO still needs to work out policies and procedures and enhance training to use the acquired data, he noted. “This is a case where allies have recognized the need to pool their [monetary] resources and build the hardware and software to support it.”
On the tanker side, the European Union is taking the lead in putting together a consortium to produce a fleet of aerial refueling aircraft that could be used for EU-led or NATO operations. This may be modeled on a similar C-17 transportation aircraft consortium, which is like a timeshare, where investment in the program gives allies a certain amount of time to use the aircraft, he said.
“Whether that exact model works for a tanker aircraft, I don’t know, you would have to ask an operator, but it is similar,” he said.
Photo Credit: Air Force