More than 80 staff from across the NATO Communications and Information (NCI) Agency supported Exercise Steadfast Cobalt 2019.
The exercise, which ended on 3 June 2019, was designed to test the communications and information systems (CIS) for NATO Response Force 2020. The Agency, however, had been involved in much of the preparation in the nine months before the exercise began.
"Our success comes from the fact that we have to do this every year. We plan this together with the assigned national and multinational units, exchanging configuration data and performing agreed tests together within a strict timeline. The fact that we are being evaluated helps to immediately reveal issues that need to be addressed prior to the major exercises and potential missions that the NATO Response Force will conduct," said Nicholas Lambert, NATO Response Force 2020 Mission Network Service Management Authority Team Lead.
Through the exercise, the NATO team supported by the Agency sought to validate that the systems are both interoperable, and "mission ready," meaning that they could be used immediately if the NATO Response Force is activated for a mission. NATO Response Force 2020 will be on standby for potential missions next year.
Although the creation of a mission-ready network for the NATO Response Force was the main goal of Steadfast Cobalt, it wasn't the only one.
The exercise was also an opportunity to de-risk the execution of Exercise Trident Jupiter 19 . Additionally, it provided a venue to test the interoperability between the NATO Response Force 2020 Mission Network and the enhanced Forward Presence Mission Network. It also allowed Nations affiliated with the Federated Mission Networking (FMN) Framework to confirm their FMN readiness.
The exercise was performed from multiple locations around Europe. Centring on the main location in Bucharest, Romania, NCI Agency staff, together with national and multinational teams, provided support from several static headquarters locations.
The NCI Agency provided the Interoperability Director for the exercise, whose team coordinated the tests run by dispersed teams drawn from the NATO, national and multinational units and headquarters involved in the exercise.
The Interoperability Director's team managed, planned and orchestrated more than 18,700 tests using an in-house tool-suite. The team also used the suite to collate test results and observations.
The NATO Response Force’s mission network is made up of networks provided by NATO, together with those provided by the national and multinational units and headquarters. These all need to be federated to form a single network for the mission.
To do this, the NCI Agency acted as the Service Management Authority (SMA) for the federation. In that role, the Agency led the planning, and oversaw the stand-up of the mission network and the subsequent operation of the services federated between the component networks. This was performed within the Deployed Network Operations Centre provided by the Agency’s sister organization, the NATO CIS Group.
At the end of the exercise, Agency staff formulated and executed a plan to safely disconnect units leaving the mission network.
The mission network has now been tested, and the exercise evaluated. The network will allow the commander of the NATO Response Force rotation to command and control his forces for upcoming exercises, and in the event the force is activated.