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11 NATO members participate in Exercise Steadfast Defender 2021

11 NATO members participate in Exercise Steadfast Defender 2021
The Blue Ridge-class command and control ship USS Mount Whitney, shown here in Gaeta, Italy in April, was part of Exercise Steadfast Defender 21. Photo by Scott Barnes/U.S. Navy

June 1 (UPI) -- Military service members and assets from 11 NATO member countries worked together in a common virtual environment for the first time earlier this week.

During Exercise Steadfast Defender 21, communications staff from the U.S. Second Fleet and Joint Force Command Norfolk established a system-agnostic approach to effectively command, control, and communicate with fellow NATO partners on a common network, specifically, the NATO Secret Wide Area Network (NSWAN), according to a press release from JFCN.

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The U.S. Navy's computer systems are typically limited to a U.S.-based computer domain and rarely integrate with other domains, the press release said.

When other domains are needed onboard, the typical solution is to install a separate network isolated from existing infrastructure, which is both disjointed and costly, according to C2F communications officer Lt. Cmdr. Anthony Murphy.

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For this exercise, Murphy and his team used cloud-based principles to ensure staff had access to the Navy's domain during the exercise.

"We were able to access many NSWAN resources by using the ship's current infrastructure without the need for unique operational accounts, expensive hardware, additional technical support, or long timelines and install costs," said Murphy.

"We did this by creating a virtual office in the operational environment, which not only allowed us to have communication interoperability but it also allowed us to use a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) to establish remote access to the NATO domain, this essentially allowed us to telework while out at sea," he added.

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Canadian Rear Adm. Steven Waddell, vice commander of C2F, led the team on the command and control ship USS Mount Whitney.

"The team's innovative approach to establishing a NATO secret baseline, by leveraging existing architecture, allowed for rapid implementation of effective command and control across an allied task force without the need for costly and lengthy prior installations," Waddell said.

Steadfast Defender is a multi-domain, multilateral, joint military exercise involving both sea and air control events.

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It unfolds in three parts, the first of which wrapped Sunday.

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