An initiative to enhance airspace transparency between NATO and Russia is using an IP Virtual Private Network (VPN) from communications company Level 3 to provide connectivity between its airspace monitoring facilities.

The NATO-Russia Council (NRC) was set up in 2002 with the aim of identifying any suspicious aircraft activities and providing early warnings through the monitoring of NATO-Russian airspace.

The joint NATO-Russia Council Cooperative Airspace Initiative (NRC CAI) system was completed in 2009, leading to a prolonged testing period to see how well the system worked sharing air traffic information.

In December 2011, NRC Foreign Ministers declared the system operational and this year the NRC will have a 24/7 capability to monitor air traffic.

As part of the project, the Level 3 network will connect a range of NATO monitoring facilities and enable real-time display and observation of commercial airspace activities.

The three NRC regions covered by CAI are the geographic spaces between Norway and Russia, Poland and Russia, and between Turkey and Russia. CAI’s two central coordination centres are located in Moscow and Warsaw.

In addition, each of the three zones has a pair of local coordination centres: Bodø and Murmansk, Kaliningrad and Warsaw, and Ankara and Rostov-on-Don. Level 3's network will predominantly be used for air traffic personnel to communicate directly by voice in case of an incident, and will also enable radar information on air traffic to be shared.

"The Level 3 network and our IP VPN services are designed for performance, security and productivity,” said James Heard, Level 3 regional president of EMEA. “With our services, NATO will be able to exchange air traffic information and direct voice coordination with the security and reliability they need."

Dr Rene van der Heiden, programme manager and leader of the NRC CAI Operations and Enhancement Support Team, added that the Level 3 network will support the improvement of air safety for the thousands of passengers using international flights between NATO and Russian airspace each day.

While the system is now operational, work among the CAI nations is continuing to improve the capability further. Nations are also continuing to test the system’s ability.

In November 2012, a computer-assisted exercise took place to test cooperative responses, and in 2013 another live exercise will be held, ensuring that in the event of a terrorist hijacking of civilian aircraft, nations participating in CAI are ready to identify and respond together.