Gerard Elzinga: “Ukraine is one of the nations, where we are sharing the most of our information with”

22 August 2019, 13:06

How satisfying was the result of this year’s defence hackathon? Is there any difference comparing to the previous challenge?


– I think it is similar to last year. One of the good things is that you see that the problems and challenges the participants are faced with, are addressed by each team in offering their own unique solution. But most importantly, the teams are getting new ideas by learning from each other. In addition we are also getting some new ideas on how to solve and how to tackle the problems. During the presentations, I saw some new approaches to solving the challenges especially when comparing the solutions from younger people as compared to the more older participants. The young generation immediately looks at the new technologies, they integrate it with, for example mobile technologies, with mobile phones, mobile apps like scanning OR codes, etc. That was definitely something that I have noticed last and this year. This integration with modern technology is a good thing to see. One of the main shortfalls that was noticed in the past, and one I think, is extremely important to address, is that different defence and security sectors within Ukraine operate pretty much in a stove-piped isolated manner – they had their own domain and they did not or in only in a limited fashion communicate and share the information with each other. What you see here at the hackathon is that people from different organizations start to talk to each other. Which means they are building up a personal network, that will help them in the longer term. And that is a big plus of the hackathon. Of course, it is still a competition and everyone wants to be the best, so they don’t share everything, keeping some very good things for themselves. But at least they get to know each other, this is breaking down barriers, which is a very positive post-event effect of the hackathon.


Which assistance gets Ukraine from NATO C4 (Command, Control, Communications & Computers) trust fund?


– This NATO-Ukraine Trust Fund is funded by ten Alliance nations, it is led by three of them – the United Kingdom, Canada and Germany. The goal is to improve Ukraine’s C4 capabilities and to improve interoperability with NATO. The first step was to conduct a Feasability Study where the whole command and control structures were assessed. This ultimately resulted in 4 project proposals that are now at various stages of implementation:

The first project is situational awareness, which effectively is to provide Ukraine with some NATO software tools for creating situational awareness. As Ukraine has built its own situational awareness tool using NATO standards, the NATO tools will be used to validate and verify the interoperability between Ukrainian and Alliance systems. The result will be that when Ukraine joins an operation with NATO units they can immediately interoperate. At this moment we are awaiting final approval from the lead nations to commence the project. This is expected shortly. 

The second project is in the field of secure communications. The delivery was in last December when we provided Ukraine secure communications equipment including assistance. This project was recently implemented and very well received. It provides the friendly force tracking information, which is needed to track forces in the operational areas and also allows to exchange securely orders, tasks and messages between command posts in a closed network. This doesn’t mean that Ukraine didn’t have such capabilities, but as the existing equipment is vulnerable for jamming and exploitation from adversaries in the field, this project provided a resilient (back-up) capability. The work in this project is still ongoing, it helps Ukrainian forces and military personnel. I can only say that I was impressed because the Ukrainian forces have exploited this system beyond than that we normally use that system. They have even included the ability to exchange emails and really well understand how the system works and exploit it to the maximum possible meeting their requirements.  

The third project is the Regional Airspace Security Program. This system, will align and coordinate civil and military air traffic, specifically the air traffic crossing the Ukrainian border and coming from Ukraine to other nations. This system will be connected to the system already deployed in Poland, Turkey and Norway, consequently it will allow to get a complete picture of air traffic, what is flying in and out of Ukraine, in order to avoid incidents. The equipment has been produced and is now undergoing testing. The expectation is that the implementation will be in the second half of this year with a final acceptance test by the end of this year. Subsequently it could be operational somewhere around early next year. 

And finally, the fourth project is Knowledge Sharing. It means that we share all the C4 related information we have in NATO, which is releasable to Ukraine. This includes sharing of information such as standards, doctrines, concepts and lessons learned. It goes down to details such as definitions of roles and responsibilities. This is an important aspect as in NATO we have a very decentralized execution of tasks with a handover of the responsibilities to the lowest levels of command possible. In Ukraine this has now started. Command and Control is very much centralized because of the legacy that is still present. And in order for you to use your capabilities and your forces as efficient as possible, it simply doesn’t work anymore. As a result of the high operational tempo in todays’ battlefield, you have to give the responsibilities to the lower levels of Command in order to operate effectively and efficiently. As an example: You can not call to your capital asking for every decision or permission, it is not efficient. Through that knowledge sharing initiative, we also help Ukraine to understand implement standards, we provide advises on how the NATO and NATO nations do the business in various areas, related to C4. This included, for example, giving workshops, providing courses for C4 personnel, courses on how to manage your IT-systems and information management training. What is also important is that Ukrainian experts have direct access to NATO experts, we bring them in touch with NATO colleagues as well as NATO nations’ experts, who have a lot of experience, build up in different specific areas. I can honestly say that, maybe with the exception of one or two other partner nations, Ukraine is one of the nations, where we are sharing the most of our information with. Everything that is available and releasable we are immediately releasing to Ukraine, this includes engaging with experts and personnel in the defence and security sector. We are telling them what we are doing right now, so they get a better understanding of what we already have and where we are going. We try to give them as much information as possible in order to improve their C4 capabilities and interoperability with NATO. That was our focus for the last two years. Now we have a confirmation from lead nations for a follow-up project, that will allow us to continue this kind of activities.

