The NATO summit in Chicago on May 21-22 will be dominated by Afghanistan and the trans-atlantic relationship, but improving allied capabilities will also be an important topic of discussion.

In Chicago, NATO leaders will adopt a package of measures under the alliance's “Smart Defense” initiative, which aims to prioritize capabilities, specialization and multinational cooperation. Many of the improvements will draw on the lessons of Afghanistan and NATO's Operation Unified Protector action in Libya last year.

Allied leaders will also declare an initial operational capability for NATO territorial missile defense, having agreed on procedures such as the concept of operations and rules of engagement. This capability will be provided by Aegis-class frigates in the Mediterranean and an X-band radar in Turkey, connected to NATO command and control through Allied Air Command Ramstein in Germany. The full operational capability is planned for 2018-19, coinciding with the U.S. Phased Adaptive Approach, which includes the deployment of Aegis Ashore missile defense systems in Romania by 2015 and Poland by 2018.

Allied officials view missile defense as an example of the Smart Defense policy in that it is a multinational solution. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen called it “an important first step in bringing together national contributions to build an integrated defense against a real and growing threat,” without referring specifically to Iran. But the Europeans must still decide on their contribution, and the Netherlands is proposing that an upgrade of its frigates for missile defense with the installation of Smart L radars be extended to include Germany and Denmark. Another related proposal is to give European frigates the capability to fire SM-3 missiles. This proposal is in the pre-feasibility stage but, if approved, would provide for a pool of SM-3 interceptor missiles, allowing the Europeans to backfill for the U.S. in Europe.

The Chicago summit will adopt multinational projects in the areas of logistics and sustainment; joint intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR); force protection; and effective engagement. Each of these Tier 1 or short-term projects has a lead nation and several participating countries.

Germany is taking the lead in a project to pool maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) for individual national or collective NATO requirements. In the area of force protection, Italy is the lead nation in a project to pool road-clearance equipment to counter IEDs, or improvised explosive devices. (For a story on Italy's plans to remake its military, see p. 21.) Building on a U.S. interservice project, Canada is leading a multinational effort to establish a NATO universal armaments interface, so combat aircraft of different nationalities can use the same munitions, with the aim of reducing integration times.

To avoid a repeat of the experience of running out of precision-guided munitions, as occurred during Operation Unified Protector, Denmark is leading a project to allow sharing of specialized munitions. Based on the experience of training the Afghan national security forces, the Czech Republic is leading a multinational helicopter training project. In logistics and sustainment, the U.K. heads a project to establish a theater-opening capability.

Medical support is a Tier 1 project not only at NATO, but for the EU. France leads the NATO effort, which involves setting up multinational field hospitals with modules of different nationalities, while the EU is looking at developing different modules in areas such as medical evacuation or surgery under Italian leadership.

For Tier 2 or medium-term projects, participating nations are still being identified. Under consideration are a joint MPA procurement project, which could result in a multinational MPA program, joint acquisition of air surveillance radar, counter-IED jamming and joint acquisition of Smart L radars. Initial ideas for Tier 3 or longer-term projects include strategic-level cooperation on ballistic missile defense, expanding air policing and building a permanent joint ISR architecture in which individual nations can plug and play with future systems. France and the U.S. are working on a proposal for the latter to be launched in Chicago or soon thereafter.

Some long-standing projects are being repackaged as examples of Smart Defense. This is the case of the Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) program, whose approval is imminent following the agreement by NATO defense ministers in February that alliance common funding will be used for AGS infrastructure, satellite communications, operations and support. In addition, the U.K. will provide the Sentinel R1 Airborne Standoff Radar (Astor) and France its Heron TP unmanned aerial vehicle as “national contributions in kind,” partly replacing financial contributions from these countries. Nevertheless, the planned 2015 initial operational capability and 2017-18 full operational capability for AGS is considered optimistic, as NATO pilots must be trained, and only one participating nation—the U.S.—operates the Global Hawk platform on which AGS will be based (Germany has so far only received a single EuroHawk).

Air policing is another NATO activity touted as an example of Smart Defense. Since the Baltic states—Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania—became alliance members in March 2004, fighter aircraft from other NATO nations have been taking turns policing their airspace every three or four months. George Robertson, the NATO secretary general at the time the Baltic states became alliance members, discouraged them from spending all their defense money acquiring fighter aircraft and encouraged them to improve other capabilities. Last February, the North Atlantic Council, NATO's highest decision-making body, extended Baltic air policing, which was originally an interim arrangement, indefinitely. Similarly, Slovenia is policed by the Italian air force, which also patrols Albanian airspace with the Greek air force, and NATO air forces have been taking turns policing Icelandic airspace since May 2008, following the withdrawal of U.S. Air Force F-15s from the island nation two years earlier.

Belgium and the Netherlands are discussing setting up a joint quick reaction force of F-16s from their two air forces to police Benelux airspace (which includes Luxembourg, another NATO country without the capability). Another idea for expanding air policing is for newer NATO allies whose air forces still operate MiGs—Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia—to replace them regionally or set up a regional fighter wing.

While “Smart Defense is a long-term strategy to deliver the right capabilities right across the alliance,” Rasmussen told the annual Munich Security Conference in February, he recognizes that “capabilities alone are not enough.” To increase the interoperability gained by North American and European forces over the last 60 years of NATO's existence and to retain the experience of cooperation gained in Afghanistan, despite defense cuts on both sides of the Atlantic, Rasmussen launched the Connected Forces Initiative to complement Smart Defense. This “mobilizes all of NATO's resources so we strengthen our ability to work together in a truly connected way,” he said. The initiative consists of three components: expanded education and training, more exercises and making better use of technology.

Rasmussen said “we need to see how we can get even greater value out of” the NATO School in Oberammergau, Germany; Joint Force Training Center in Bydgoszcz, Poland; Joint Warfare Center in Stavanger, Norway; and centers of excellence covering such specialist skills as cyberdefense, counterterrorism and protection against IEDs. He also suggested opening national training and education facilities.

The Connected Forces Initiative seeks to reinvigorate exercises which, along with the NATO Response Force (NRF), have been on the back burner because of operations in Afghanistan. A U.S.-based brigade combat team will be assigned to the NRF and will rotate a battalion-sized task force through the Joint Multinational Training Command in Grafenwohr, Germany, for multinational exercises. Rasmussen said exercising more with the NRF “would be a really good way of bringing together troops from all NATO nations, including the U.S. Operationally, this would strengthen the force and our alliance, and politically, it would provide visible assurance for all allies.”

The Connected Forces Initiative aims to make better use of technology through interfaces to achieve a plug-and-play capability. Rasmussen cited as an example the testing of a universal ammunition adapter to overcome the problem encountered by Danish F-16s not being capable of carrying French munitions during Operation Unifed Protector. He said this plug-and-play approach is already used to bring together different types and generations of equipment through a common connector—for example, NATO missile defense connects U.S. and European assets into a single NATO system.

Rasmussen pointed out that “the cost of developing a connector can be cheaper than developing compatible equipment.” The NATO leader added that this is “the best way to minimize cost and maximize our security,” in line with Smart Defense.