NATO Looks to IP to Meet Communications Challenges

By | February 10, 2009 | Military

NATO’s demands for bandwidth are increasing, and the organization has been tapping into the benefits of IP technologies to help in operations, said Malcolm Green, chief of CAT 9 communication infrastructure services of the NATO C3 agency.
    The question for NATO is having access to bandwidth as and when it is needed, Green said. “Meeting NATO’s stated level of ambition is the main challenge. We need to find the procurement method, the contractual method to have capabilities in place, if and when it is required.”
    NATO is involved in a variety of operations that require a significant amount of communication bandwidth in a short amount of time, but working with all or some of the 26 nations involved in NATO can hinder acquisition, Green said. “It takes time to plan, time to procure and implement new services and bandwidth but also to make sure that the planners who are providing new tools in a net-centric way, that they engage with us to ensure that we have the right network services in place in a timely way,” Green said. “In a NATO world, I would see the biggest problem is the necessary funding and authorization we need to solicit with 26 nations. We have to put a business case together. That business case is not only on the merits of what services are provided, but it is also on checks and balances to ensure that it should be paid for by common funding — NATO at large — or whether it should fall to a nation.”
    As a solution to its bandwidth issues, NATO has moved towards using new IP technologies. “Moving to IP has one major advantage for us, and that is interoperability,” said Green. “It is ubiquitous. It is everywhere. It will allow us to federate and network these disparate systems much easier, and we can define service interoperability, rather than infrastructure interoperability, as we did previously. IP is the way we will achieve our goals towards net-centricity, and taking away some of the interoperability issues we face today.”


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    However, the shift to IP brings new security challenges, Green said. “In the environment in which we used to operate, we bulk encrypted our transmission paths,” he said. “In an IP environment, we are more open to people doing traffic flow analysis. By the nature of the technology, people can do some pretty fundamental denial of service type attacks by flooding network elements and therefore achieving denial of service attacks, which were not as easily achievable in previous technologies as solutions.”
    The demands in military arenas for real-time video also are growing. Green said that a new generation of NATO and military personnel expect access to information to come as quickly as possible. “They want to see full motion video, what is happening x thousand kilometers away, and that needs network services to be able to provide and support that,” he said. “In an environment like Afghanistan, that is a real challenge when the infrastructure available is very sparse.”
    Cmdr. Nigel Chandler of the U.K. Ministry of Defence’s J6 operations echoed the importance of IP. “We have witnessed an explosion in requirement and expectations,” he said. “We need to understand the constraints in which we operate. We need to identify where policy assists efficiency. We have heard a lot about the efficiencies of IP, and that it can make things cheaper. There are efficiencies to be made in theater. No longer can all three services (air, land and sea) use their own infrastructure. You need a common infrastructure that will give efficiency,” he said.
    In terms of how NATO’s ground segment strategy is evolving, Green said the organization plans to go further down the NATO Network-Enabled Capability path. “The first radical point we are trying to achieve is that our inventory in our ground segment was based on distributed terminals across the NATO landscape, and that will now be consolidated with multi-head satellite ground stations,” he said. “We now use satellite more for connecting and throwing forward the service footprint into out of area operations. We do not use satellite communications as such within our fixed network. We use satellite communications for maritime, but the main use and consumption of satellite communications is in those deployed theaters of operations like Afghanistan and the Balkans.”


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    NATO needs to be working efficiently with commercial satellite operators to find a balance between commercial investment and finding the capabilities itself. “We would never be able to afford to have global satellite coverage, and nor would we need it,” Green said. “It would be wasteful in resource terms. Commercial satellite operators are not necessarily going to be waiting for us to knock on the door. There has to be a business case put together.”
    In the meantime, Green said that the organization has to “work smarter” to maximize the bandwidth it has. “The analogy I use is that we have to plan for bandwidth, whether satellite or terrestrial, like the way a city would have to plan for its basic utilities. So as you build highways and all the rest, it attracts more traffic. In the case for us, if you look at International Security Assistance Force and Afghanistan, the mission is growing, and as people gain access to more information, their demand for more information and information sharing grows with it. What we have to do is work smarter and maximize the bandwidth that we have. But the challenge is to be one step ahead.”

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