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05 16 2022

Agency experts provide secure communications during NATO exercise

For the past few months, the NATO Communications and Information Agency (NCI Agency) has been planning, preparing and testing the communication networks and systems that will be used by the NATO Response Force (NRF) in 2023.

This preparation will come together at NATO's largest communications and information exercise, Steadfast Cobalt, which begins 16 May 2022.

Agency experts provide secure communications during NATO exercise

Photo caption: These images are sourced from a previous edition of Steadfast Cobalt.

At Steadfast Cobalt, 34 units and headquarters from the NATO Command Structure and from participating NATO Member Countries will test that they can interconnect their services over a single network to communicate and conduct missions as the NATO Response Force. The NRF is deployed to respond to crises or incidents, therefore its mission network is one of NATO's critical networks.

The NATO CIS Group (NCISG) will be leading the exercise from Joint Force Command in Naples, Italy and Bydgoszcz, Poland. Approximately 1,000 troops from participating NRF 2023 Nations will have taken part in the preparation and execution of the exercise and will be joining the mission environment virtually from their peacetime locations.

"From start to finish, the Agency plays a pivotal role in setting up the NRF mission network," said Andres Bulk, the NCI Agency's Interoperability Test Director for the exercise. "The Agency ensures the effectiveness of this critical network, allowing the NRF Commander to command and control his forces."

The Interoperability Test Director's team have created test plans for the units and headquarters, covering more than 8,000 test cases in total.

Over 280 Agency staff and experts contributed to the planning, preparation and execution of the month-long exercise. The Agency also provides the Mission Network Service Management Authority, which designs a plan for, and oversees, how NATO and national networks will interconnect into the mission network. Using the Federated Mission Networking (FMN) Framework, the Service Management Authority sets the rules and processes that ensure that the participating Nations can all be connected on a single mission network.

Federation allows NATO, national and multinational units to join together on one comprehensive mission network, while retaining the ownership of their own networks. This supports interoperability between Nations and ensures that the NRF Commander is able to communicate with both NRF combat units and joint headquarters. The Agency will also maintain the mission network after the exercise is complete, ensuring that it receives any necessary maintenance and updates that it may require.

"The network created at Steadfast Cobalt will be used to support the preparation of the next NRF rotation and will be on standby as part of the force in 2023. It will be used if the NRF is activated in 2023 for a NATO-led mission," said Nicholas Lambert, the NRF Service Management Authority team lead.

The NCI Agency will also be providing a tactical communications team that will support exercise participants during the verification phase of the exercise.

"The advantage of this year's exercise happening remotely is that we get to test the tactical communications and satellite communications and get as close to real life as possible," said Joseph Murray, the Agency's Tactical Communications Test Director for the exercise.

The results from the overall exercise will be used to prepare for future editions of Steadfast Cobalt, as they provide a comprehensive review of the exercise and opportunities for improvement.

Steadfast Cobalt is one of the many exercises that strengthens interoperability within NATO Nations. The exercise highlights the Agency's ability to successfully collaborate with other NATO bodies while providing, implementing and maintaining vital technologies in support of NATO's ambitious agenda.