On October 24 2019, the chiefs of staff of the armies of Germany and the United States agreed to sign the so-called ‘Strategic Vision Statement’. In this statement, Lt. Gen. Jörg Vollmer and his American counterpart, Gen. James McConville, signalled their commitment towards a greater interoperability of their land forces.
The ultimate aim of this agreement is to significantly increase interoperability between the two land forces by 2027. This would enable them to operate under more versatile formations with better management of the human material in the corresponding armies. This is to be achieved both on a regional and a global scale, enabling the two armies to work without hitches towards the same tactical objective. Other goals include the coordination of information-related systems in both forces. Similarly, the agreement includes provisions aiming at greater cooperation at higher organisational levels, allowing corps from either country to be directed by the headquarters of the other, increasing operational flexibility.
Further efforts include the development of a coordinated procedure in the areas of low-level intelligence collection and sharing. This would enable forces to react accordingly to any situation and harmonise targeting. In addition, it prescribes efforts in the areas of surveillance and reconnaissance aiming towards a “compatible” interoperability level, including but not limited to “interchangeable munitions” and “networked fires”. All these changes will be particularly important in fast-paced operations, where the prompt exchange of information between the two forces can prove to be a significant advantage.
The Statement was well received within the military community. In an interview to Defense News, Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges Ret. stated that he regards this agreement to be a continuation of the long-standing cooperation between these two countries. In addition, Lt. Gen. Hodges perceives the developments as important for future combat situations, as American and European forces might have to cooperate down to the tactical level in future battles.
While interoperability efforts are laudable, this agreement raises questions regarding its compatibility with previously signed agreements aimed at increasing interoperability of land forces. One instance where this statement creates uncertainties and possible issues is in connection to the German-Dutch agreement relating to the creation of Tactical Edge Networking (TEN). TEN consists of an interlinking effort undertaken between parts of the military networks of Germany and the Netherlands, particularly in relation to its land force applications. It is the first-ever effort to integrate certain aspects of the network systems of two militaries and will serve as a testing ground for a possible expansion of a similar system to all NATO partners. It will be headquartered in Koblenz, for the German part, and in the centre for technology, design and prototyping, situated in Amersfoort, in the Netherlands.
This development, when fully implemented, will allow for real-time contact between the German military (Bundeswehr) and the tactical communicating program FOXTROT of the Dutch Ministry of Defence, enabling these military forces to expedite necessary actions and orders, with the aim of having a shorter response time in the case of necessity on the battlefield. It is an ambitious project, not only as the first of its kind but also considering the investment required. On the German side, it has been estimated to cost at least €12 billion for the period from 2019 until 2030. This amounts to over €1 billion per year in investment for the foreseeable future. These funds will be destined primarily to upgrade 25,000 military vehicles, as well as providing up to 155,000 military servicemen with new, compatible equipment. Amongst the equipment upgrades received by the soldiers aimed at improving the compatibility of networks, one can identify new computer systems, radio receivers, tablets and phones.
There are situations that are still to be clarified, at least publicly, particularly in how these two recent projects aiming at interoperability will relate to each other. This is especially in light of the fact that both agreements envisage harmonisation of operational matters with different armies. It is possible that within the frameworks of TEN and the Strategic Vision Statement, certain low-level intelligence and information acquired by the German army might have to be shared with both the U.S. and the Netherlands. Whilst this is not a problem in itself, it may present difficulties if one of the other two relevant parties to these agreements objects or is not interested in sharing this information with the other. It is unclear, particularly in relation to TEN, whether this sharing can be prevented since integrating certain aspects of networks also means, at times, automatic access to certain information.
Despite these possible problems, both developments are welcome. In order to combat an ever-increasing military isolationism embodied by the recent decisions by Russian and Chinese militaries to create their own network systems, western militaries seem to be choosing a contrasting approach. Ideally, a broader agreement similar to TEN and the Strategic Vision Agreement between Germany, the United States and the Netherlands could enable an even greater interoperability and enable these partners to increase their efficiency and hasten decision-making in the field.
Written by Alexandre Vissoky, European Defence Researcher at Finabel – European Army Interoperability Centre
Sebastian Sprenger, “German, US armies strive for ‘integrated’ operations by 2027”
Catalin Cimpanu. “Germany and the Netherlands to build the first ever joint military internet.” https://www.zdnet.com/article/germany-and-the-netherlands-to-build-the-first-ever-joint-military-internet/
“Tactical Edge Networking Military Internet” http://tadviser.com/index.php/Article:Tactical_Edge_Networking_(military_Internet)
“U.S. and German land forces sign bilateral Strategic Vision Statement [Image 4 of 5]”, https://www.dvidshub.net/image/5864845/us-and-german-land-forces-sign-bilateral-strategic-vision-statement