The key responsibility of this CSU unit, based in the United Kingdom, is to support NATO Allied Maritime Command (MARCOM). In 2016, this support included 28 missions to NATO flagships, 79 individual deployments to the ships, and 311 full working days of on-site support across 19 different locations.
Life at the NCI Agency's CIS Support Unit (CSU) Northwood is seldom dull and often choppy as our experts must be ready to deploy within a moment's notice regardless of limited resources.
Of the many ships from the Allied Navies that conduct operations and exercises across NATO's Area of Responsibility, the four flagships groups – the Standing NATO Maritime Group One (SNMG1), SNMG2, Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group One (SNMCMG1) and SNMCMG2 – generate the greatest workload for the CSU.
These groups provide NATO with a continuous maritime capability in periods of crisis as well as peacetime, and CIS is a key enabler in support of their mission. Much of the groups' recent activities involved monitoring Russia's Admiral Kuznetsov battle group. Admiral Kuznetsov, Russia's sole aircraft-carrying heavy cruiser set sail for the Mediterranean in October 2016 accompanied by nuclear-powered battlecruiser Pyotr Velikiy, anti-submarine destroyers Severomorsk and Vice Admiral Kulakov and other support ships. The Admiral Kuznetsov battle group travelled as far as Syria and was eventually ordered back to base to get refitted early this year.
This monitoring activity would not be possible without the CSU's support as it configures the equipment required for NATO Standing Naval Force flagships to share their maritime situational awareness and connect to one another. The CSU also provides remote support to NATO CIS services during the ships' tour of duty so that they can be in constant contact with the headquarters, through secure networks.
Come hell or high water
2017 picked up where 2016 left off, but with renewed intensity as CSU Northwood juggled simultaneous handovers for two of the Standing Naval Force (SNF) flagships. The efficient unit was also tasked to install a full suite of NATO CIS tools on Spain's frigate Almirante Juan de Borbón for her continued assignment to SNMG2.
Conducting three simultaneous missions had a major impact on resources in Northwood and could have affected the CSU's support to Allied Maritime Command.
After careful consideration, the Assistant Chief of Staff for Communications and Information Systems and the MARCOM Command Group accepted the risk to local services delivery during this intense period. Fortunately, the Agency was able to maintain its services, and this busy period passed without any incident.
The year also kicked off with new partnerships for the CSU as it worked for the first time with the Estonian Navy during a transfer of CIS tools.
The transfer was the culmination of an earlier site survey and many months of dialogue to ensure pre-installation work was carried out. Support from the Agency's Network Services and IT Infrastructure Service Line is critical at the installation phase and once again close co-operation with the team ensured connectivity requirements were met.
Closer to home was the installation of a SNF CIS suite on the Polish ship ORP Kontradmiral Xawery Czernicki during a port visit to Portsmouth, United Kingdom. This CIS system was de-installed and recovered from Greece in December and delivered to Northwood with days to spare. This illustrates the close cooperation between CSU Northwood and other stakeholders to meet tight deadlines.
The Kontradmiral Xawery Czernicki is the new flagship commanding a multinational integrated force that projects a constant and visible reminder of NATO's solidarity and cohesion in the Mediterranean and Black Sea.
The surge of SNF work in the first quarter of 2017 was completed successfully but further taskings are expected to be assigned as months go by. Another four missions relating to surveys and discrete support activities are being planned for execution for the first half of the year and as always, it's all hands on deck at CSU Northwood.