The NATO Communications and Information Agency successfully handed off two new radars to the Lithuanian Air Force on 4 December 2018.
The milestone, marked by a formal ceremony in Aukštadvaris, Lithuania, was reached after years of collaboration with Lithuania to procure fixed air defence radars. The NCI Agency brought expertise from managing the same work for other NATO Nations including the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland.
The Lithuanian radars are now contributing to NATO's air surveillance capability as part of the NATO Integrated Air and Missile Defence System. In return, Lithuania receives the combined NATO Air Surveillance data, allowing visibility on air traffic way beyond the nation's borders.
"Today's event – the initiation of this radar system – continues Lithuania's steadfast endeavour to secure its freedom and to never allow the atrocities of the past to be repeated. NATO stands with you in this endeavour," said NCI Agency General Manager Kevin J. Scheid at the ceremony.
"The operational launch of the two long-range radars marks a huge qualitative leap in strengthening both Lithuania's national and NATO's air surveillance capability, a part of the NATO Integrated Air and Missile Defence System," Deputy Defence Minister Edvinas Kerza said on 4 December, during a visit to the Airspace Surveillance and Control post in Antaveršis.
"In this regard, this is not just a state-of-the-art radar system, but a technological declaration of independence. And how appropriate that this declaration comes on the 100th anniversary of Lithuanian Independence," said Mr Scheid.
"We have a wealth of experience, not just in the procurement domain but also in the technical domain," noted Rene Thaens, Head of the Electronic Warfare and Sensors Branch for the NCI Agency. Mr Thaens is also the project manager for the Lithuanian Air Surveillance project.
Prior Lithuanian radars dated back to the era before the nation acceded to NATO in 2004. The capabilities of these systems could not meet NATO's needs, leading Lithuania to seek a modern air surveillance capability. The nearly 40 million EUR project began with a study, conducted by the Agency, on the country's radar capabilities. Based on the study's outcome, the Lithuanian Ministry of Defence requested the Agency run the procurement, which began in 2010.
Spanish company Indra provided the radar systems. The NCI Agency conducted factory acceptance tests, site acceptance tests and live flying tests, where an aircraft will fly against the radar to see if it can perform against a target.
Work to arrange secure communications was added to the scope of the project over time, Mr Thaens said. Communications must be secured between the radar and the central node digesting the data, which requires particular cryptographic equipment.
The Lithuanian government also chose to exercise an option for a third radar. The Agency expects to complete work on the third radar by around 2020.
Utilizing NATO's best practices and standards to complete the project has several benefits, including interoperability, Mr Thaens added. Nations can do such work independently, but that route can be difficult because the radars must be integrated into NATO's air surveillance system.
Nations who choose to standardize on a particular radar can also benefit from collective buying power around maintenance.