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Alliance Future Surveillance and Control (AFSC)

In the words of military strategist Carl von Clausewitz, “War is the realm of uncertainty; three quarters of the factors on which action in war is based are wrapped in a fog of greater or lesser uncertainty”. Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) is a critical component to dispel the ‘fog of war’ – and in times of hybrid warfare, the ‘fog of peace’ as well. Accurate intelligence can provide a decisive advantage. Indeed, Napoleon once said that “war is 90% information”. At the most fundamental level, the goal of ISR is to collect data and information and transform it into intelligence that informs military or political decision-making. While surveillance is the persistent monitoring of a target, for example NATO airspace, reconnaissance is a more targeted activity in order to answer particular questions, such as tracking down a vessel of interest in the Mediterranean Sea. Data can come from any source in any of the military domains (air, cyber, land, sea, and space), for example from human intelligence, airborne systems, or satellites systems. As such, airborne ISR is only one element of the total ISR network. Gathered information must be processed to produce intelligence, which can then be disseminated and utilised to make informed decisions, prevent surprises, command and protect military forces, and engage the enemy. Since 1982, the Alliance has operated a fleet of AWACS aircraft through NATO’s Airborne Early Warning and Control Force (NAEW&C Force). The NAEW&C Force, NATO’s largest collaborative effort, is one of the few military assets owned and operated by the Alliance. With their long-range radars and passive sensors, the 16 AWACS aircraft can detect air and ground targets over long distances. AWACS’ wide range of missions includes air policing, support of counter-terrorism efforts, non-combatant evacuations, embargoes, initial entry, crisis response, and show-of-force activities. While AWACS has not been designed as an ISR platform, it can support ISR operations and conduct air, maritime, and ground surveillance of areas the size of Central Europe. The employment of airborne ISR in the 2011 Libyan operation revealed numerous deficiencies. ISR platforms with full-motion video capability were not available for the first five days of the operation. As a result, pilots struggled to distinguish the rebels from the forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi and to identify rapidly moving targets, which are much harder to strike than fixed targets such as weapons storages. Especially after the pro-Gaddafi forces abandoned their conventional posts, differentiating between the different military factions proved nearly impossible without persistent ISR assets that could identify patterns of movements. The lack of ISR capabilities also inhibited accurate battle damage assessment and led to strikes on targets that had already been eliminated. The uncertainty about availability of assets and their late arrival in the theatre stopped the planners use of aircraft efficiently. Moreover, the limited availability of sufficient infrastructure for processing, exploitation, and dissemination underscored the importance of secure, integrated communication across the forces connected to an integrated network to process and analyse intelligence. Finally, as many as 80% of ISR missions over Libya were covered by the United States, with France and the United Kingdom providing most of the rest. The Alliance Future Surveillance and Control (AFSC) initiative is about how NATO will continue to effectively monitor the skies over Allied territory when its current fleet of Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft reach the end of their service life in 2035. As a result of the 2016 Warsaw Summit, the Alliance began the process of defining options for a follow-on capability for NATO’s AWACS when the last plane will be grounded in 2039. At the Summit, Allies also agreed that they “will further improve our strategic anticipation by enhancing our situational awareness, particularly in the east and south and in the North Atlantic”. They argued that the “ability to understand, track and, ultimately, anticipate, the actions of potential adversaries through Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities and comprehensive intelligence arrangements is increasingly important”. To plan for the required follow-on capability, at the 2016 Summit in Warsaw, NATO launched Alliance Future Surveillance and Control specifically to develop options for future NATO surveillance and control capabilities. AFSC is managed by a project office hosted by the NATO Support and Procurement Agency located in Luxembourg. Through this initiative, NATO is fundamentally redefining how it will conduct surveillance, and command and control in the future. In order to take account of future threats and emerging technologies, NATO is working with experts from science, technology, industry and the military fields to encourage innovative solutions. NATO is studying a range of new technologies and different options to replace the AWACS aircraft – NATO’s “eyes in the sky.” These could include different combinations of systems in the air, on land, at sea, in space, and in cyber space. NATO’s AFSC requirements could be met through a combination of national, multinational, and NATO-funded solutions. NATO has agreed high-level requirements to define what is needed from the future systems and to ensure Allied capabilities are able to operate as a fully integrated force. In this way, NATO is helping to inform future decisions by Allies for their long-term planning and acquiring new capabilities. In February 2017, the North Atlantic Council (NAC) initiated the AFSC Concept Stage with NSPA as the lead NATO agency to conduct studies and develop technical concepts. Through this work, NSPA is evaluating new technologies and exploring a system of systems approach including potential combinations of air, ground, maritime, and space systems working together to collect and share information. These studies will eventually help to inform decisions by NATO, individual Allies or multinational groups to acquire new systems in the future. All 30 NATO Allies currently cooperate in the planning and resourcing of this program. The future AFSC capability will have to provide Surveillance and Control over the full spectrum of benign, permissive, contested and denied operational environments, which may be austere, cluttered or congested, while conducting missions tailored to the requirements of the particular operation. Whilst these capabilities are diverse and complex, they can be grouped and summarized in three categories as follows:
  1. to collect and disseminate information on objects of interest in all domains in order to identify and track those objects
  2. to establish real-time situational awareness and generate common operational pictures of areas of interest
  3. to control and coordinate forces to deliver effects in areas of responsibility
The Capability required from an AFSC solution has additionally been categorized as follows:
  1. Core: Those elements that provide evolutionary progress from the ability to fill the capability gap that the NATO E-3 leaves to a future NATO Surveillance and Control capability able to connect, integrate and function with currently planned and existing capabilities in 2035.
