181017tide400TIDE Sprint, NATO's Think-Tank event came to an end last week in Norfolk, VA.

Today's communications capabilities are truly global in reach with our mobile devices keeping us connected instantly wherever we are. What seems almost effortless for the mobile communications industry though presents unique challenges for NATO in today’s uncertain security environment.

NATO is an alliance of 29 member nations, the wider federation includes many more partner nations, all needing to be interoperable from the operational down to the tactical level. Each Nation develops its own unique capabilities, requiring different processes and training to develop and maintain their operational viability. However, for NATO to act as one cohesive unit, nations must be able to work together before a crisis (‘day zero’) so that when called upon to respond, they can operate seamlessly together from day one. This is called interoperability, the ability for multinational units to act together, which is the foundation for all NATO operations.

The Think-Tank for Information Decision and Execution (TIDE) Sprint is NATO’s premier event for examining solutions for the future interoperability of allied and partner forces. The 32nd TIDE Sprint took place in Norfolk, Virginia from 15-19 October 2018, and concluded with recommendations for future concepts and requirements to meet NATO’s goal of achieving ‘day zero’ interoperable forces. More than 300 attendees from 21 nations came together from NATO, Nations, Partners, Industry, Academia and International Organizations to improve the ability of NATO and its partners to act together. During this TIDE Sprint, eleven tracks developed and enhanced interoperability for current and future capabilities. Some are classics like the Technology and Communications track, other tracks are new to adapt NATO's capabilities to the changing security environment.

In his opening key note speech, Vice Admiral Paul Bennett, NATO Allied Command Transformation Chief of Staff, highlighted the importance of interoperable Allied and partner forces, ensuring that the Alliance remains at the forefront of operational capability. “If the Alliance is unable to fight together on DAY ONE then we lose our prime responsibility to our nations and to the globe" said Admiral Bennett and set the stage for the event.

Data Science was a prominent theme at this TIDE Sprint as participants acknowledged data as the fuel that drives modern defence capability. To maintain the technological edge therefore it is of utmost importance to translate the vast amounts of data available to NATO into actionable information for commanders and military operators.

During a plenary panel discussion, Mr David Tagg-Oram (Royal Navy), Dr Feras Batarseh (George Mason University) and Mr Dave de Bie (Microsoft) provided different perspectives on how to make Data Science work for the military, but all agreed that it must happen now. To take advantage of data science, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and autonomous systems, a cultural shift is required by NATO in its approach to acquiring, storing, analyzing and presenting data. If NATO manages data more effectively using emerging tools such as AI, it may lead to improving situation awareness, providing strategic insight and accelerating human sense-making in military decision cycles. Therefore, data must be treated as a strategic asset alongside more traditional capabilities such as ships, tanks and planes. Without immediate action, NATO risks falling behind its adversaries in its approach to data and how it is used, However, capitalizing on the power of interoperable data will require more than technology. NATO also needs interoperable people and processes to support the integration of emerging data driven technology into ‘day zero’ capabilities that are ready for operations.

The Tactical Edge track addressed the challenge of information sharing in a mobile and networked disadvantaged, tactical environment. Lessons learned from recent NATO operations (e.g. enhanced forward presence, or eFP) placed stronger emphases by Nations on interoperability at the lowest tactical level. Proposals were made to address radio and crypto compatibility, network management and the use of collaboration and situation awareness at the tactical level. Furthermore, representatives from the ‘Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’ (DARPA) presented the 'Secure Handhelds on Assured Resilient networks at the tactical Edge' (SHARE) program that enables multilevel secure communications across wireless networks for tactical information sharing between U.S. and coalition partners. SHARE demonstrates a new approaches to interoperability for the warfighter by using commercial handheld devices (such as smartphones and tablets) and existing infrastructure (e.g., cellular and Wi-Fi networks). Rather than securing the communications link between these devices, the SHARE concept is to secure the actual information. The eventual aim is to demonstrate SHARE results during CWIX 2020 and conduct interoperability tests with NATO and partner nations.

The recommendations made by participants are wide and varied and are intended to support many of NATO’s Communities of Interest, cutting across the entire command and control continuum from ‘sensing’ to ‘effecting’. Many of the proposals will be tested at CWIX, NATO’s annual interoperability test event, some will be taken forward as challenges at the annual TIDE Hackathon event that will take place next February in Poland.

The next TIDE Sprint will take place on 25-29 March 2019 in Split, Croatia.

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