A version of this article appears in the May 12 edition of Aviation Week & Space Technology.

Italy is working to become the first country to go operational with a new NATO computer system, which will streamline the alliance’s command and control structure.

The Air Command & Control System, developed by Thales-Raytheon Systems, will not only provide a more advanced tool for operational planning but will also become the reference point for any future NATO theater-ballistic missile defense.

Fifteen years since contract award, Thales-Raytheon Systems is now in the final throes of testing the system at four sites in Belgium, France, Germany and Italy, as well as on two mobile systems, before replication in other NATO member countries. The Italian air force (AMI) believes it is ahead of the pack in introducing the Air Command & Control System (ACCS) into service, and commanders are optimistic about being able to provide an initial operating capability this December, with a full operational capability supporting the country’s peacetime military air operations set to follow a year later.

The ACCS will replace the diverse command-and-control systems NATO members now use with a single architecture that can be replicated for all of the member states. The new systems has the benefit of reducing the training burden by potentially allowing for the cross-pollination of international personnel, who will be able to use the system in different countries without the need for extra training. NATO commanders are studying the possibility of establishing a training school to serve all the nations who opt for the  ACCS. Other advantages include the ability of administrating one country’s airspace from another country in the event of an emergency or natural disaster.

Italy has been eager to replace its current legacy Airborne Early/ Warning Ground Environment Integrated Segment (Aegis) system, which integrates the country’s various radar heads and air defense systems.

“We wanted to increase the functionality of the airpower to have additional capabilities, commonality, interfaces and standardization with other nations,” says Col. Arturo Cattel, commander of the air force’s radar coordination center, known as CCGRAM.

The system has been installed inside a command-and-control bunker at the joint AMI and NATO radar base at Poggio Renatico, a station that previously held the Combined Air Operations Center 5, the site from which Operation Unified Protector over Libya was coordinated.

In parallel with the current Aegis set up, the AMI began testing the ACCS using live feeds from Italian air force air defense radars, civil air traffic control radars and other sensors to see the “ACCS operational at a tactical level,” says Cattel.

“We started with live interfaces,” Cattel says. He notes they opted not to use simulation so that they could place their operators in a real environment to fully vet the system. As part of the tests, the air force connected approximately 50 live interfaces from ground airborne radars to air defenses as well as to flight plans and metrological feeds to give operators an impression of how the system could operate at a tactical level.

Germany is also planning to introduce the ACCS by the end of the year at its command-and-control site at Uedem, and work is underway on replicating the system at 10 more sites some key NATO states—Norway, Poland, Spain and Turkey, among others. Newer NATO nations will follow later. Some countries will also necessitate the creation of backup sites, which for Italy will be Licola, near Naples.

When the backup sites are in place, the old command-and-control systems can be turned off.

ACCS will also serve as NATO’s first building block toward the creation of a theater missile defense (TMD) system for the Alliance. An early build of the ACCS software known as InCa Spiral 1, which has a TMD element, was developed and installed for NATO at its facilities in Ramstein, Germany, in late 2012. It quickly proved itself useful when Turkey requested the deployment of Patriot batteries to its Syrian border over concerns about the use of ballistic missiles in the region,

“They had everything ready for when a real-life situation occurred,” explained Ken Nesbitt, operational adviser on command-and-control and missile defense at ThalesRaytheonSystems. NATO is also in the process of modernizing deployable versions of the system. The Deployable Air Command and Control Center is essentially a mobile version of the ACCS, which is fitted into a series of internationally standardized containers, which could be deployed anywhere in the world to support a major military operation or humanitarian mission.

Personnel are being trained on the equipment itself and on how to streamline the deployment processes, but NATO regards the requirement for a deployable command-and-control system as a top priority. Toward that end, commanders are hoping to achieve full operational capability by the end of this year with the ability to fully deploy with five days, should such an action be needed.