NATO Response Force works to improve communications

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Representatives from 26 NATO nations met during the first week of May for NATO Response Force Exercise Allied Reach '07 at Allied Air Component Command Headquarters in Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

NATO commanders and other senior leaders attended the exercise that examined the command and control, logistics and training of the NATO Response Force at the strategic and operational levels, and focused on communications.
Communication is key to military operations, and is a challenge facing the NATO Response Force, called NRF, when it deploys for training or operations having to deal with different languages and computer systems. 

The responsibility for achieving interoperability in communications between multiple nations was given to the NATO Communication and Information Systems Services Agency led by German Lt. Gen. Ulrich Wolf.

"Although we're officially a NATO agency, we operate like a military command," said General Wolf. "Each of my two signal battalions takes its turn in assuming the lead for CIS support to the NRF."

The 1st NATO Signal Battalion in Maastricht, near Joint Force Command Brunssum, currently has the lead for NRF support. The battalion is on five days notice to move in the event the NRF is activated.

The NRF connects into NATO's networks through "points of presence," which provides a connection into the NATO network for telephone, secure and non-secure data services. Users connected to a point of presence can use their e-mail, Web and other day-to-day tools as if they were in a nondeployed headquarters.

"To do this we need equipment that is modular, scaleable, and easily transportable in transit cases that can be loaded onto a C-130 Hercules or C-160 Transall aircraft, or into medium-sized vans," the NCSA director said. "My people designed a system using commercial off-the-shelf equipment that meets all of these requirements."

The result is the Limited Interim NRF CIS Capability, called LINC. The LINC has all elements required to run a computer and telephone network including servers, workstations, monitors, keyboards, routers, fiber optic switches and cables, cryptographic equipment to keep the network secure, and portable satellite terminals.

"It fits together like a jigsaw puzzle and is powered either by regular power where available or by its portable generator," General Wolf said. "I have put five LINCs on standby for NRF support. A major LINC has the equipment to handle up to 125 users while a minor LINC can support up to 24 users."

The NRF used the LINC during NATO's disaster relief operation in Pakistan following the earthquake in 2005 until the end of the mission in early 2006. It was also used as the communication backbone for NATO's NRF Exercise Steadfast Jaguar on the Cape Verde Islands in Africa in June.

"Even in those harsh environmental conditions, the LINC proved to be the right CIS solution for deployed operations," General Wolf said.

NCSA also provided one LINC in support of the Latvian Joint Armed Forces Headquarters during the NATO Summit in Riga in November.

(Courtesy of the Allied Command Operations Public Information Office, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe)

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