2020 was a challenging year, as we continued to provide deterrence and security for our Alliance in the face of the CoVID-19 Pandemic. I was impressed by the way all of us continually found innovative ways to work effectively together while remaining socially distanced. This is not the way we have traditionally functioned, neither within our militaries nor in the Alliance, but we were able to leverage emerging technologies and continue to advance NATO’s Air and Space Power to remain the strongest combined force in the world.
With the continuing separation we face while our nations pursue the medical answers to this pandemic, it is difficult to coordinate and make decisions rapidly without the face-to-face coordination we are used to. However, technology does not feel the effects of a pandemic virus and continues to evolve at ever-increasing rates. To keep pace with more capable and faster technology, we have to be able to make decisions faster. When decision-making bodies are prevented from coming together, rapid decision-making becomes dependent on the rapid sharing of information across networks, and the effective use of virtual meeting capabilities that enable us to assess, decide and act with speed.
Speed of Relevance
Speed is perhaps the most cross-cutting political and military requirement for ensuring the security and defence of our Alliance. The contemporary global environment in which we live and work presents our nations and NATO with a rapidly evolving set of challenges and threats, enabled by innovative new technologies that can create effects quickly and in some cases with very little warning. In order to counter and defend against these threats or better yet deter the actors who pose them, we must be able to collectively leverage emerging technologies, network them together, make decisions and apply power across all domains at the ‘Speed of Relevance’. Simply having more and better military tools is not enough, if those tools and forces can be disrupted, degraded, deceived or delayed and cannot be employed in time to deliver decisive effects.
Speed is a core tenet of Air Power. It allows us to cover great distances in a short period of time to mass forces at the most effective point, or to react to incoming threats quickly to deter or neutralize them. This also enables us to provide an umbrella of Air Superiority over an area of operations that enables freedom of manoeuvre for Land and Maritime forces as well as for Air Mobility operations such as Airdrop, Air Refuelling and logistics support. Air Superiority, or in many cases Air Supremacy, has been a security blanket over Allied forces for decades, with friendly forces able to conduct operations free from almost any threat of enemy interference from above. However, our great historical track record does not guarantee this will continue to be the case. Right now, we see our peer competitors investing heavily in and gaining ground on their ability to contest the Alliance’s control of the Air domain, thus enhancing their own ability to threaten our forces from the air as well.
This evolution in our Air Power tools necessitates an adaptation of our warfare model and the way the Alliance approaches conflicts in the future. We are exploring the concept of Joint All Domain Operations (JADO) to help us better harmonize our efforts to optimize the effects generated by our forces across all domains by integrating their planning, and synchronizing their execution at a tempo and level of flexibility sufficient to effectively accomplish the mission. This level of complex execution will drive the requirement to be able to provide robust, resilient Command and Control (C2) across all domains in the form of Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2).
Networking and Data Sharing
As the ongoing introduction of advanced generation capabilities like the F-35 into NATO’s national inventories shows, we are not resting on our laurels, but are continuing to evolve and integrate faster systems of our own. However, having faster shooters only gives us an advantage when we are able to coordinate data from multiple sensors into usable targeting information and transmit it to the shooters in time to be relevant. These advanced Air capabilities are highly dependent on Space-based data, products and services that provide situational awareness, indications and warnings, communications, navigation capability, and more with great precision and at high rates of speed. Overhead sensors allow us to see and sense at far greater ranges than the terrestrial horizon allows for surface-based or even airborne platforms. This also contributes to better informed, faster, or at least earlier decision-making.
I want to point out that this is not just an Air and Space problem; it involves threats across not only the operational domains of Air, Land, Maritime, Space and Cyberspace, but also within the human, political, economic and information environments. So as we look at training and equipping our existing force structure to be interoperable and ready to employ rapidly; at integrating emerging technologies into that force structure in ways that multiply the capabilities of all generations of systems; and being able to detect and defend against a fast-moving military adversary, we must be cognizant that there are non-military elements that have roles to play and these elements must operate at the speed of relevance as well in order for our Alliance to succeed in its three core tasks.
These non-military elements are just as dependent on the Space-based communications, navigation, timing, weather data and other products and services as our militaries. Increasing civil use of and access to Space highlights the need to not only deconflict activities through shared awareness for safety reasons, but also to secure the Space-based assets that provide all of the services already noted and secure the networks over which they transmit information. The recognition of the growing presence in Space and the dependence on its capabilities resulted in the Alliance recognizing Space as a fifth operational domain just over a year ago in December 2019. Several of our nations have already begun to stand up separate Space Forces, and in order to ensure the coordination of needed support to NATO, an Initial Implementation Plan was approved in 2020 that included direction for the creation of a NATO Space Centre, which NATO Defence Ministers agreed will be co-located with Allied Air Command at Ramstein Air Base1. This Space Centre will be the focal point in the European Theatre for coordinating Space support from nations to the Alliance and for developing advice and options on Space matters for the Supreme Allied Commander Europe and for the North Atlantic Council.
Information Protection and Sharing
In order to take full advantage of the impressive Space capabilities of our spacefaring NATO nations, we have to be able to protect the platforms and secure Cyberspace and the Electromagnetic Spectrum (EMS) through which they collect and disseminate information. Securing Cyberspace and competing effectively in the information environment through assured access to the EMS are both substantial issues in their own rights, and are areas where we need to get stronger or in some cases even catch up to our near-peer competitors. How we do this is already the subject of other ongoing studies and efforts, but for now we need to recognize that these two new domains and the EMS are of paramount importance for the Command and Control (C2) of military operations across all domains, and also key to the sharing of information that supports trust, cooperation and rapid decision-making in the political sphere to approve those operations when necessary.
NATO will continue to have the most advanced military tools in the world and the best-trained and educated people to employ them so that we can maintain Air and Space Superiority over any Battlespace. This nice military toolkit will not be enough unless we ensure we have the doctrine, standardization agreements, and political policies in place to support the rapid employment of Air and Space Power when needed, and to guarantee our communication and C2 networks are hardened and resilient enough to enable data analysis, information-sharing, decision-making and the distribution of orders at the ‘Speed of Relevance’.