Interoperability Through Innovation

By Commander

By Cdr



, US


Joint Air Power Competence Centre (2012-2015)

 November 2013
Subject Areas: Close Air Support


As the war in Afghanistan comes to its pre-planned conclusion after 13 years, nations will be faced with decisions that will shape the future of warfare. The probable reduction of defence spending over the next decade will undoubtedly affect force structures, emerging weapons systems and combat readiness. International resolve to work together, build capacity and educate leaders will be tested. Efficient and effective Air-Land integration and application of Joint Fires offer opportunities to achieve the greatest combat effectiveness while minimising risk to future NATO missions. Leaders must continue building upon existing relationships to strengthen partnerships while maintaining the resident knowledge and core competencies acquired over the last decade.

Today, NATO is striving to do more by pooling and sharing Member States’ military capabilities. They are doing this by exploiting civilian-military synergies, taking advantage of economies of scale, avoiding duplication of efforts and encouraging specialisation. Pooling and sharing is designed to enhance the defence capabilities of Member States, individually and as a whole. Pooling and sharing military capabilities can be a sensitive exercise, but nations have recognised that it is better to have excellent collective capabilities than unsustainable or unattainable national ones.1

However, there is a tendency to focus only on the tangible pooling and sharing of physical hardware. Most importantly, NATO should look at the most valuable military asset of all – people and their ability to innovate and communicate.


Imagine a world where aviators can fly with unlimited access to range space, without concern for the cost of fuel or ordnance … can plan without concern for availability of red air or support strikers … can launch without concern for weather … and can operate without concern for maintenance issues and without concern for the possibility of a mishap. Does this sound too good to be true? Let me re-introduce you to the world of Modelling and Simulation (M&S).

The advancement of M&S is nothing short of phenomenal and is not just limited to aviation. NATO Forward Air Controllers (FACs) and Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs) can use M&S to train in virtual terrain with unlimited Close Air Support (CAS) assets. Warships can train in virtual oceans to practice navigation drills and war at sea exercises. Almost any training event across the Air, Sea and Land domains can be nearly replicated, augmented and / or enhanced by M&S.

Many would argue that M&S provides not only better training opportunities, more frequently, than live events it is also far more cost effective. Simulators offer an outstanding tool to introduce and refine processes and repetitive tasks especially when assets, ranges, logistics or funding is simply not available or too expensive. That being said, it must be acknowledged that simulators cannot replace the psychological and physiological factors associated with live flying or manoeuvring through the mud … yet. Aircrew and controllers must have the requisite hours in the air or on the ground to build confidence, experience and required skills to be credible leaders – there is no argument there. However, individual communities need to determine the proper balance between performing live events and training which can be augmented and / or replaced by the virtual world. The Joint Fire Support Executive Steering Committee has, for example, accredited simulators that can replace Type I, II & III CAS live controls to include day / night and laser target designation. However, nations need to have a solid understanding of the M&S architecture to fully take advantage of the available benefits.


There was always the kid down the block who had the latest and greatest in video gaming systems. Today’s frontrunners include the Nintendo Wii, Sony Playstation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360 systems; I know because my 9 year old son will ask for his requisite allotment of gaming time on a daily basis. Imagine the anguish and frustration if I gave him an Xbox 360 game for his Nintendo Wii gaming system – pretty obvious right? The virtual game (the data architecture) needs to match; otherwise he doesn’t get to play. Such is also the case with the M&S architecture as it applies to Distributed Mission Operations (DMO).

Some examples of available M&S architectures include:

Distributed Interactive Simulation is an IEEE standard for conducting real-time platform-level wargaming across multiple host computers and is used worldwide.

High-level Architecture is a general purpose architecture for distributed computer simulation systems. Using High-level Architecture (HLA), computer simulations can interact (that is, to communicate data, and to synchronise actions) with other computer simulations regardless of the computing platforms.

Test and Training Enabling Architecture is designed to promote integrated testing and simulation-based acquisition through the use of a large-scale, distributed, real-time synthetic environment, which integrates testing, training, simulation, and high-performance computing technologies, distributed across many facilities, using a common architecture.

