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By Stefan Nitschke, M.Sc., Ph.D., International Defence Analyst and Consultant

Military forces throughout Europe are eager to field network-enabled technologies. In doing so, increased force digitisation means that forces will adopt flat structures, work in nets on the net, and require versatile and survivable voice and data communications systems. Those technologies will shrink the “sensor-to-shooter” time cycle. This means superiority in weapons systems efficacy through the use of advanced sensors and the rapid distribution of information to each position within a theatre of operation. This will be only secured on a force-wide scale, however, whereby digitised forces will adapt the whole array of multi-tiered platforms, sensors, weapons, communications as well as specialised decision aids.

Interoperability in an Era of Net-Centricity

Effective C4I capabilities become crucial for interoperability. For many years, interoperability problems within the Alliance have been largely associated with the insufficient quantity and quality of European platforms. The absence of a single integrated data network to support dissemination of information for Coalition partners and the inability to secure the exchange of digital data in real-time to keep up with the changing situation on the battlefield have complicated military operations for years. Some of these data-exchange problems were present during Coalition warfighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, where the operational tempo of the British forces was constrained by the inability to access US targeting systems such as JSTARS and GLOBAL HAWK. Additionally, some European allies were still using fixed-frequency single-channel radios, which are hardly interoperable with more advanced broad-frequency band radios, such as the US SINCGARS.

The “War on Terrorism”, in particular, shows that complex warfare missions builds on an enhanced ISR capability provided by manned and unmanned airborne assets. These systems bring information superiority to the forces and allow them to close the “sensor-to-shooter” cycle. New systems like the UK’s SENTINEL R.1 Airborne Stand-Off Radar (ASTOR) developed by Raytheon will be able to improve C4I capabilities over a larger area of engagement. The overall infrastructure comprises highly specialised sensors carried by a variety of platforms or the individual warfighter. A number of other European programmes, involving improved theatre intelligence capabilities, new excellent sensors and platforms, real-time communications links, and vehicle-carried battle management systems (BMS), are to be conducted in the tighter defence budgets, however.

Emerging Tactical and Strategic Missions

Military operations as best reflected by those in Afghanistan require new Information Communications Technology (ICT)-led developments (e.g., broadband communications, satellite data transmission), excellent sensors as well as UAV/UAS and even UCAV technology. Any of these means are to also maintain operational cohesion and coherency in future multinational and Coalition-based operations. But there is also a tendency of increasingly deploying lighter and smarter weapons having GPS-type satellite-assisted navigation systems and an improved datalink capability, allowing real-time target updates and targeting from existing tactical networks across the spectrum of forces of different nationalities.

In Afghanistan, some deficiencies were certainly eliminated following the recent deployment of German Army Joint Fire Support Teams (JFST) to the ISAF-lead operations that improved around-the-clock target detection capabilities, enabling a 360-degree coverage of artillery and mortar weapons out to a distance of over 42 kilometres. Missions of this kind also strongly require specific Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Target Acquisition (RSTA) technologies, notably man-packed miniature drones, enabling a viable “sensor-to-shooter” connectivity for weapons desig

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