NATO is calling for proper provision for military requirements in the creation of so-called U-space – airspace populated with unmanned aerial vehicles

NATO Defence Investment division director of armament and aerospace capabilities Giorgio Cioni told the World Air Traffic Management Congress in Madrid March 6-8 that he heard “a lot of discussion about the safety of operations in U-space, but not much about security.  We need to ensure we are able to counter any malicious activity because we cannot hide from the reality that there could be cases where drones are used for malicious purposes.  That is an area where there are a lot of challenges because in U-space drones will be operating, perhaps autonomously, where it will also be necessary to operate military and security services.”

Cioni stressed that NATO fully supported closer civil and military cooperation and was working closely with the aviation sector to optimize airspace enhancements.  This cooperation was achieved through the NATO aviation committee with member states and also engagement with Australia, New Zealand and Japan and a number of international aviation organizations and institutions.

“We want to be sure that NATO maintains a platform to enable this dialogue and cooperation not only on traditional issues, but also looking at new dimensions and new areas of work,” he told the conference.  He said that there was a new security environment facing NATO and one which was changing rapidly, pushing cyber security well up the NATO agenda.

“At the last NATO summit, cyber [security] was recognized as a new operational domain in addition to air, land and marine.  This means that there is a completely new dimension which requires close cooperation between military and civil.  While on one hand, we acknowledge we need to ensure the wider sharing of information among aviation partners, on the other hand we need to ensure that this sharing of information is somehow taking place in a controlled environment to ensure that this information is shared, but not utilized for other purposes. Yes, there is a need for better sharing of data, but there is an issue of security and how to protect the information that is shared. Data sharing is an area we still have to develop in terms of a civil/mil interface,” he said.

Another focus area for NATO, especially in Europe, is the maintenance of traditional ground-based navigation aids because “they represent an element of redundancy in the system that is less vulnerable to cyber attack,” Cioni said.  “As we move ahead with new technology, we should also look at this issue of providing redundancy through traditional navaids.” 

The issue for air navigation service providers, however, is cost and how to justify asking their customers to fund investment in and maintenance of old technology purely for redundancy purposes.  

In a panel discussion on the changing face of partnerships and alliances in ATM, Cioni acknowledged that these cooperation initiatives would help achieve better global interoperability.  “At the moment, there are ‘clusters’ in the US, Europe and elsewhere around the world where there are alliances and other forms of cooperation, but they are not necessarily all harmonized,” he said. “Perhaps in 10 years’ time, we will have more global harmonization that will enable the military to operate globally following a harmonized set of standards.”