NATO Air Command and Control System (ACCS)
The NATO Air Command and Control System (ACCS) programme will provide the Alliance with a single, integrated air command and control system to manage NATO air operations in and out of the Euro-Atlantic area.
- NATO ACCS will replace a wide variety of NATO and national air systems currently fielded across the Alliance.
- It will provide a unified air command and control system, enabling NATO and its members to manage all types of air operations both over NATO European territory as well as when deployed out of area.
- Once fully deployed, NATO ACCS will cover 10 million square kilometres of airspace and interconnect over 20 military aircraft control centres.
NATO ACCS will be one of the major pillars of the NATO Integrated Air and Missile Defence System (NATINAMDS) capability aimed at safeguarding and protecting Alliance territory, populations and forces against any air and missile threat and attack.
For the first time, all NATO air operations (including air policing) will be provided with a unified system employing a single consistent and secure database.
NATO ACCS will integrate air mission control, air traffic control, airspace surveillance, airspace management, command and control (C2) resource management and force management functions among other functionalities.
The system is designed to make it easier to add functionality, make necessary upgrades and address emerging operational requirements, such as theatre missile defence.
Such operations are under the tactical command of Headquarters Allied Air Command (HQ AIRCOM), Ramstein, and will be undertaken from a range of static and deployable installations. HQ AIRCOM is supported by two Combined Air Operations Centres (CAOC) in Torrejon, Spain and in Uedem, Germany, as well as by one Deployable Air Command and Control Centre (DACCC) in Poggio Renatico, Italy.
Both CAOCs are composed of two parts. One part is a Static Air Defence Centre (SADC) responsible for air policing and the other a Deployable Air Operations Centre (D-AOC), which supports operations. The D-AOC is an element focused on the production of combat plans and the conduct of combat operations.
In July 2015, the ACCS system reached a significant milestone when NATO’s first ACCS site was activated in Poggio Renatico. On 17 June, the first ever ACCS real-life air policing event was controlled using NATO ACCS. The order to take off was sent from the CAOC located in Torrejon and was executed by two Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft controlled by the ACCS site in Poggio Renatico. Other NATO and national sites will follow in 2015 and subsequent years.
Once fully deployed, ACCS will cover 10 million square kilometres (3.8 million square miles) of airspace. It will interconnect more than 20 military aircraft control centres, providing a wide spectrum of new and modern tools to all NATO air operators, and greatly increase the effectiveness of NATO air operations.
In the future, ACCS will integrate the capabilities of missile defence command and control, be interoperable with Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) and Joint intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (JISR).
To support NATO’s out-of-area operations, the NATO ACCS programme will provide deployable capabilities. The Deployable ARS (deployable air control centre) is a mobile, shelterised tactical component of NATO ACCS that will support any NATO out-of-area operations and is designed to be easily transportable by road, air and sea. The DARS achieved initial operational capability on 12 June 2015.
NATO ACCS is made of various dedicated national and NATO systems which pool their resources and capabilities to create a new, more complex system offering greater functionality and performance.
The system will allow improved information-sharing and shared situational awareness to distributed sites in order to support collaboration. It also shares information with a multitude of external agencies (such as civilian air traffic systems).
In broad terms, the NATO ACCS programme comprises the following elements:
- around 300 air surveillance sensor sites interconnected with more than 40 different radar types;
- around 16 basic standard interfaces, links and data types;
- around 550 external systems in 800 locations with 6,500 physical interfaces;
- 81 million square kilometres of theatre of operations (not including deployable capability) from the northernmost point of Norway in the north of Europe to the easternmost point of Turkey in the south;
- more than 13 million lines of integrated and delivered software code;
- 27 operational site locations and deployable components;
- 142 operator roles, more than 450 work positions and more than 60 servers; and
- around 200 commercial off-the-shelf products providing operational tools.
The NATO Communications and Information (NCI) Agency is responsible for procuring NATO ACCS and for delivering it to the operational community.
The Air Command and Control (C2) Programme Office and Services (PO&S) of the NCI Agency, headed by a director, was created from a number of previous NATO bodies as a consequence of the NATO Agencies Reform in 2012. The re-organisation is part of an ongoing NATO reform process which aims to enhance efficiency and effectiveness in the delivery of capabilities and services, to achieve greater synergy between similar functions and to increase transparency and accountability.
The Air C2 PO&S has the mandate to oversee NATO’s Air C2 programmes and is composed of experts from NATO nations, the majority of whom have backgrounds in the following disciplines: defence procurement, software and systems engineering, operations, logistics, quality assurance, configuration management, communications, test and evaluation, information technology, information security. The Air C2 PO&S is presently located at NATO Headquarters, Brussels, Belgium, at NCI Agency, The Hague, The Netherlands, and at NCI Agency, Glons, Belgium.
Fifty years ago, NATO member countries recognised that protection of the airspace over the member states could be achieved more effectively if conducted cooperatively. They delegated operational control of the air policing mission even in times of peace to the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR). The component parts of the required air command and control system – surveillance assets, command and control networks, ground-based weapons systems and interceptor aircraft – operate coherently with NATO and national assets in a collective and holistic approach.
The NATO Integrated Air Defence System (NATINADS), now the NATO Integrated Air and Missile Defence System (NATINAMDS), was the first example of what has more recently been called “Smart Defence” – multinational cooperation employed to provide a necessary capability providing 24/7 protection and support to air policing.
Systems must, of course, adapt to the changing political situation and threat. For example, the Cold War ended more than 20 years ago and the system required to defend the Alliance now must reflect the wide range of current threats. Ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, stealth aircraft and civil aircraft hijacked as weapons have been added to the threat spectrum; and the required capability to conduct operations outside NATO territories requires more flexible and deployable systems.
Airspace as a resource is shared by civilian and military users, and consequently the management of airspace needs to be closely coordinated. Civilian initiatives like the Single European Sky or the North American NEXTGEN will apply changes to airspace management policy and procedures. NEXTGEN is an umbrella term for the ongoing transformation of the National Airspace System of the United States.