LONDON – As countries increasingly pursue multidomain operations, NATO can play an important role in creating an ecosystem to experiment with information sharing, industry experts said.
Establishing a common data standard that avoids being constrictive may be the real challenge, they said.
The Ukraine war has reaffirmed the vital importance of enabling militaries to communicate faster, more efficiently and safely with each other. More countries have committed to developing such capabilities, including the U.S. military, which in its 2024 fiscal budget request allocated $1.4 billion for Joint All-Domain Command and Control, or JADC2, projects.
Similarly, the U.K. has placed multi-domain fusion and interoperability at the heart of its military vision, as underlined in its Integrated Operating Concept 2025. The plan foresees the capabilities of each branch across all five domains functioning “as a seamlessly integrated force,” with the government and key partners.
When asked what their ideal common data plan would entail, during a panel hosted by Defense News on Sept 14. at the DSEI exhibition in London, experts highlighted two perspectives partners should adopt in thinking about information sharing.
The first data-centric view allows for information to be seen as a fixed asset, regardless of the system that uses it. The second, an allies-first approach, helps to guide interconnectivity among partner nations. A number of obstacles remain before either be achieved, the experts said.
“More experimentation is needed as we have not yet grasped how best to share data and which is more valuable and necessary [between partners] to have these integrated operations occur,” according to Christine Harbison, executive vice president at Mercury Systems, a U.S. developer of computer hardware and software products for the defense and aerospace industries.
A role for NATO?
One of the ways industry experts agreed on is that NATO could have a valuable role in enabling forces to come together through exercises or events to share successes and create more opportunities for innovation as well as trust.
Yet, the discussion around whether the alliance should be the one to set a common data standard or if this should be left to individual states is intricate, they said.
“If we see it as a sort of body that everyone can shoot at, then that would provide industry with at least something to strive for,” said James Waddington, director of the U.K. defense portfolio at U.S. defense contractor Leidos. “But, at the same time, it must not constrain the innovation.”
What may be too constraining for member states, he added, is if they were told that they cannot produce anything unless it met that standard.
“NATO is a big organization, with lots of different nations who are going to have different ideas as well,” Waddington said.
Elisabeth Gosselin-Malo is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. She covers a wide range of topics related to military procurement and international security, and specializes in reporting on the aviation sector. She is based in Milan, Italy.