Back in 1994 the US government had the astute idea of offering fully equipped standardised air sovereignty operations centres (ASOCs) to the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland: a decision that considerably enhanced their NATO candidacies and enabled them to plug right into the alliance’s air defence operational picture after they became members in 1999.
While those were fatter times — the ASOCs. worth USD25 million, were donated by Washington — something similar is now happening in the Balkans, although no-one is giving away the equipment for free this time.
At play is the Balkans Regional Approach to Air Defence (BRAAD): a two-year-old multilateral initiative to jointly purchase a standard air-defence radar site for each of the participating countries. The purchasing nations are the three candidate countries of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Montenegro, plus NATO member Albania.
High-aititude radar coverage is an allied responsibility, meaning each country must provide this to NATO above a certain altitude. Anything below that is for each nation to define. As a result the NCIA took the lead two years ago to help the region improve its radar situation. Starting with Albania, the agency carried out a radar pre-acquisition study, surveying the country’s existing air-surveillance infrastructure and deficiencies vis-à-vis NATO’s requirements.
Croatia subsequently volunteered to act as the lead NATO nation on behalf of the three other countries, who are expected to sign their multilateral accord with Zagreb at the Adriatic Charter’s next ministerial meeting in the autumn of this year. Once that is done, the NCIA will do an acquisition study for the four BRAAD countries. Costing around EUR200,000 (USD264.000), the eight-month study will hand in its results in September 2014.
“The study will look at the best place and position to put a radar in each country, the kind of radar to buy, and the in-service and maintenance options,» said the NCI A expert. “The four radars would fill the job for NATO’s air-picture requirements. However, for their lower-altitude (systems] they would need other radars, including passive ones.»
The NCIA study will lead to a five-year acquisition programme covering site assessment, the radar buys and all the civil construction work needed to modify the sites and install security. The rough cost for each nation will be EUR20 million, exclusive of a 20-year maintenance contract.
Once the radars are installed and able to acquire information on incoming air tracks, the nations will need to fuse and distribute all the data.
“The next step is to go for a joint operations centre for the region to fuse all the incoming data and farm it back out to the nations,» said the expert, adding that “other nations could latch to BRAAD later on such as Hungary, whose radars are getting old. The idea is to launch the programme in a way that others could join».