Virtual platform connects forces, businesses and communities of interest

  • 20 Feb. 2013 -
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  • Last updated: 20 Feb. 2013 18:23

NATO member states are using a virtual test platform – the Distributed Networked Battle Labs (DNBL) – to improve combat effectiveness by testing the interoperability of equipment and systems before deployment. The DNBL allows nations to increase the interconnectedness of their forces and to exchange data quickly, efficiently and at a lower cost.

“It is a bit like a dating service, where the DNBL provides a platform for NATO, nations, industry and academia to exchange services for experimentation, test and evaluation,” says Commander Danny Henkens of the Capability Development Department at Allied Command Transformation (ACT), which manages the DNBL platform.

The project was launched in 2009 by ACT and the NATO Communications and Information Agency (NCIA), together with industry. It is aimed at speeding up and simplifying the preparation and conduct of equipment tests and experiments, so that nations can contribute to NATO missions without unnecessary delays.

It promotes greater collaboration, makes better use of experts and facilities where they are located, reduces timelines and the cost of test events, and improves the knowledge on experimentation and testing within the Alliance.

"Many nations are facing significant cuts in their defence budgets for capability development," says Michael Oberndorfner, the NCIA member of the DNBL Technical Authority.  "DNBL provides a common environment for collaboration and is a win-win situation for NATO, the member nations and the industry.”

Currently, about 99.5 per cent of member states’ defence budgets are spent nationally and only 0.5 per cent in a collaborative way. To make the Alliance stronger and reduce overall efforts, the DNBL promotes multinational cooperation and re-use of existing capabilities, which effectively lower the cost of services.

Connecting forces

"Our members offer the services for compliance, interoperability and pre-deployment testing and collaborative distributed training for the benefit of the Alliance and its members,” says Michael Oberndorfner.

"Nations can test the compliance of their systems and forces during specific test events or exercises, so that they are better prepared for coalition operations – and the DNBL is an ideal platform for these tests,” he adds.

The DNBL is also perfectly adapted to offer services for distributed training and exercise infrastructure, where partners can be linked together in a flexible and timely manner. This includes the testing of national systems’ compliance with NATO standards and support for the development of standards to improve interoperability within the Alliance and with partners.

The system will contribute to achieving the goals of NATO’s ‘Connected Forces Initiative’ which aims to ensure that the Allies retain and develop the ability to work effectively together and with partners, which they have learned on NATO operations, through training and exercises.

Testing systems

The DNBL platform has three guiding principles, which are in line with NATO's ‘Smart Defence’ initiative: to re-use existing capabilities and installations; to reduce time and costs in the preparation and conduct of tests and experiments; and to review lessons learned during tests.

It provides access to systems and capabilities where they are and avoids duplication of efforts, while integrating specific knowledge and skills across the Alliance.

Today, the system is fully operational and has had a great deal of success. So far, bilateral test events have been conducted several times to assess the interoperability of NATO’s Friendly Forces Tracking Systems with partners in Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom.  DNBL has also been used in multinational projects and for the Afghanistan Mission Network.

The majority of these test events supported system acceptance testing prior to deployment to operational theatres. More than 100 partners are currently connected and continuously perform test activities.

A growing community of interest

With a current membership of 45 organisations, the DNBL platform is developing rapidly. Maciej Klopotek, who provides communications support to the DNBL community, notes that the community currently counts over 450 experts worldwide. “Our community of interest is growing every week. It is our intention to soon become the one-stop shop for experimentation, test and evaluation.”

As part of its service strategy, the NCIA will offer services in the area of experimentation, test and evaluation through the DNBL and will make use of services from other providers to complement the Agency’s portfolio where and when required. “This will help ensure the best possible capabilities in this area at a minimised cost to nations and NATO through this collaboration and cooperation,” says NCIA Director Service Strategy Chuck Shawcross.

One such area is for cyber-defence services, where a testing concept has been developed and organisations are encouraged to contribute to its implementation as a service within the DNBL.