NATO Missile Defense Systems Strive for Interoperability

By Vivienne Machi
A missile launched from a ship equipped with the Aegis Combat System

Photo: Defense Dept.

As European nations look to counter a proliferation of ballistic missile threats from both state and non-state actors, defense contractors are working to develop new solutions for missile defense command and control to ensure interoperability across platforms, officials and analysts said.

NATO Assistant Secretary General for Defence Investment Camille Grand called interoperability “the critical element” of the alliance’s ballistic missile defense focus.

“What we want to do is to make sure our systems are all fully interoperable, and that we share the same command and control to operate all missile defense for the European continent,” he said in an interview with National Defense.

Countries across the continent are investing in systems, such as Lockheed Martin’s terminal high altitude area defense system and the forthcoming medium extended air defense system. Others are procuring Patriot batteries developed by Raytheon, or hosting land sites and ships equipped with Lockheed’s Aegis Combat System.

Meanwhile, NATO is investing billions of dollars into developing and enhancing a command-and-control system that will connect all these assets to each other, securing coverage against short- and long-range ballistic missiles for most of the European theater.

Until about a decade ago, European nations were less likely to place a premium on missile defense investments, analysts said. But the rise in threats coming from state actors including Russia and Iran, as well as non-state actors employing ballistic missile capabilities in areas such as Yemen, have caused NATO members to place a premium on integrating their varied systems and capabilities.

Since the 2016 Warsaw Summit, NATO has invested over $1.1 billion to develop an open architecture command-and-control system that can coordinate all of the assets procured by member nations, Grand said. The system reached initial operational capability in 2016, and the alliance is now focused on developing an enhanced operational capability, which is expected to be delivered “in the next couple of years,” he added.

“The key issue is to be able to plug in many, many capabilities coming from different allies,” he said. “Whenever an ally acquires a new radar, we want to make sure it’s immediately interoperable.”

The enhancements are expected to help NATO more thoroughly protect its members against threats coming from outside the European area, he said. “It’s not meant to upset long-range threats from major powers,” Grand added. But the alliance must continue to consider how the threat might expand in capability or quantity, and “make sure our mix of sensors and interceptors from the allies, and our C2 system, is able to address that,” he noted.

The European pivot toward missile defense is relatively new, said Justin Bronk, research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, a London-based think tank.

“Europe has traditionally seen missile defense as a much less useful technology than the [United States],” he said.

But in the last decade, “high-end anti-air defenses aimed at fixed-wing [aircraft] and cruise missiles have reached a point of radar and missile syncopation that they can begin to possess a secondary ballistic missile defense capability,” he noted. That improvement has led to an increase in procurement options for countries “beyond simply a reliance on U.S. systems,” he added.

According to Grand, NATO began to invest in ballistic missile defense as early as 2002, but the alliance focused on potential threats in the European theater. At the 2010 Lisbon Summit, NATO “set the ground rules” for ballistic missile defense and committed to developing a command-and-control system that would coordinate various capabilities being procured or developed by the member nations, he said.

“Where NATO plays the role is we … work together on developing the best architecture, which of course takes into account the capabilities of the sensors and the interceptors” acquired by European allies or deployed by the United States on the continent, he said.

While the alliance focuses on augmenting its overarching command-and-control system, European allies are moving forward with investments in short- and long-range missile defense systems that could provide protection from threats abroad and near to home.

Two European nations announced in July their intent to procure Raytheon’s Patriot surface-to-air missile system to boost their homeland defense.

Poland announced that a memorandum of intent had been signed with the United States to procure the Patriot system, said Mike Nachsen, senior manager of integrated communications at Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems. The deal calls for an undisclosed number of defense batteries for the country’s medium-range air defense “Wisla” system, with initial deliveries projected for 2022, he said.

The memorandum of intent follows the Polish government’s March letter of request for Patriot, Nachsen said in an email.

Just a few days later, the State Department cleared the foreign military sale of seven Patriot systems and related support and equipment to Romania for nearly $4 billion, according to a notice from the Defense Security Cooperation Agency. Additionally, Sweden is currently considering the system for its integrated air-and-missile defense needs, Nachsen noted.

The threat in Europe and around the globe is “evolving, improving and proliferating,” he said. “In order to outpace the threat, an integrated air-and-missile defense system — regardless of what the system is, or who makes the system — must evolve as well.”

Patriot’s flexible architecture allows it to be continually upgraded and improved, he added. “With a few small exceptions, such as heaters and cooling fans, the bulk of the system has been modernized over the past 17 years.”


Patriot surface-to-air missile system (Defense Dept.)

