JUST IN: Ukraine War Is Exposing NATO Interoperability Gaps
Defense Dept. photo
ALEXANDRIA, Virginia — NATO nations have provided billions of dollars’ worth of military equipment and systems to Ukraine, and while that support has been critical to the country’s defense against Russia’s invasion, it has also shown that NATO systems aren’t as interoperable as allies had expected.
That’s led to a doubling down within the alliance on interoperability, said U.K. Royal Navy Vice Adm. Guy Robinson, chief of staff to NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, at the National Defense Industrial Association’s JADC2: All Domain Warfare Symposium July 18.
NATO has been clear enough in setting and communicating standards and objectives to alliance members, he said.
“So, why aren't we as interoperable as we'd want to be? The answer then becomes, ‘Well, having a standard is one thing, meeting a standard is something altogether different,’” he said.
“Allies will be able to meet those interoperability standards at different paces,” he continued. “There's an investment to be made to meet those standards. And for some allies, they're trying to determine which standards they should be meeting. NATO standards are one thing, but sometimes they're pursuing interoperability goals with a certain partner, which may be different from the NATO one.”
NATO is in the midst of a transition to Multi-Domain Operations, which is similar to the U.S. Defense Department’s joint all-domain command and control, or JADC2, initiative. The multi-domain effort, which makes space and cyber warfighting domains rather than enablers and requires building out the command and control, is another level of complexity that requires additional standards for interoperability, he said.
“The complexity of getting everyone interoperable obviously goes up every time you have an ally coming to join the alliance,” he said. “And it's great we've got more allies, but they all have to work through and be able to adopt these standards and adjust their capabilities as they acquire them to make sure that they are interoperable.”
While the United States is the largest contributor to NATO, the alliance is looking across the membership for help, he said. “We may well be informed by leading allies, wherever they are, who have sort of invested in a certain area and kind of can help us define the standards.”
The U.S. Mission Partner Environment, which facilitates command and control among allies, provides a seam from JADC2 into the NATO environment, he said.
There is also NATO’s Federated Mission Networking environment, “which allows standards to be developed and nations to follow those across the capability areas as well. And that's well established,” he said.
In some cases, there are international standards in some technology areas that industry adheres to, “so if there's no benefit in creating a different NATO standard, then we won't do that. We can just adopt an already industry-recognized international standard.”
Ideally, the alliance will adopt open systems to the greatest extent possible rather than resorting to exquisite solutions, he said.
In terms of technology development, NATO is focusing on “things that glue the NATO command structure, the C2 structure, together,” he said. That could be command and control, logistics, medical infrastructure or other systems.
“We invest in those programs, and we use our operational colleagues to define the operational requirement, we turn those into capability requirements, we give them to a host nation to provide that,” he said.
Going forward, much of that work will be done through the Defence Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic, or DIANA, which was recently stood up, he said, to bring together innovation centers across the alliance.
“[It’s] particularly important for those smaller allies who don't have a large innovation capacity themselves to be able to invest in a common pot of money,” he said. Those countries can “maybe acquire capabilities that they can use — some more novel emerging, disruptive technologies can be exploited ... across the alliance.
“So, that's new. It’s only just started,” he said. The first batch of challenges have gone out to industry to find solutions, and “they’ll be delivering them next year. So, very excited about DIANA.”
He described the funding for DIANA as “substantial,” adding “a lot of energy has gone in through the alliance to build this, to ensure that we can be more innovative and get at the cutting edge.”
A range of organizations, startups and established industry members are involved in the DIANA initiative, he said, but the proof will be when something is delivered.
While the war in Ukraine has shown interoperability gaps, it has also shown allies the need to adopt technology more quickly, he said.
“Often those capabilities that have been provided by smaller players, the way targeting has been achieved within Ukraine and the way that data has been provided down to almost the lowest tactical unit there for them to be able to call joint fires in is extraordinary,” he said.
“I think that the tempo that's been achieved to give those capabilities to do a sort of trial in the field, where the risk appetite is very high. I think many allies look on enviously how quickly that can be done in comparison to more traditional processes,” he said.
“So, what we're trying to take away from that is how do we all get more agile, able to take more risks, and be able to adopt some of these sometimes low cost capabilities, but they can become game changing very quickly,” he said.