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The United States (U.S.) has participated in Exercise STEADFAST COBALT (SFCT) in previous years, but 2017 is the first year that the U.S. attempted confirmation in accordance with Federated Mission Networking (FMN) framework (Spiral 1.1 specifications). The NATO Command and Control Centre of Excellence (NATO C2COE) embedded with the United States European Command (USEUCOM) forward headquarters (HQ) element to analyze the command and control (C2) exercise element of SFCT 17, which is the Communications Exercise (COMEX) for TRIDENT JUNCTURE 18 (TRJE), and provide recommendations for improvement to make it a more effective and operationally relevant exercise. This report consists of observations, analysis, and conclusions made by the NATO C2COE during the exercise.
There are three major takeaways from the NATO C2COE’s analysis. First, the focus of effort for SFCT should shift to preparation. All efforts to design, build, test, authorize, federate, and operate, etc. a Mission Partner Environment (MPE) instantiation1 should be accomplished in garrison as much as possible. The goal of SFCT should shift to setting up, federating, and validating in the least amount of time, with the least amount of logistical footprint, at the least amount of cost, in a repeatable manner. All units involved have to train like they fight, and weeks of setup will not be an acceptable course of action during a contingency. This effort must be regularly exercised in garrison and at NATO exercises to develop the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to execute quickly in a challenging operational environment.
Second, more focus on the operational perspective is needed to validate the systems built and tested at SFCT. Without operators descending on the exercise site in the last days to 'validate' the design, it is hard to say that it would meet the end user's needs. Stress testing (simulating the number of users and associated bandwidth requirements) is less relevant immediately, but operational scenario testing is. Questions like ‘can my team of _____ amount of personnel use this network simultaneously?’, ‘can I share information with _____ and see their information as well?’, ‘can I talk to _____ using voice/video/data?’, and ‘can I reach back to my _____ system in garrison?’ are all questions that require the J2/J3 perspective, and can be best informed by on site participation. Requirements that future mission partner environment networks should be secure, modular, flexible, scalable, deployable, sustainable, and interoperable are known. J2/J3 personnel should now make the operational requirements understood and codify them for every operational scenario. This will need to be quickly followed by additional efforts to ensure that administrative, logistic, planning, training, and other requirements that come from other portions of the staff are incorporated.
Finally, SFCT should represent the culmination of processes that are defined, tested, validated, exercised, and improved. Success in communications ultimately comes down to preparation. There should be written guidance developed for all configurations, especially those that are untested and unproven. This ensures that any communications provider (from any service component, including airborne and afloat platforms) could be provided the information they need to make the configurations required (and possibly equipment available) in short order to give capability to the commander. Configurations should be built in accordance with FMN spiral specifications to ensure that the desired interoperability is not lost in the configuration management process.
There are many other important points discussed in the analysis that follows that goes into detail on the above topics and more. But, before concluding it is important to discuss the future. During the final distinguished visitor (DV) event at SFCT, there was an opportunity for senior NATO leaders to discuss what they had learned from the reports they had received during the course of the exercise and the information shared with them during the previous DV events. A common theme of concern among the feedback was that the SFCT exercise and the network was becoming increasingly complex. The number of units, personnel, hardware devices, software applications, diagrams, scenarios, and tests were significant, and had grown to be the largest in scope for any SFCT to date. So, the argument from the senior leaders was that the exercise should be adjusted so that it would become less complex. The NATO C2COE argues that instead of less complexity, what is actually desired by senior leaders is more clarity. Leadership needs to fully understand their capabilities, be able to execute them in a repeatable manner, with a responsiveness that achieves the advantage necessary to achieve mission success in a dynamic operational environment. The underlying complexity to achieve this will continue to grow, but the ease in which the commander should be able to understand and use their capabilities should only continue to improve, despite this. The SFCT exercise was focused on FMN confirmation using the Spiral 1.1 specification. Future specifications are only going to add more hardware, more software, more nations, more interconnections, etc. in an effort to achieve more streamlined interoperability among NATO, NATO nations, and other nations as FMN affiliates. Additionally, technological advances are bringing new capabilities to operational units at a quickening pace. Last year, Lieutenant General Lofgren, United States Air Force, Deputy Chief of Staff for Capability Development, Headquarters Allied Command Transformation said, “things like big data scare people and they don't understand it, artificial intelligence, cognitive computing, and federated clouds are thought to be science fiction but they exist today—they are real today. Early adopters will gain the edge and therefore NATO needs to take this step.2” Capabilities like Lieutenant General Lofgren mentions, plus some others like mobility, robotics, and unmanned systems that are already in use, were not integrated during SFCT. Additionally, SFCT did not incorporate the realities of an operational environment that would mean the forward headquarters would be under significant threat from various sources. So, given this, it should be expected that SFCT actually gets more complex, not less.
The objective of this report is to advise USEUCOM, the NATO Command Structure (NCS), NATO Force Structure HQs, and nations, on C2 considerations for deploying forward mission partner environment instantiations in order to provide them with ideas for future use and to avoid re-inventing the wheel, repetition of effort, and repetition of mistakes. Its goal is to, where possible, determine the root cause(s) of observed issues during the exercise and identify the remedial action(s) that will address those root causes, in order to correct the problem or sustain the success, potentially leading to lessons identified and/or best practices.
Background & Concepts
The NATO C2COE’s main mission is to provide NATO, nations and international organizations with support and expertise on specific aspects of C2 with a focus on the operational environment.
Factors affecting the Analysis
There are several factors to be taken into account with regard to SFCT 17 and consequently the observations and recommendations made in this report. The primary audience observed during this exercise was the communications portion of the USEUCOM forward HQ element. This communications element was made up of various units, including augments from outside the theater, and does not necessarily represent the make-up of personnel that would conduct SFCT next year, or in an actual operational scenario. It also does not necessarily represent what would be observed from other entities operating at SFCT. As always, personal factors such as a personality, culture, experience, organization, etc. affect the outcome of the exercise and the observations made during the exercise. Other factors are limitations with regard to the resources available (financial, man-power, expertise), the physical limitations of the analysis team (only one individual), limitations of time (attendance only at the Technical Coordination Conference and the exercise evaluation period) and the fact that there is no (significant) room for experimentation. Moreover, the focus and goal of exercises such as this tends to be on certification as opposed to actual concept development.
Structure of the Report
The detailed findings and recommendations are delineated in a framework of 1) Observation(s) made and discussion of the issue(s); and 2) Conclusion(s) and recommendation(s). Where relevant, categorization of the recommendations is made by referencing the Doctrine, Organization, Training, Materiel, Leadership, Personnel, Facilities, and Interoperability (DOTMLPFI) lines of capability development. Sections on execution and future concepts were also added for clarity.