But this evolution would be cost-prohibitive if only one or two countries were to invest by themselves, he noted. The Patriot partnership is a 13-nation consortium of the system’s users, which has invested billions of dollars in improvements and upgrades over the past 20 years, Nachsen said. The United States, Germany, Greece, Spain and the Netherlands are all NATO allies and members of the Patriot partnership, with Poland and Romania soon to join.

The interoperability for European-based Patriot users also extends to joint training exercises, as well as the ability to come to an ally’s defense, he noted. In 2013, Dutch, German and U.S. Patriot batteries deployed to Turkey to defend the country’s citizens and coalition forces from a possible Syrian-based ballistic missile attack. Those forces then rotated out in 2015 and were replaced by Spain, Nachsen said.

“The countries with Patriot can and do train together, understand how the other country fights, plan missions together and even operate in combat together,” he said.

Northrop Grumman’s integrated air and missile defense battle command system, or IBCS, will provide command and control for Poland’s Patriot batteries, said Sudi Bruni, a media relations representative for Northrop’s Missile Defense and Protective Systems.

The IBCS is currently being developed for the U.S. Army, she noted.

Lockheed Martin, European missile developer MBDA and the German government recently entered into the final stage of procurement of the medium extended air-defense system, or MEADS, said Marty Coyne, international business development director for the program.

As of May, the company entered into formal negotiations for Germany to become the first customer for MEADS, with a “very clear path to contract award,” he said. The system was jointly developed for over $5 billion by the United States, Germany and Italy over the course of 10 years, he said.

One of the founding requirements for MEADS was that it had to be interoperable with NATO, he noted. “We had a very long laundry list of all of the possible communication links that we might have the capability to include,” Coyne said.

Once fielded, the system could provide lower-tier missile defense capabilities for Germany, the United States and other interested European countries, supplying 360-degree coverage against tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, rockets and other high-altitude threats, he said. It can then work together with other platforms that address targets in higher altitudes, to provide a layered approach to missile defense and “give you more than one system’s attempt at the incoming threat,” he added.

Upgrades to Lockheed Martin’s Aegis combat system provide another layer of missile defense for European nations.

For the past several years, the company has been developing a new baseline for Aegis, which provides short- to medium-range missile defense capabilities. It is currently deployed on multiple U.S. and allied destroyers, and is installed as a land-based system at the Aegis Ashore site in Deveselu, Romania. A second Aegis Ashore site will soon become operational in Redzikowo, Poland.

Baseline 9 is a common sources library with one set of code that can be used across multiple platforms, said Jim Sheridan, vice president of naval combat and missile defense systems for Lockheed. The technology has been tested several times at sea, and Lockheed plans to install Baseline 9 on about four ships per year “through both new construction and modernization programs,” he said.

Since 2011, the company has upgraded Baseline 9 to keep up with the evolving threat, and “every six months, we’re cranking out a new delivery,” he noted. The next iteration, Baseline 10, will feature an improved ballistic missile defense capability and could be fielded by the early 2020s, he said.

The evolving missile defense threats in Europe and subsequent investment by allies are encouraging contractors to actively work together to ensure interoperability across missile defense systems built for the European theater.

At the recent Integrated Air Missile Defense Conference, which took place in late June in Stockholm, there was increased discussion among panelists and attendees about the need to integrate systems, said retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Kenneth Todorov, director of global air and missile defense for Northrop Grumman missile defense mission systems in McLean, Virginia. Todorov previously served as director of the Joint Integrated Air and Missile Defense Organization and as deputy director of the Missile Defense Agency.

Several of the conference’s presentations focused on systems integration and the importance of command and control, which demonstrated that European nations are realizing that “it’s not a simple threat anymore, and we’re not going to be able to counter it with this stove-piped architecture,” Todorov said.

Many industry attendees discussed potential partnerships to integrate their respective systems, he noted.

“Even before the warfighter asks for these specific capabilities, we want to go to them and say, … ‘We did a technical demonstration or a live-fire demonstration’” with all of the capabilities, he said.

Ensuring interoperability between various systems could provide flexibility to a nation that may already own some of the products involved, Todorov said. “They don’t want to buy a new collection of systems; they want to know that what they already have can be integrated,” he added.

This cooperative nature between industry members is a stark change from five years ago, when partners were extremely protective of their intellectual property and reluctant to share trade secrets, Todorov said. But technological advancements now allow companies to protect their investments while providing an open architecture, he noted.

“We’re much more willing to open up our interfaces to accept a new system and to be able to work together, because we see that as … the way of the future,” he said.

Command and control has continued to become a bigger topic in missile defense, Todorov noted. “It’s primarily driven by the threat, and the economic argument that … you just can’t buy your way out of the problem with enough interceptors,” he said.


Topics: Missile Defense, International, Global Defense Market

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