Understanding the type of architecture required and that other potential partners have is vital in accomplishing successful DMO. Simulators must have the capability to link with other simulators around the world to “train like they fight”. With different architectures, inter-service and international engagement is more challenging and may even be cost or time prohibitive depending on the desired participants. Gateway systems are available to permit communication between dissimilar architectures (at additional cost) in order to link simulators together with the assistance of Distributed Mission Operations Centres (DMOC). However, depending on the system purchased, compatibility may be also an issue. It is also imperative that the presented virtual world (graphics), geo-reference grids and clocks are synonymous to enable system integration. Differences in classification levels will also be an ongoing challenge.

Testing and training activities are increasingly composed of Live, Virtual, and Constructive (LVC) distributed simulations and applications. ‘LVC’ refers to the combination of three types of distributed simulations and applications into a single distributed system:

  • Live – real, physical assets, including soldiers, aircraft, tanks, ships, and weapon systems.
  • Virtual – simulators of physical assets that provide real-world operator interfaces and humans in the loop, such as aircraft simulators, tank simulators, etc.
  • Constructive – pure simulations either controlled by human beings (called ‘semiautomated forces’), or run entirely without human intervention (called ‘closed simulations’).

It is feasible today to link virtual aircraft with other virtual aircraft around the world. It is also possible to link live aircraft with virtual aircraft and a Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) operating in a virtual ground environment with virtual or live aircraft. Virtual Flag, for example, is a real-time tactical-to-operational level event using air, land, space, cyber and maritime distributed scenarios to integrate LVC simulations and train warfighters in robust combat scenarios. Joint and coalition combat platforms are integrated from DMOC-based and worldwide-distributed operational sites. Virtual Flag is a quarterly joint DMO exercise integrating more than 600 joint warfighters sponsored by Commander, Air Combat Command in the United States.2

Help Desk

It is imperative that services (and nations) understand the baseline interoperability requirements and preferred standards. Fortunately there is help out there. Organisations such as the European Training and Simulation Association and the National Training and Simulation Association in the United States enable its members to learn, engage and interact with respective training, M&S communities. Another relevant organisation is the Simulation Interoperability Standards Organization, whose mission is to “develop, manage, maintain and promulgate user-driven Modelling and Simulation (M&S) standards that improve the technical quality and cost efficiency of M&S implementations across the world-wide community.” There are two annual events that highlight the latest in technology and Innovation in the field of M&S. The Interservice / Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference held annually in Orlando, Florida and ITEC planned in Cologne, Germany in 2014. Both forums connect representatives from the military, industry and academia and allow them to share knowledge regarding international training, education and simulation sectors.

Established organisations that have a training focus with M&S like the Air Battlespace Training Centre (ABTC) at RAF Waddington, England are an excellent source of knowledge. The ABTC has “active links with similar organisations overseas and maintains a prominent role in synthetic training research activity.”

Interoperability Opportunities

It is critical in the years ahead that services do not abandon what it means to operate jointly. On a larger scale we must not abandon coalition and international military engagement. Termination of combat operations in Afghanistan enables nations to redistribute the talents and expertise of their personnel to schoolhouses and training centres while focusing on future technologies. National Joint Air Land Organizations (JALO) or Air Ground Operation Schools (AGOS) exist in many countries to teach Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTPs) and to qualify operators. M&S offers a tremendous opportunity to create an enduring framework of international partners working together to exercise and develop both tactical and operational capabilities. The simulators procured today will affect the ability to train and integrate with other nations in the future.

We also have an opportunity within the new NATO Command Structure (NCS) and through NATO Centres Of Excellence (COEs) to support the intelligent and effective use of M&S within NATO.

“Centres Of Excellence are nationally or multi-nationally funded institutions that train and educate leaders and specialists from NATO member and partner countries, assist in doctrine development, identify lessons learned, improve interoperability and test and validate concepts through experimentation. They offer recognised expertise and experience that benefits the Alliance and supports the transformation of NATO, while avoiding duplication of assets, resources and capabilities already present within the NATO command structure.”3

NATO has an accredited air focused COE with the Joint Air Power Competence Centre (JAPCC) in Kalkar, Germany and an accredited maritime focused COE with the Combined Joint Operations from the Sea, in Norfolk, USA. There is even a NATO M&S COE located in Rome, Italy. However, a multinational COE currently does not exist in support of land focused requirements. Today, individual national AGOS and JALO struggle to meet staff manpower and training requirements as they duplicate effort on similar programs around the world as signatories of the exact same NATO Standardization Agreements and Joint Memorandums of Agreements that guide their Education and Training programs.

