Center for Strategic Decision Research


Modernizing the Alliance: Benefits and Risks of a Network-Enabled Capability

Major General Ruud van Dam
Royal Netherlands Air Force Allied Command Transformation

The strategic vision for NATO that is currently being developed by Allied Command Transformation and Allied Command Operations indicates that future Alliance operations will be expeditionary, multidimensional, and effects based. The challenge will be for NATO to respond to the threats of an increasingly unstable world, particularly asymmetric threats emerging from rogue states and terrorist groups. Success requires that the Alliance integrate all available instruments of power, both military and political, and adopt new business practices and organizational constructs to deliver rapid, decisive operational and strategic outcomes outside its traditional AOR. 


Allied Command Transformation’s immediate focus, working with NATO HQ, is to develop a road map that will modernize joint Alliance capabilities and enable NATO to create a truly networked force. This work requires the exploitation of modern and emerging technologies, particularly in the areas of information collection, synthesis, and dissemination; and the development of strategies to move from legacy stovepipe systems and business processes to an integrated, centric environment. This new way of doing business will drive radical change throughout the military. Doctrine, culture, and organizational structures will all need to change and traditional military boundaries will need to extend into the civil and political arenas. 


NATO network-enabled capability is a force multiplier that may ultimately result in real savings to our nations in the area of defense investment. However, I encourage you not to focus on savings too early, because then benefits will not be delivered. In fact we need to invest more money in NATO up front to realize a networked force that will let us do more with less. Developing a benefits case for NNEC and then a business case (once we get closer to solutions) are key areas we are addressing within ACT. 

NATO network-enabled capability is critical to the transformation of military operations within NATO; we in ACT see it as the main catalyst for change. It is the key enabler to information superiority and improved situational awareness, letting us deliver precise and decisive military effects with unparalleled speed and accuracy through linking sensors, decision makers, and effectors. When implemented—our initial focus is on the NATO Response Force (NRF), which will be a technologically advanced, flexible, deployable, interoperable, and sustainable force of 20,000 troops—it will allow commanders to conduct missions across the spectrum of operations with greater awareness, confidence, and control. Its ability to collect, fuse, and analyze relevant information in near real time will allow rapid decision making and the rapid delivery of the most desired effect. 

NATO network-enabled capability results in:

  • A robustly networked force, which improves information sharing 
  • Better information sharing and collaboration result in enhanced quality of knowledge and shared situational awareness 
  • Shared situational awareness that enables collaboration and self-synchronization and enhances sustainability and speed of command 
  • These in turn dramatically increase mission effectiveness, which acts as a force multiplier.

Introducing such transformational ideas does not happen without significant obstacles. Many are referring to NATO network-enabled capability as a paradigm shift in military operations, and, as with all paradigm shifts, there will be resistance, and hence risks to achieving the results we seek. 


Just what are these risks and how do we mitigate them? 

First, there is a technical risk—technology is a key enabler for NATO network-enabled capability and without substantial investment its potential benefits will not be delivered. Whether we like it or not, we do not have a blank sheet of paper. Consequently the issue of how to deal with legacy stovepipe systems represents a key challenge for NATO to address. 

A major area of concern is providing communications reach and increased bandwith, a considerable challenge to national and NATO defense budgets. We cannot afford to throw existing systems away because we don’t have the funds to replace them in the near term, so we need to find innovative solutions to bring about interoperability based on a legacy environment. This will require an investment in temporary interface solutions. 

Second, there is a cultural risk. As I just outlined, NATO network-enabled capability brings with it changes to war-fighting methods (doctrine); organization evolvement, the development of new processes for sharing and using information (some of you may be familiar with Operational Net Assessment and the Effects Based Planning Process); and the move to a default position of information sharing rather than information withholding. All this needs to be achieved within the context of joint and coalition operations. Within individual nations these are huge challenges—within NATO, where consultation and agreement are absolute, achieving these requirements is even more problematic. 

How is it to be done? It must be done! How are these largely cultural changes to be achieved? 

First, they will be achieved through the power of our arguments, through education, through experimentation, and through demonstration. And second, they will be achieved by recognizing that it is going to take time and we must take a step-by-step approach. 


Though ACT has only existed for a few months, in that time we have formed a 20-man NATO Network-Enabled Capability Integrated Project Team and held our first NATO Network-Enabled Capability Conference in Norfolk, Virginia, which attracted over 250 senior military officers from across NATO. NATO and Partner nations have begun the process of learning about and understanding NATO Network-Enabled Capability. In 2005 we plan to spend 13 million Euros on this area and have planned over 30 related experiments. This is a serious focus for ACT, and while the challenges are great, failure is not an option. 







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