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05 5 2023

NCI Agency supports NATO Response Force 2024 preparations during exercise Steadfast Cobalt

From 20 March to 5 May 2023, NATO Communications and Information Agency (NCI Agency) experts participated in NATO's largest annual Communications and Information Systems exercise, Steadfast Cobalt 2023.

The Agency supported the kick-start of the preparations of the NATO Response Force (NRF) rotation that will be on standby in 2024.

The aim of exercise Steadfast Cobalt is to validate and verify communications and information systems (CIS) connectivity among participating NRF units, ensuring that the Force is ready to deploy, communicate and operate if activated for a NATO-led mission in 2024.

NCI Agency supports NATO Response Force 2024 preparations during exercise Steadfast Cobalt

The NRF is a highly ready and technologically advanced multinational force made up of land, air, maritime and Special Operations Forces components that the Alliance can deploy quickly, wherever needed. In response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, NATO is prepared to deploy high-readiness elements of the NRF in a deterrence and defence role.

Much of the interoperability achieved during the exercise is based on the NATO-led Federated Mission Networking (FMN) framework. During Steadfast Cobalt, a Mission Network federation of the systems provided by the NATO Command Structure and the multinational and national units and headquarters that make up the NRF 2024 is established. The interoperability of the participating NRF units is then verified through the testing of data exchanges and sustained communication among joint and component headquarters and combat units of the NRF from dispersed sites across Europe

"We are grateful for the effort of NATO Allies and Partner Nations that are affiliated with FMN and for their adherence to its processes. FMN provides us with a baseline of de-risked systems that now go a long way to realising the vision of Day-Zero interoperability," said Nicholas Lambert, the Agency's NRF Service Management Authority team lead.

Over 280 subject matter experts from across the NCI Agency were central to the planning of the federated services, preparing all of the NATO-owned equipment for both the static and deployed elements of the exercise. NCI Agency staff also operated and monitored all of the services provided, resolving incidents and managing changes as they arose.

"The NRF operates in dynamic and often hostile environments. Verification and validation help identify and mitigate potential vulnerabilities, ensuring that CIS services can operate reliably and securely under various conditions. This helps ensure that the NRF mission network is capable of performing its mission-critical functions in a reliable and secure manner," explained Andres Bulk, NCI Agency's Interoperability Test Director.

In addition to the CIS services validation, the Agency tested tactical communications that crucial for the NRF to conduct their missions. Through its NATO Integrated Mobile Services Centre, the Agency validated NATO and NRF Units' capability to forward deploy and provide robust interoperable Ultra High Frequency (UHF) Satellite Communications.

"Our forward deployable Out of Area Channel Controller provides NATO with the unique capability to extend UHF channel control that would normally only be located on fixed NATO SATCOM sites, to forward deployed sites enabling rapid respond to worldwide strategic and tactical operations," explained Joseph Murray, NCI Agency's UHF Service Delivery Manager.

Some 32 NATO Command Structure and NATO Force Structure units and headquarters participated in this year's exercise, involving an estimated 1,000 personnel at sites and units across Europe including both military and civilian.

By the end of the exercise, the mission network had all been tested and certified, giving the commanders of the NATO Response Force the confidence that their force is well on the way to becoming mission ready, and able to deploy.