By Ian Davis, NATO Watch
The largest ever test of NATO’s joint intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (JISR) capabilities took place at Ørland Air Station in Norway between 18 and 28 May.
The ten-day exercise, called Unified Vision 2014 (UV14)
, involved more than 2,000 participants from 18 NATO member states (Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.) and three partner countries (Australia, Finland and Sweden). It tested some of the most advanced command and control systems within the Alliance, including satellites, aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, naval vessels, ground sensors and human intelligence, to explore ways to fuse the multiple data in a simulated crisis situation. Rather than inundating commanders with information from different sources, the aim was to provide them with a common picture derived from multiple assets.
ISAF operations in Afghanistan have led to an unprecedented level of information sharing among Allies and partners. NATO is seeking to build on this experience and further enhance its ability to use and share data gathered by both national and collective assets. Drawing on Unified Vision 2012, also hosted by Norway, UV14 provided NATO allies and partners the opportunity to test the latest ISR procedures by employing Space, Air, Land and Maritime assets, both manned and unmanned. According to US Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Matt Biewer, UV14 Trial Manager:
This is the most ambitious trial we have ever done, bringing together the largest array of surveillance technology, equipment and personnel over a 10-day period. Instead of conducting our interoperability assessment in a lab, we have created a demanding operational environment to test the ability of our sensors, architecture and procedures to deliver intelligence capable of driving operations in the field. Many of these capabilities will be resident for the 2016 NATO Response Force and will facilitate the Alliance’s ability to quickly react to contingencies.
The ultimate objective of the trial was to suggest improvements that will bring NATO closer to increasing the readiness of the NATO Response Force (NRF) and to deliver a Joint ISR Initial Operational Capability, which it aims to achieve by the end of 2016.
Enhancing NATO’s capabilities is a major theme for the Wales Summit in September. Joint ISR is regarded as a key factor in assuring the Alliance’s strategic readiness and the success of its operations and missions. In May 2012 NATO decided to acquire an Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) system
that will give commanders a comprehensive picture of the situation on the ground using five Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
A key aspect of UV14 was the testing of NATO's AGS capability with an unarmed and unmanned US Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk - one of five collectively 'owned' by 14 NATO allies. Flying from its base at Sigonella, Italy
, the Global Hawk went through southern Europe and (for the first time
) through UK airspace into Norway. Cruising at more than 50,000 feet, well above commercial airliners (which cruise at a maximum of 40,000 feet), the Global Hawk was able to test the effectiveness of segregated Air Traffic Control (ATC) procedures. According to Air Vice Marshal Phil Osborn:
It is good to see existing airspace procedures enabling the seamless integration of remotely piloted air systems, such as the unarmed Global Hawk aircraft, within European airspace. This trial will have helped with the development of the NATO alliance ground surveillance system (AGS) and the future airspace integration of [Remotely Piloted Air Systems] RPAS.