NATO's Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) Programme delivers the software that NATO needs to share information and work together to protect NATO European populations, territories and forces against a ballistic missile threat or attack.
The Programme works with the participation of the Allies, who volunteer interceptors and sensors, as well as information from their command and control systems. The NATO Communications and Information (NCI) Agency provides the critical NATO battle management command and control technology, or “glue," that connects them. The BMD Programme, a multi-billion Euro effort, enables NATO Nations to act as a single unit when responding to a ballistic missile threat or attack, which requires very quick and coordinated action1.
This programme is critical to the safety and peace of the Alliance, as if it came under attack, NATO would only have a few minutes to intercept a ballistic missile.
And that Programme – one of NATO's largest investments in command and control development activities – is getting a makeover. Among other improvements being implemented, the NCI Agency will soon begin providing upgrades to the technology more frequently in smaller packages, allowing users to provide feedback more often in the process.
A report, which provided a holistic review of the BMD Programme, was delivered to the North Atlantic Council in February 2019. It was approved by the Ballistic Missile Defence Steering Committee and the Conference of National Armaments Directors (CNAD).
In particular, the report recommends the Agency change its approach to make upgrades in smaller increments called “tranches" every two years, instead of implementing major changes in a couple of “big bangs."
The Agency is already making progress in implementing the new baseline milestones and suggested improvements, and is reporting its progress to the CNAD.
BMD through the years
In 1998, NATO initiated the first activities that led to the establishment of the Active Layered Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence (ALTBMD) Programme. After the approval of the Heads of State and Government at the NATO 2004 Istanbul Summit, the Programme was officially established in 2005, and has been revised and expanded over the years.
At the Lisbon Summit in 2010, NATO decided to develop a territorial BMD capability.
In May 2012, as announced at the Chicago Summit, the Alliance achieved an Interim NATO BMD Capability which provided (and still does) an operationally significant first step to defend populations, territory and forces across southern NATO Europe against a ballistic missile attack.
The current BMD Programme was approved by the North Atlantic Council (NAC) in 2013 and the programme changed from ALTBMD to BMD.
At the 2016 Warsaw Summit, Heads of State and Government agreed that NATO's BMD capability had achieved Initial Operational Capability (IOC), and tasked the NAC to regularly review its implementation.
After the Summit, the NCI Agency was given the task of supporting such a review. Agency staff began an intense effort to re-baseline the BMD Programme's scope, cost, schedule, risks and acquisition strategy.
“You're not delivering a capability by doing this review," said Maurizio Pennarola, NCI Agency Ballistic Missile Defence Programme Manager. “But we took this opportunity to rethink our future activities and the way the Programme is executed."
In the report, the Agency and National Experts reviewing the Programme identified possible improvements. The report also included an improvement plan to manage and execute the Programme more efficiently.
One of the biggest results of the process was receiving an approval to break up the Programme's deliverables into smaller operational meaningful increments, the “tranche" approach.
Why the tranche approach
The BMD Programme consists of multiple projects that when combined, constitute a capability that connects the entire Alliance to share information and be effective in space, on the ground and at sea.
To achieve this, the Agency has to interlink many national systems that are very different from each other. It's a difficult task, as they were built by different companies, for different Nations, throughout the years. In addition, there is an inherent complexity in harmonizing the projects and their interdependencies, and in getting consensus from an organization composed of stakeholders from 29 NATO Nations.
“It's a huge puzzle that we're working, with thousands of little pieces," Pennarola said, joking, “It's not a puzzle of a size that you can put on a table."
The tranche approach would help the Agency organize such a complex programme into smaller deliverables, while enabling operators to define the outcome, provide feedback more often in the process and prepare to accept the upgrades.
The Programme is also responsible for training users on this new technology. This change to delivering in tranches will make that training easier for the operators, and more regularly scheduled.
The Ballistic Missile Defence Operations Cell (BMDOC), is located at NATO Allied Air Command in Ramstein, Germany. Its team of highly specialized warfighter personnel from a dozen NATO Allies is constantly monitoring all BMD systems to protect European NATO territory, populations and forces. They use the battle management command and control communications and intelligence systems provided by the NCI Agency to do so.
“The idea of the tranche concept is to provide a more flexible structure for capability delivery in smaller and focused areas, making near-term gains more achievable," said US Air Force COL Ryan Fleishauer, the Operations Director for the Ballistic Missile Defence Operations Cell. “It's a way for the Agency to put a structure to the way they're doing delivery, which in the end helps us."
Delivering what the customer needs
The NCI Agency provides the BMDOC with 24/7 support through the centralized service desk, and on-site technicians.
“It's great to know that we have access to our NCI Agency technicians whenever needed," COL Fleishauer said.
He added that recent strides have been made in the development of corrective procedures, and in user involvement in future software development, testing, evaluation and acceptance.
“With all of the various units and the long distances to cover, the CIS support is absolutely critical," COL Fleishauer said. “NCI Agency personnel help us keep downtimes at a minimum. So when we do have any outages or any other issues, they're working side by side with us to make sure that we minimize those downtimes."
COL Fleishauer also noted that the Agency has worked in the past year to catch up on requests from BMDOC users and staff for improvements or changes to the software. The Agency and the BMDOC each have staffs with very different expertise, so the Agency's engineers must observe the BMDOC's users and communicate well with them to make sure the software is serving their needs.
"I appreciate how well we communicate back and forth," COL Fleishauer said. “They're pretty responsive to the warfighter need."
1About NATO's Ballistic Missile Defence Programme: Ballistic missiles are a significant and growing threat to NATO. Nations across the Alliance must be ready to work together quickly to intercept an incoming ballistic missile. To do that, NATO needed technology to enable the Nations' missile defence systems to share information and act as one. The NATO Communications and Information Agency is responsible for developing the NATO Ballistic Missile Defence Command and Control capability. Nations volunteer their missile defence systems or sensors, and the NCI Agency is using a “system-of-systems" approach to link their contributions together.