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NATO's Exercise ‘Steadfast Cobalt' takes lessons from Covid-19 pandemic

NATO’s ‘Steadfast Cobalt 2021’ Communications and Information System (CIS) exercise took place in a virtual environment due to the Covid-19 pandemic. According to senior officials, this brought a range of benefits, enabling organisers to deconflict network interoperability in a decentralised way that more accurately reflected operational realities.

‘Steadfast Cobalt’ is NATO’s largest CIS exercise to validate CIS connectivity and interoperability among NATO Response Force (NRF) units. For example, it ensures data exchange by maintaining communication among NRF combat units, and joint and component headquarters around the world. This year’s exercise featured NRF 2022 units from France, Italy, Poland, the UK, and the US, with participation from 22 command structure and force structure units, and around 1,000 military and civilian personnel.

This was the second iteration of ‘Steadfast Cobalt’ to be held virtually due to the pandemic, said US Air Force Colonel James Hamilton, exercise director and operations division head of the NATO CIS Group (NCISG). However, it still had to achieve the core goals of ensuring NRF units and headquarters can join the Mission Network effectively using their national equipment.

Previously, ‘Steadfast Cobalt’ deployed 5,000 troops to a physical location, including all support functions such as transportation and perimeter security. This exercise had to deconflict network interoperability remotely, “ensuring that the real-world NRF was able to pass data and use its systems from 12 different locations in a decentralised fashion. This is more aligned with how a rapid force would actually deploy”, said Col Hamilton.

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