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Article published on the Atlantic Treaty Association Website:  https://bit.ly/2HbgxvA

Facing a rapidly evolving European security environment, NATO is making steady progress towards developing its territorial ballistic missile defence capability to put in place a fully unified air command and control system by 2020, reports David Hayhurst

Recent developments in NATO’s ballistic missile defence (BMD) architecture provide excellent insight into the Alliance’s progress in implementing a fully unified air command and control system (ACCS) by the end of the decade.

ACCS is a remarkably ambitious undertaking. For the first time in its history, NATO will have a fully integrated command and control (C2) system for planning, tasking and executing all air-related operations. The world’s first – and largest, by far – C2 network of its kind will see BMD assets, developed and provided by individual Alliance members, merged into a fully integrated air and missile defence programme. Thiis will be capable of offering protection for all NATO European territories and forces, and even for out-of-area operations.

Once fully deployed, ACCS will cover 10 million square kilometres of airspace. To this end, NATO bases in Europe are very rapidly being integrated into a pan-continental network. NATO’s Combined Air Operations Centre for Northern Europe in Uedem, Germany, achieved Early Operational Capability (EOC) in January 2016. Air bases in Glons, Belgium and Lyon, France should reach that goal within a couple of years.

The NATO Allied Air Command in Ramstein, Germany, will oversee a continent-wide BMD network, including early-warning satellites, sea- and land-based radars and anti-missile installations based on ships and at air bases in three European countries.

A key element of phases two and three of the United States Department of Defense’s European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) to BMD will be provided by Aegis missile batteries, including four US Navy guided-missile destroyers based in Rota, Spain. The land-based component, Aegis Ashore, involves an SM-3 defensive missile system almost identical to ship-based systems. Progress is steady and the Aegis Ashore site at Deveselu air base in Romania was declared operational in May 2016.

Next year, the second Aegis Ashore site will open at the joint forces base in Redzikowo, Poland. Both land-based Aegis sites will provide improved coverage against short- to intermediate range missile threats, with the more advanced, faster and longer-range SM-3 missile interceptors – the Block IIA and Block IB – to be deployed at the Polish site. Both bases will be built, maintained and operated by American forces. EPAA’s fourth phase (currently scheduled for operational capability in 2020) will enhance the ability to counter medium- and intermediate range missiles and potential future ICBM threats through the deployment of the SM-3 Block IIB interceptor.

Other BMD-related systems illustrate the multinational scope of NATO operations. Since January 2013, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the US have contributed missile batteries to augment Turkey’s air defence against threats from neighbouring Syria and Iraq. Currently, Italy and Spain provide one Patriot missile battery and one ASTER SAMP/T battery each to the deployment, under the operational command of NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander.

Other allies are also developing or acquiring BMD-capable assets that could eventually be made available for NATO BMD. As of 2018, upgraded SMART-L radars with early-warning capability will be installed on four Royal Netherlands Navy air defence and command frigates, with initial operational capability planned for 2019. Full capability will enable those vessels equipped with SMART-L to detect and track ballistic missiles outside the earth’s atmosphere. The Dutch and German governments are presently discussing cooperating jointly on this project as part of their NATO BMD commitments.

NATO’s BMD-related capabilities also extend to a fully mobile defence system, which can be deployed anywhere within NATO boundaries, or outside of its area of operational responsibility. Headquartered at the air operations centre at Poggio Renatico, Italy (the first NATO site to be awarded full ACCS operational status), the Deployable Air Command and Control Centre (DACCC) comprises a suite of systems to support all aspects of the Alliance’s air C2 capability.

An integral component of the DACCC is DARS (Deployable Air Control Centre, RAP Production Centre, Sensor Fusion Post). This tactical C2 system – easily transportable by land, sea or air – has already been deployed in Latvia in late 2015. Its field testing, over 2,500km from its home base, was considered an operational and technical success – essential before DARS could be considered for a Full Operational Capability rating.