An International Joint Fires Centre Of Excellence (JFCOE) supporting land focused requirements, would enhance Joint Fires focused M&S activity and engagement. A recommendation – unlike current COEs which operate outside of the NCS, would be to operate the conceptual JFCOE within the NCS in order to gain and maintain the pulse of current operations and community challenges. To operate within the NCS would require NATO to relook its Training Directive specific to JTAC training, but it is worth the time and investment to capitalise on synergies between services and nations.

An opportunity exists to fuse the Warrior Preparation Centre, United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) AGOS and FAC Capabilities Section all collocated in and around Ramstein, Germany. A multi-national JFCOE would have a collective responsibility for overseeing Education and Training programs of FACs, JTACs, Joint Fires Observers and Forward Air Controllers Airborne (FAC(A)s). The proposed JFCOE could bring Joint Fires employment and development experts at the international level together and foster collaborative efforts to evaluate and train the warfighter. Up to date TTPs and best practices could also be passed expeditiously to the warfighter to be later captured in Standardization Agreements & Memorandums of Understanding. The JFCOE could also be a central hub for the coordination and awareness of national and international Joint Fires operational and tactical exercises, something that does not exist anywhere today. Of current significance, the USAFE AGOS intends to transition its schoolhouse to a multinational organisation that shares a combined vision that will better support regional training requirements and is currently offering instructor FAC / JTAC Voluntary National Contribution billets.4 The USAFE AGOS would then be staffed similar to other Memorandum of Understanding based organisations like the Tactical Leadership Programme out of Albacete, Spain or Euro- NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program out of Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas, the world’s only multi-nationally manned and managed flying training program chartered to produce combat pilots for NATO.


Commitment at the operational and tactical level accompanied with determination to work through traditional barriers to international cooperation such as language and access will improve our collective readiness in a tangible way. With M&S there is a lot of value with little risk only limited by our ability and willingness to work together. M&S is important across NATO but can be vital to the Joint Fires community. The NATO Joint Fires community also needs a JFCOE to advocate a unified and standardised position in order to facilitate required standardisation and interoperability.

‘Enhancing Defense Capabilities’, eufocus, May 2012.
USAFE-AFAFRICAlCC, Request for NATO Support of the USAFE Air Ground Operations School (AGOS), 28 May 2013.
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Joint Air Power Competence Centre (2012-2015)

Commander Tim ‘Fitz’ Fitzpatrick is currently assigned to the Combat Air Branch at the Joint Air Power Competence Centre in Kalkar, Germany as the Maritime, Carrier Ops and FAC(A) Subject Matter Expert. Commander Fitzpatrick is an F-14 Tomcat Naval Flight Officer and a 21 year veteran of the United States Navy, having flown over 2500 hours and 80 combat missions. Commander Fitzpatrick is a graduate of the US Naval Fighter Weapons School (TopGun) and served as a Strike Fighter Weapons Tactics Instructor, Forward Air Controller Airborne Instructor and Carrier Airwing Strike Lead for US Naval Air Forces, Atlantic Fleet.

Information provided is current as of November 2013

Other Articles in this Journal

Leadership Perspective

The JAPCC Interview with the Supreme Allied Commander Europe

Interview with General Breedlove, SACEUR, U.S. Air Force

Transformation & Capabilities

Forward MEDEVAC Challenges

The Italian Army Implementation Programme

Strength, Weakness, Opportunity and Threat (SWOT)

Analysis of Using Aerostats for Surveillance in Counter Terrorism

The Extended Air Defence Task Force

From Task Force to Competence Centre

Capable, Ready and Relevant

The NATO E-3A Component

Double Counting or Counting Double?

The Future of NATO’s Tanker Transport Fleet

Innovative Commercial Space Capabilities in Support of NATO’s Space Efforts and Theatre Operations


Joint Air & Space Power Conference 2013

Air Power Post-Afghanistan

NATO’s Air Strategy After Afghanistan

A Proposal for NATO’s Future Air Vision After Afghanistan

Unmanned Technology

Key to Success or Limiting Factor?

Air Power

Independent Action and Independent Effect

Education and Training (E&T) Post-Afghanistan

Is this the Dawn of Real Joint Efforts?

The Advent of the ‘Armed Drones’

Imperatives for the NATO Alliance

New Technologies

Fire, Wheel, Steam Engine and … Nanotechnology

African Relations

NATO’s Reach for Stability

F-35, The Backbone of Next Generation NATO Operations

Developing Future Force Protection Capability

Part 1: Where Might We Be Going and Where Should We Be Going?

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