Dr. Edgar Buckley, Senior Vice President, Thales


Dr. Edgar Buckley
Senior Vice President for NATO, U.N., and EU, Thales

Industry’s Crucial Role in C4ISR

I want to start with something that David Bill said about the importance of C4ISR: Command, Control, Communications, Consultation, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance. He called it “electric string,” which is easier to understand.


C4ISR is increasingly important in today’s military operations, where you face an asymmetric threat and you do not know where the other guy is or when he is going to attack you. The only way you can even up the odds is to have good C4ISR capabilities, so you know where he is likely to be very early and you can protect yourself and counterattack. It is the key element in General McCrystal’s strategy, and this mission-critical data has to be transported to the edge of operations in a highly reliable and dependable, efficient way, with a secure and protected infrastructure.

In my opinion, only industry can now provide that. I do not think that everybody agrees with that, but it is very much my opinion. I think that the levels of technology required to provide this sort of capability in an operational theater, the backup reference facilities that you need outside the operational theater to make sure that you are not experimenting in the theater and that you can guarantee reliability, the skilled engineers who design, maintain, and service the capability throughout its life—these can only come from industry. The days when Signals Regiments, as we used to see in Bosnia, would cycle in, bring their equipment with them, operate the equipment, and then cycle out when a new one comes in are gone. The requirements of the commanders are just too demanding now for that sort of approach, and that is what has happened in Afghanistan.


The ISAF secret backbone communications that transport all the critical information in the theater and back to Europe are provided by my company under a service contract to NC3A and under the operational coordination of NCSA. It works very well. We have 87 points of presence in the theater, which is 95% of ISAF’s total. It is a mixture of satellite, fiber optic, radio, and landline connections. We designed it to NC3A specifications. We installed it, we transported it, we transferred all the legacy applications to run on it, and we maintain it, enlarge it, or amend it as needed by the commanders and as instructed by the agency. It has 2,800 workstations and 8,300 user accounts. It is all under the ISAF chain of command and responds to the coordination authority of NCSA.

We have 150 people in theater, all engineers and ex-military signalers for the most part. They provide an excellent service, and we have been told that our quality of service is better than anything ever seen before in an operational theater. We are required to have the system running at 99.98% availability, which means that we can have it down six minutes per month. We have to have 98% of problem tickets resolved within four hours, and the average at the moment is 34 minutes. We monitor it through 12 processes on 34 key performance indicators. If we do not meet those indicators, we do not get paid.

So it is a very good system, and it not only gives you that capability but it gives you a surge capability. During the summer of 2009, when ISAF wanted to put a new headquarters into theater, we got the request to do that in July, but they had asked for this headquarters to be up and running by the middle of October. One thousand workstations needed to be provided for this theater and be up and running. We did that, and here I come to General Wolf’s point of view, we did it without a contract; we did it at financial risk to ourselves because the contract through the NATO processes could not come through. We did it because we are part of the team in Afghanistan.
Another example of the surge capability is the contract to link all these different national systems to the ISAF backbone to provide the Afghan Mission Network, which is the center of General McCrystal’s strategy. We got the instruction to proceed to provide the links at the end of April, and the first spiral deadline is at the end of the month of June. We are comfortable that we are going to meet that deadline.

So industry supports ISAF right up at the front line, not just in communications. It is also the food, the air traffic control, the UAV provisions, and the in-theater support in many ways. This is all part of a pattern of outsourcing; outsourcing increases in operations the longer operations are maintained. We saw that in Iraq, and we are seeing it again in Afghanistan. But now the depth and the nature of industry’s involvement, which are linked to technology shifts, are changing. Industry is conducting operations in direct support of the front line in non-traditional areas such as tactical and strategic C4ISR.


The question for me is: Should we plan for this in the future? The traditional NATO approach is that you buy deployable equipment, you put it in a warehouse, and then, when you have an operation, you open up the warehouse, take out the equipment, and take it into theater and see if it will work. That more or less guarantees that you are going to have non-state-of-the-art equipment when you use it. I think there is a real issue as to whether we should now be thinking of contracting industry to be ready to deploy at short notice rather than stockpiling equipment in the military, which is the traditional approach. Based on experience of how quickly NATO operations actually do begin, I think that industry could be inside the decision loop.

Another fundamental question is: What is our overall strategy for industry’s involvement in the support of operations? How does that strategy fit with our long-term policy of disengagement and empowering the local Afghan authorities? I am not sure that NATO is thinking about these questions, but I think it should. I would like to suggest a new concept document for operations support, taking into account how technology has changed, how our national approach has changed, how NATO’s operational missions have changed, and the lessons we learned from Afghanistan.


My final point on this is that there are other implications for the way NATO deals with industry. We would not have had this success at all if it had not been for Rainer Schuwirth, who brought us all together around his table when he was Chief of Staff in SHAPE, and said, We have to carve a one-team, one-mission approach, and that was taken on by Karl-Heinz Lather. I think they would both agree that without that, we could not have done it. That lesson applies more widely across the board. We have got to get away from this whole business of arms-length relationships between a fractured NATO customer and industry. We have got to bring all the customer interests together on the NATO side and have a one-team, one-mission approach.

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