  2. Tier 1 and Tier 2: Elements in Tier 1 and 2 will ensure that the forces in the timeframe beyond 2035 are able to operate as a fully integrated network force in a domain-agnostic manner and take full advantage of technological progress in distributed networking, data and information usage and storage, and decision making developments. The distinction between Tier 1 and 2 is in technological maturity and in the requirement to conduct missions in all domains. It is anticipated that this construct will allow a spiral development of capabilities and introduction of systems, processes and tools in a step-wise acquisition and procurement processs.
At the end of March 2020, six Allied companies’ consortia delivered concept studies, providing initial views on how NATO could meet the AFSC requirements by 2035.
  1. Airbus Defence and Space;
  2. Boeing, with Indra, Inmarsat, Leonardo, and Thales;
  3. General Atomics;
  4. L3Harris with 3SDL, Deloitte Consulting, Hensoldt Sensors, IBM, Musketeer Solutions, Synergeticon and Videns;
  5. Lockheed Martin;
  6. MDA Systems, with General Dynamics Mission Systems
NATO assessed these concepts in order to define a more narrow scope for AFSC before the end of 2020. The Risk Reduction and Feasibility Study (RRFS) activities of the Concept Stage will bring forward a small number of High Level Technical Concepts and develop them at lower levels (by way of separate contracts with different Contractors). Development will include refinement of the high level concepts, followed by the elaboration and specification of lower-level concepts, architectures, systems, sub-systems and services in sufficient detail to allow meaningful assessment of the feasibility of implementing a solution on that basis – together with meaningful assessment of the associated risks and costs. NATO’s “alliance future surveillance and control solutions working group” identified a concept for their preferred method of modernizing AWACS capability to meet threats within the 2025-2035 timeframe. Their concept includes a modernized E-3 fleet capable of leveraging the use of UASs as sensor and communication extenders. The UAV would be designed to extend sensor and communication coverage for airspace BMC2 weapon systems such as the AWACS, JSTARS, CRC, or USMC’s Tactical Air Operations Center. Due to the array of electronic equipment required for BMC2 this platform is likely to be on a similar scale to a RQ-4 Global Hawk or larger. The BMC2 Extension will likely need to integrate multiple types of sensors and communications equipment in order to fulfill its mission. The UAV would need to be equipped with radar, SIGINT, voice and data communications, radio relay, TDLs, sensor processing, and subsystem supervisory control with autonomous decision-making. Supervisory control with autonomous capabilities would allow the platform to adjust and adapt its various subsystems to environmental or situation changes. In 2021, NATO launched a call for a second round of more detailed studies to assess the feasibility of the proposed concepts. Starting in 2023, NATO will analyse the proposed AFSC concept against the Alliance’s inventory of capabilities to help determine where new developments may be needed. On 13 September 2021 L3Harris Technologies announced its five team members to bid on the Alliance Future Surveillance and Control (AFSC) program. The team is developing “system-of-systems” options for surveillance and control capabilities across all domains for NATO’s AFSC program. These options provide better intelligence and more responsive control by enabling sensors and systems to share information in air, ground, maritime or space. The L3Harris team includes defense and security electronics pioneer Hensoldt (Germany); the global, technology-forward solutions company Jacobs (United Kingdom); ground/maritime battle management and command and control leader General Dynamics (Canada & Italy); modeling and simulation synthetic environment leader CAE (Canada); and air command and control (C2), tactical data links and satellite connectivity from global communications leader Viasat (United States). Nine companies across North America and Europe formed a partnership in November 2021 that seeks to take part in NATO’s Alliance Future Surveillance and Control program. The Atlantic Strategic Partnership for Advanced All-domain Resilient Operations will bid to conduct risk reduction and feasibility studies to help inform NATO’s future tactical surveillance, command and control capabilities, Airbus, which co-lead the alliance with Northrop Grumman, said 09 November 2021. ASPAARO is comprised of Airbus, Lockheed Martin and MDA – the three companies that delivered a high-level technical concept for AFSC in 2020 – as well as BAE Systems, Northrop, Kongsberg, GMV, Exence and IBM.

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Page last modified: 09-11-2021 16:53:51 ZULU