Nurturing NATO's transatlantic bond might never have been as important as it is today. With the US administration re-positioning itself on the geopolitical stage, and a growing number of threats such as cyber and terrorist attacks affecting North America and Europe equally, the Alliance needs to stand united.
The NCI Agency's CIS Support Unit in Norfolk, Virginia helps reinforce the transatlantic bond by ensuring that Allied Command Transformation (ACT), NATO's headquarters in the United States, is connected to its overseas counterparts at all times.
Norfolk is one of three locations (apart from Mons and Brussels in Belgium) where the Agency has also established a Strategic Partnership Office. The small office, which represents the Agency in the political arena of ACT, works alongside the local CIS Support Unit (CSU) staff to provide a coherent Agency presence for North America.
The American headquarters, driving transformation
ACT is one of two Strategic Commands in NATO, the other being Allied Command Operations, located in Mons, Belgium. ACT promotes and leads many initiatives designed to transform NATO's military structure, its forces, capabilities and doctrine. Allied Command Transformation's main responsibilities include education, training and exercises, as well as conducting experiments to assess new concepts, and promote interoperability throughout the Alliance. ACT is the only permanent NATO headquarters outside of Europe and the sole NATO headquarters in North America.
Multitude of customers
While CSU Norfolk is recognized for supporting ACT, an often overlooked fact is that the unit also provides capabilities to a host of external customers. "The biggest misconception is that CSU Norfolk's sole purpose is to support the ACT Headquarters. Although, this is a major part of the workload, the unit is also the Agency's technical footprint in North America. We provide support to a multitude of national customers in the US and Canada," said Phil May, Head of Infrastructure Management at CSU Norfolk.
What is a CSU?
CIS Support Units (CSU) are small divisions made up mostly of technical experts. Their mission is to provide Information, Communications and Technology (ICT) services to the assigned NATO unit, uninterrupted and of a high standard. This means, they are located all over the Alliance, from Norfolk, US, through Lisbon, Portugal, to Stavanger, Norway. They make sure that NCI Agency's NATO customers have technical representation at their location, at all times.
The unit's support to ACT ranges from providing subject matter expertise and creating safe environments for innovation and experimentation, to its cyber team providing expert guidance on cyber security threats, trends and initiatives.
However, the CSU's role does not stop there. It has an important part to play in North America's busy military calendar: it connects participants and locations during exercises. In this, the unit has a reach beyond ACT Headquarters and provides vital support to 19 US and seven Canadian elements ensuring their connection to NATO, including extensive support to the US Navy fleet during training and exercises.
A strategic link
Utilizing its geographic location alongside ACT and key national and multinational entities in North America, the American Strategic Partnership Office provides the Agency's unique perspective on transformational activities affecting the Alliance, like enhanced education, interoperability and future challenges.
What is a Strategic Partnership Office?
The Strategic Partnership Offices provide a bi-directional gateway to interact between supplier and customer. From a formal Strategic Partnership perspective, they are responsible for relationship management; an enduring, day-to-day process to manage expectations, facilitating conflict resolution, and representing the Agency's interests. More broadly, they provide a 'one-stop' NCI Agency presence dedicated for each of the customer groups and act as a trusted advocate for both supplier and customer.
Reinforcing the Agency's presence with a small Strategic Partnership cell in Brussels and at the two Strategic Commands is an indication of how important it is to sustain and further develop relationships with these key partners. While the CSU is making sure that ACT's day-to-day business runs flawlessly, the Strategic Partnership Office looks ahead to inform current and future decisions. "We are an intelligence gateway between the Agency and the Command, a strategic representation of the Agency in NATO's US headquarters," says Strategic Partnership Officer Virginie Viscardy. "From enhanced education, training, and exercises programmes, to engaging with ACT senior leadership, essentially representing the Agency's General Manager, we are responsible for reinforcing the transatlantic bond through close cooperation."
The NCI Agency's Norfolk staff not only makes sure that the Transatlantic Command is connected to Europe and to other partners via cables and through routers with the support of CSU Norfolk, but on the strategic level as well, thanks to the relentless work of the Strategic Partnership Office. Driving NATO transformation is a complex task. Being online and connected is the first step to do it well.