Building the bigger picture
Allied and Partner Nations share information, but there are limits to what they share based on legal restrictions and other complicating factors, explained VADM Johnstone.
Nations, businesses and other stakeholders interested in security may not be able to share all their information, but they may be able to share some of it, and this can add up to a better overall picture of daily activities at sea.
"So what I'm trying to do is build, with [the Agency's] help, data systems that allow them to share 5% of their national picture or 10% of their national picture. So little data, big difference.
By giving us that 5%-10% times 5 or times 6, we have 100% if not 200% better situational awareness than we would ever have normally.
And then that allows us to task other navies, the French the Spanish, the Italians, the Brits, the Americans, to go and plug the holes which we don't have the facility at the moment.
So rather than giving warning times or stuff like that, what NCI Agency does is allows us to change culture and change behavior."
Cooperating for safer Seas
Operation Sea Guardian, which was created at this year's Warsaw Summit, is an example of NATO's renewed focus on the maritime domain, with Allied Nations providing ships to conduct a number of maritime security operational tasks in the Mediterranean.
It succeeded Operation Active Endeavour which saw NATO ships patrolling the Mediterranean and monitoring shipping to help deter, defend, disrupt and protect against terrorist activity in the region.
Sea Guardian kicked off in November 2016 with three NATO ships and two submarines – the Italian frigate ITS Aviere, the Bulgarian frigate BGS Verni, the Turkish frigate TCG Gemlik, the Greek submarine HS Papanikolis and the Spanish submarine ESPS Mistral – conducting the first patrols in the central Mediterranean.
The Operation covers a broader range of tasks, and is currently providing support to maritime situational awareness and to counter-terrorism at sea, as well as contributing to maritime security capacity-building.
"I see Sea Guardian as almost Sea Guardian 1.0. We now need to build in Nations' confidence, get in more capability and technology – that's where NCI Agency comes in – so we can prove the value of what we are doing.
We need to show that there is a demand signal for a Sea Guardian 2.0 which will give more freedoms, more strengths, more everything, and allow us to operate in the Mediterranean."
VADM Johnstone believes that Sea Guardian could set a new standard for collaboration in the maritime domain which could then be applied to MARCOM's whole Area of Responsibility.
This would have the advantage of seeing the navies of Allied and Partner Nations "all talking the same language" and ready to assist when a situation arises.
This sort of interoperability would reinforce partnerships with the European Union, such as the recent cooperation between the EU's border management agency Frontex and NATO in the Aegean Sea.
"An example of where MARCOM and the NCI Agency worked together very well and moved with speed was when we were asked by the North Atlantic Council to go into the Aegean. Within 18 hours we deployed task groups into the Aegean, we moved them from other parts of the world to cover and we took some precautionary steps but the thing that limited us was our ability to talk to FRONTEX and the ability to talk to NGOs and whatever.
And NCI Agency was very quick in supporting us with laptops that allowed us to talk to FRONTEX on their least restricted communication circuits and talk to the EU.
Now that worked really quickly, and because of the work that NCI Agency did and the work that my guys did here at MARCOM, we could have linked up with FRONTEX's most secure sites within days if not weeks."