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What comes next after that?


– In the next phase of the Knowledge Sharing Project we aim to put more emphasis on Ukrainian-led project teams that address a specific topic – for example: Federated Mission Networking, which is one of the main drivers within C4 domain in NATO. Next is on joint ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance). We want no longer that NATO runs this teams, it should be Ukrainian-led, supported by NATO. Through this approach, enduring commitment will be better guaranteed


So they can get more experience?


– It is not only about experience because your people in security and defence sectors are already well experienced. But it’s too easy if we do all the work for them. If the lead is with Ukraine, they have to put more effort in it and that will result in the fact that that it gets better integrated into their way of working. It is not that we want to impose on Ukraine a specific way of working that NATO or one of the NATO nations have adopted. Every NATO nation is different. We all work by certain standards and procedures, which allow us to cooperate, but there will always some national flavours in doing that. So the way you will plan or implement our procedures will always be a little bit different. Because your culture is different, your structures are different etc. And as long as you have some common basic structures and processes in place, it will allow you to interoperate with NATO and Alliance nations. It is not as simple as buying the same radio or the same piece of equipment, also your way of working needs to be aligned. So your procedures and processes need a minimum level of standardization, compatibility. The equipment is probably the easiest part.  

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What is your experience in working with Ukrainian colleagues?


– In our first engagements with Ukrainian Armed Forces, the Ukrainian focus was really on the material side i.e. equipment. The Ukrainian counterparts thought that as long as equipment is provided it will somehow solve all of the interoperability problems. That is not how it works. You need to have also the rest in place. After follow-up discussions it was really understood that the material side is only one part buit you also need the other parts of the puzzle and this message is spreading effectively. If you improve your C4 capabilities it will make your decision making more effective and therefore it will allow you to better execute operations with a high level of security and safety of personnel. By using fewer resources and not wasting them, at the end of the day, it will simply cost you less. It should also be taken into account that the C4 Trust Fund has a limited budget; it is not like we have hundreds of millions available for supporting Ukraine. So we need to find smart ways to change the things that should be changed and to focus on things that will have the biggest impact. That is why we have developed the projects as they are now. We see now that at all levels, from high to low, the initiatives that are taken are gradually being understood. Now Ministry of Defence and General Staff they are supporting us very much. In the beginning everybody was a little bit skeptical, something like – “here are some other guys from NATO, come to tell us what to do”. We were absolute strangers to each other. But now we have a level of cooperation, contacts and that help to progress very satisfactory. It is also a matter of trust, it takes time. Now the trust, between us and the people we are in contact with, is sufficiently there. If some Ukrainian representatives that we engage with in Ukraine, come to NATO headquarters we just grab a cup of coffee together and discuss the issues freely. Previously, we didn’t do that, now it is a standard procedure. I’m in almost daily contact with the Ukrainian mission to NATO and we have a very good working relationship. That helps to progress all of these projects. 


Do you see any changes in Ukrainian policy toward NATO after our presidential elections?


– I haven’t seen any changes since the elections, the time is too short to see any of them; change takes time! I hope that in some way this will help to change faster. But regarding our C4 trust fund, I think we will not face any major changes because we are very much focused on technical and procedural details. That will not change our cooperation, I don’t see at the moment how it can impact our work other than that it will shape the conditions to execute the programs as effectively and efficiently as possible. At a more global level I hope that any changes will be for the better and that will positively reflect on NATO-Ukraine cooperation. I hope that the positive attitude that we have created now through this and any other initiative will only help to increase our partnership.



Mr. Gerard Elzinga. 1986 – graduated from the Royal Military Academy (Netherlands) as an Air Force Officer (Electronics Engineering, specializing in Telecommunications). 1983–2003 was a CIS Officer in the Royal Netherlands Air Force serving at Operational F-16 Air Bases as well as in a variety of Staff functions both in Operations as well as Plans. After graduating from the Air Forces’Command and Staff College, served as a Financial Planner and Deputy Program Manager of an Air Force wide IT System that aimed at modernizing the entire Royal Netherlands Air Forces’IT Infrastructure. After a tour as national C3 representative at the Netherlands Delegation in NATO HQ, joined the NATO Headquarters C3 Staff, first as a Staff Officer (2003-2016) in the Spectrum and C3 Infrastructure Branch and later as Branch Head. Since 2016 – Head of Spectrum and C3 Infrastructure Branch at NATO Headquarters C3 Staff.

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