This article was written by John Lamb and published in the Innovations magazine #4.
European airspace will be better defended than ever before thanks to sophisticated command and control software, which will bolster the military airpower of NATO countries at a time of increasing international tension.
For the first time, NATO will have a unified Air Command and Control System (ACCS) in Europe, enabling its members to manage all types of air operations, both inside and outside NATO countries.
Following successful tests of ACCS last year at two sites in Belgium and Italy, the system developed by ThalesRaytheonSystems will be rolled out to 15 locations across Europe over the next three years. The first site, in Italy, went live this year, over the Easter weekend. Many existing NATO and national air defence systems will be replaced by ACCS. Some centres will be run by NATO organisations, others will remain under national responsibility.
ACCS, which involved writing 14 million lines of computer code, has been described as the most complex software project ever attempted. It integrates defence activities that include air mission planning and tasking, air mission control, airspace surveillance, airspace management and air force management. Missile defences will be added to ACCS by the end of 2016, integrating the detection and interception of fast moving ballistic missiles and slower cruise missiles with aircraft operations.
“Before ACCS, each country had its own system. Now NATO members will have a single system and that is a revolution in air operations.”
Philippe Duhamel, CEO of ThalesRaytheonSystems.
ThalesRaytheonSystems, a joint venture between Thales of France and Raytheon of the US, and the first-ever transatlantic company created in the defence field.
“After 9/11, people understood that policing our airspace and achieving air sovereignty are very important. With ACCS, every citizen in Europe can be sure their airspace is protected and have a reasonable assurance that they are protected from similar events. We have developed a system that works 24/7, one that increases the efficiency of the aircraft ready to scramble; countries owe this to their citizens.
“Air forces have to plan, task and conduct these operations; with ACCS they will be able to do so much quicker. They will also be able to conduct much larger operations: ACCS is capable of handling many more aircraft than the legacy systems it is replacing.”
The scale of the programme is unprecedented: stretching from Norway in the north to Turkey in the east, ACCS will cover an area of more than 10 million square kilometres and link 300 sensor sites, connected to more than 40 different types of radar installation.
In addition, ACCS will encompass around 550 external systems that have 6,500 physical interfaces between them. The massive amount of real-time data generated by these devices will be channelled to some 1,500 personnel sitting at workstations, most often in bunkers across Europe.
“There is a complex conglomeration of data coming from terrestrial and airborne radars. In some cases they are the world’s most advanced 3D long-range radars, while at the other end of the spectrum are 50-year-old systems dating from the Soviet era,” Steve duMont, vice-president of NATO business for ThalesRaytheonSystems.