02 October 2018

Interview with Mario Blokken, Finabel: Increasing the interoperability level in the cyber domain represents a challenge for NATO

Mircea Olteanu

Interoperability in cyber domain across NATO is quite reduced and it is needed an increased awareness of the dangers which are coming from this area, said Mario Blokken, chief of Finabel’s Permanent Secretariat, in an interview for MEDIAFAX and Defence and Security Monitor.

Image source: Mediafax

Mario Blokken, Chief of Permanent Secretariat of European Center for Army Interoperability, Finabel, talked in an interview for MEDIAFAX and Defence and Security Monitor about the necessity to increase the European interoperability regarding the military equipment acquisitions or the cyber-security, as well as about the opportunities offered by EU’s policies in defence domain.

Reporter: Please, present us Finabel’s organization evolution, activities and objectives. A short presentation for our readers.

Mario Blokken: Finabel is a European interoperability center between the armed forces, which was founded in 1953 by the founding member states and then evolved from being an organization about the armament of a doctrinaire center, to becoming the interoperability center between armed forces and think-thanks of Chief of General Staff of the Army, in 2015, from the member states. Our goal is to increase the interoperability between the member states and also to increase the awareness level of interoperability between member states and not only these.

Reporter: What are the perspectives of a common program of military acquisitions including only countries in the region?

Mario Blokken: We are seeing at this moment that the national interests, but also the economic ones, are the main factors which are governing the military equipment acquisitions and the demands are changing many times because of troops’ composition or army’s structure. We are seeing a new tendency, due to military mentality’s change, where the countries see interoperability as necessary for the acquisition procedures. Hence, we are seeing how some countries work together at establishing vehicles’ demands and acquisition. For example, if they have common interests, they buy the same vehicle, using the same demands for the it. Thus, they can negotiate together to get a better price, because they are ordeing a higher number of auto parts. Secondly, they also have the opportunity to have a common training program, something really efficient for the costs. Regarding the logistic support systems, they can buy exchange auto parts, and if the countries are tight enough, they can use a central point for logistic support, which is again, advantageous, then creating three or four logistic support centers inside the countries. After all, the states are aware that an increased interoperability regarding the acquisition processes will reduce costs.

Reporter: Which are the main directions, challenges regarding the interoperability and cooperation for Finabel? What are organization’s recommendations about this?

Mario Blokken: Firstly, at NATO’s summit from 2016, the cyber domain was NATO’s fifth pillar. Hence, regarding the cyber domain there are for sure many challenges when talking about interoperability. Last week, I talked with the director of the Excellence Center for Cyber Defence from Tallinn, Estonia, and they have the same concerns at this moment. Interoperability in the cyber domain is very reduced, but there are talks about consolidating the capacities across the national environment and they try to find a way to integrate these cyber command structures in army’s structures. It is a pending process, but we need a bigger awareness and this is the biggest challenge at the moment, because inside the cyber domain, a hacker will not use protected systems, but the weak link, which is the human. People’s awareness is a very challenging subject for us and this is why at the moment we are creating European Soldier’s Book in the cyber domain, where we are showing the soldier how to use, for example, the social media, how to use the Internet of All Possibilities. (…) On the other hand, interoperability across the mission is, also, a very important thing and we are seeing, for example, that at the communication level there is a lot to work on. Already exists some efforts coming from the member states and the alliance, but we still observe that we need an interoperability communication method, and the actual systems used to communicate, which are distinct according to the countries of the different nations participating to this mission, continue to be a big challenge. Hence, as think-thank, we are trying to offer some recommendations, for example, regarding the use of the common cryptographic systems.

Reporter: What do you think about the European Defence Fund and EU’s new policies in the security domain? What opportunities are offering these European defence industries policies?

Talking about PESCO system, we see a lot of opportunities across the system, like, for example, offering possibilities to all member states to create projects which are then supported with European funding, which will not only increase the possibility of those states to develop projects, but will also increase the budget they can use for development. This is one of system’s biggest advantages. It is great that many countries are ready to collaborate and cooperated in European defence’s structures, but, at the same time, it is a pity to see that not all countries are involved, so, again, there is a little fragmentation of the interests across the project. The project is still in the beginning phase, so I think we still need time to make some conclusions regarding PESCO’s activity. (…) I think it is a big opportunity for the countries. On the other hand, I think that EDA’s involvement (European Defence Agency) is also a step forward, because EDA is really close to army’s structures and have the necessary acknowledgements to use these opportunities.