A Question Of Capabilities

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The news on Afghanistan coming out of NATO's 20-21 May Chicago summit is not too good, with Pakistan being difficult about reopening supply routes and newly-elected French President François Hollande planning to honor his election pledge to pull out his troops by the end of the year, but there are some positive developments on improving allied capabilities. Perhaps the best news is that NATO declared an interim missile defense capability to defend its populations, territory and forces in Europe.

AGS signing ceremony (Northrop Grumman photo)

The difference between interim capability and initial operational capability (IOC) is that the former is a start-up capability with a basic command and control capability at Allied Air Command Ramstein and Aegis frigates as the shooters. NATO is not being precise about when the IOC will be declared, but it will be provided by more sensors and weapons systems from various allies and upgraded command and control capable of handling more targets and more complex attacks over a wider area. The full operational capability (FOC) planned for the end of this or the beginning of next decade will be provided by a wider range of allied sensors and weapons and the command and control necessary for full coverage and protection of NATO European territory, populations and forces.

For the time being, NATO is proceeding on its own but still wishes to include Russia in its missile defense plans, despite the saber-rattling from Moscow and the snub by Russian President Vladimir Putin when he declined the invitation to the Chicago summit.

It is also interesting to note that the main summit declaration reaffirms that NATO is a nuclear alliance, stating, "Missile defence can complement the role of nuclear weapons in deterrence; it cannot substitute for them."

Another summit declaration reported progress in improving capabilities in such areas as cyber defenses; NATO’s Air Command and Control System (ACCS); and in exchanging intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data and countering improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan. The Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) contract was signed, as already reported by Robert, but the IOC planned for the middle of this decade and the 2017-18 FOC may be optimistic as NATO pilots must be trained and only one participating nation, the United States, operates the Global Hawk platform which AGS will be based on (and Germany has so far only received a single Euro Hawk).

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