Cohen calls for better NATO communications
- By Gregory Slabodkin
- Jun 29, 1998
Better interoperability between U.S. and NATO military systems must be achieved to
prepare for the next century, Defense Secretary William Cohen told U.S. allies last month.
Cohen spoke to his counterparts at the North Atlantic Council Defense Ministerial in
Brussels, Belgium, where he laid out his plans for meeting the challenges of the 21st
He put improved communications at the top of his six-point agenda for cooperation among
NATO member nations.
"In the future, NATO will rely on national forces with different types of
equipment and capabilities and somewhat different approaches to military operations,"
Cohen told NATOs Defense Planning Committee.
Despite the diversities, the countries must figure out how their forces can work
together, he said.
"In a military context increasingly dominated by information, this requires, in
particular, better interoperability in gathering and distributing data among sensors,
shooters and commanders," Cohen said.
Command, control, communications, computers and intelligence systems relay data to U.S.
and NATO forces during joint operations. C4I systems must be interoperable if joint
operations are to be successful, he said.
Joint operations between U.S. and allied forces have had a history of interoperability
problems. Operation Desert Storm in 1991 was hampered by systems that lacked
interoperability; the NATO-led coalition in Bosnia faced similar problems.
"Our current force goals have begun to address the interoperability shortfalls
identified in Bosnia," Cohen said. "For example, when we started Implementation
Force, units from different nations could not talk to one another because of incompatible
NATO is addressing C4I interoperability failures, Cohen said. He said the Defense
Department plans to establish three standard communication modules by next year under the
Alliance Deployable Communications Modules Initiative.
"If all countries meet this force goal, the alliance will greet the 21st century
with an improved ability to communicate," Cohen said.
The alliances ministerial guidance should continue to move NATO toward greater
C4I interoperability by requiring common standards and architectures, procuring more
commercial products and hardening systems against cyberattacks, Cohen said.
"The goal should not be for individual nations to buy specific equipment," he
said. "Indeed, we have to recognize that complete commonality of equipment simply
will not happen, and therefore cannot be the solution."
NATO must strive instead for compatibility between its respective systems, Cohen said,
with the goal of creating an open architecture for information technologies by the end of
"Such an architecture would allow us to manage information concerning resupply in
the way that WalMart routinely monitors its inventory and FedEx routinely tracks its
packages," he said.
A flexible and responsive NATO automated logistics data system would provide such
precision, Cohen said.
Bringing new NATO members in from former Eastern Bloc states makes interoperability
difficult, DOD officials said. NATO in July 1997 invited Poland, Hungary and the Czech
Republic to join the military coalition.
To complicate matters, DODs classified Secret IP Router Network is unavailable to
the allies. To compensate for the exclusion of foreign countries from SIPRNet, the Defense
Information Systems Agency developed the Coalition Wide Area Network (CWAN), which links
U.S. and allied forces.
CWAN, a high-speed, high-capacity network, provides real-time collaborative planning.
In the short term, CWAN could solve some interoperability and connectivity problems, DOD
DOD rolled out the network at last years Joint Warrior Interoperability
Demonstration. The department plans to use it again next month for an international
exercise off the coast of Hawaii, Rim of the Pacific 98. Australia, Canada, Chile,
Japan, Korea and the United States will take part in the RIMPAC maneuvers.
"Technological change is a double-edged sword," Cohen said. "While
advances in information technology will greatly enable our abilities to control and
sustain operations, our increasing reliance on information technology creates a new
Vulnerability has been on the mind of DOD brass in recent months. Recent intrusions by
hackers into Defense systems gave DOD an important wake-up call, Cohen told the allies. He
suggested that the countries work together to combat hackers.
"Information assurance must become an alliance defense planning priority," he
said. "Given the nature of networks, a vulnerability in one country can easily create
a vulnerability in other countries as well."
Cohen also urged his NATO counterparts to tackle year 2000 problems. Members at the
first Allied Interface Workshop in February discussed how faulty date code would affect
NATOs systems interfaces. Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the
United States took part in the discussions.
Cohen also met with Russian minister of Defense Igor Dmitriyevich Sergeyev to discuss a
wide range of issues, including the year 2000 problem and how it might affect
Russias nuclear response system.
DOD plans to develop a program to share early warning and missile threat data with
Russia and other nuclear powers to prevent the accidental exchange of nuclear weapons, he