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ABCA: A Coalition That Works

The armies of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand work together to close gaps in their ability to operate together.

The American, British, Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand (ABCA) Armies Program is an organization of five allied armies that work together to optimize coalition interoperability. ABCA is not an alliance; it operates as a coalition in pursuit of common objectives and for specific operations.

The ABCA Armies Program is a product-focused organization. This means that it conducts deliberate analyses of interoperability gaps and then develops the products required by its member armies to close or mitigate those gaps in accordance with top-down direction.

Evolution of ABCA

ABCA traces its history to shortly after World War II. As a result of the close Allied cooperation during that war, the Plan to Effect Standardization was initiated in 1947 among the armies of the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada (called the "ABC Armies"). In 1954, the Basic Standardization Concept replaced this plan, and in 1963 the Australian Army joined the group. In 1964, the group signed and ratified the Basic Standardization Agreement (BSA 64), which formalized the ABCA Standardization Program. In 1965, the New Zealand Army was granted observer status.

In 2002, the group conducted a major review and reorganization following the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. Shortly afterward, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia began coalition operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2004, the U.S. Marine Corps was granted observer status, and in 2006, the New Zealand Army was granted full membership. After the addition of the New Zealand Army, the group decided to retain "ABCA" as its official name.

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In ABCA's governing structure, each member army appoints a national director to serve on the ABCA Board of Directors and an ABCA coordination officer to serve in the ABCA Program Office, as well as personnel to serve on the various capability and support groups and project and information teams.

Mission and Organization

The mission of ABCA is to optimize interoperability among the armies "in order to deliver success on coalition operations." Interoperability is the ability of the allies to train, exercise, and operate together in the execution of assigned missions and tasks. This is achieved by using doctrine, technology, and materiel solutions to close or mitigate gaps in capabilities between the armies.

ABCA has developed a vision that the ABCA Armies Program will achieve the effective integration of the capabilities needed so that the ABCA armies can "conduct the full spectrum of coalition land operations successfully in a joint environment, now and into the future." ABCA has established the following enduring goals to be achieved in all program activities:

  • Relevance and responsiveness.
  • Standardization, integration, and interoperability.
  • Mutual understanding.
  • Knowledge sharing.
  • Efficiency and effectiveness.

ABCA is managed by three distinct organizations. (See chart above.) The Executive Council provides ownership of the program by approving strategic direction, articulating priorities, directing national engagement, and supplying the resources needed for success. Its members are general officers from the member armies who are equivalent to the U.S. Army's Vice Chief of Staff.

The Board of Directors provides oversight by initiating, influencing, and monitoring program operations. These national directors, who typically are one-star general officers, formulate strategic guidance and provide operational guidance. They establish objectives and shape the program strategy, validate program performance, and care for the interests of the armies. They also determine program policies, approve resource allocation, and examine management proposals, decisions, and actions.

The ABCA Program Office, located in Rosslyn, Virginia, and administered by the U.S. Army G–3, provides management, direction, and execution. The office conducts strategic planning, drafts and publishes strategic guidance and interoperability objectives, and provides operational direction. It also synchronizes and promotes ABCA activities, facilitates knowledge exploitation, and manages ABCA products.

The program office is staffed by ABCA international personnel who hold the following positions:

  • Chief of staff, which is filled by a colonel who is provided rotationally by one of the member armies.
  • Executive officer, who is a U.S. Army civilian employee.
  • SO1 Combat, who is a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel.
  • SO1 Combat Support, who is a British Army lieutenant colonel.
  • SO1 Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Intelligence, who is a Canadian Army lieutenant colonel.
  • SO1 Combat Service Support, who is an Australian Army lieutenant colonel.
  • SO1 Coalition Operations, who is a New Zealand Army lieutenant colonel.
  • SO Coordination, who is an Australian Army major.
  • SO Agreements, who is a British civil servant.
  • Chief clerk/webmaster, who is a Canadian Army warrant officer.
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Capability Groups
ABCA works through five capability groups (CGs). CGs are composed of national representatives who are knowledgeable in the group's capability area. CGs seek to optimize coalition interoperability within their capability area in accordance with the interoperability objectives identified by the national directors.

The groups conduct interoperability gap analysis, propose tasks to mitigate identified gaps, establish project teams to conduct approved tasks, and manage the program products that belong to ABCA. Leadership of each CG is allocated to one of the armies on a standing basis and typically is assigned to a colonel by that army. The CGs include—

  • CG Command, led by a U.S. Army colonel and coordinated by the SO1 Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Intelligence.
  • CG Sense, led by a Canadian Army colonel and coordinated by the SO1 Combat.
  • CG Act, led by a British Army colonel and coordinated by the SO1 Combat Support.
  • CG Shield, led by a U.S. Army colonel and coordinated by the SO1 Coalition Operations.
  • CG Sustain, led by a New Zealand Army colonel and coordinated by the SO1 Combat Service Support.

Capability Group Sustain

CG Sustain was established to standardize logistics and sustainment doctrine, concepts, and policy throughout ABCA. Each nation has logistics subject-matter experts available to ensure that the most up-to-date logistics and sustainment information is available to all ABCA armies. CG Sustain is organized into three subgroups to accomplish its mission:

  • Combat Service Support.
  • Health Service Support.
  • Materiel.

CG Sustain is currently working in the areas listed above.

Support Groups and Project Teams

ABCA also has support groups (SGs), whose members are national representatives knowledgeable in the group's support area. SG leadership is allocated to one of the armies on a standing basis and typically is assigned by that army to a colonel. SGs are primarily focused on providing advice and support to the ABCA Program, especially to the CGs, in relation to their support area. SGs also propose tasks, establish project teams, and manage their program products.

The current three SGs are—

  • SG Futures, led by a British Army colonel and coordinated by the SO1 Combat Service Support.
  • SG Exercise and Experimentation, led by an Australian Army colonel and coordinated by the SO1 Coalition Operations.
  • SG Science and Technology, led by a Canadian Army colonel and coordinated by the SO1 Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Intelligence.

Project teams (PTs) are established by and respond to CGs and SGs to conduct an approved task, which typically is the development and delivery of an ABCA product. PTs comprise national subject-matter experts who are relevant to the assigned task; often, they are also members of the governing CG or SG. PTs may only meet physically if authorized to do so; otherwise, they carry out their work using virtual means. PTs are disbanded once they have completed their task or if their task is canceled by the national directors.

ABCA's Meeting Schedule

ABCA standardization efforts are scheduled and evaluated on the program cycle. The program year runs from the annual meeting, held each year in March or April, until the annual meeting the next year. A board of directors and executive council meeting is held each November to initiate the strategic process leading to the development of the following year's program plan. This results in the program delivering products to enhance interoperability, facilitating information exchange among armies and subject-matter experts, and fostering trust and understanding in a "common language."

ABCA Handbooks

ABCA has developed handbooks as references for use in several areas:

  • Coalition Operations Handbook.
  • Coalition Intelligence Handbook.
  • Coalition Health Interoperability Handbook.
  • Coalition Engineers Handbook.
  • ABCA Analysis Handbook.
  • Coalition Logistics Handbook (CLH).

The aim of the CLH is to provide a guide to planning and conducting logistics support to an ABCA coalition operation. The target audience is ABCA logistics planners, doctrine writers, and non-ABCA allied and training establishments. The CLH provides ABCA members with details on planning and conducting logistics operations and guidance to ABCA and national commanders and the staff of the national land components on how best to use available logistics resources in multinational operations. The CLH may also be used for ABCA-led operations involving non-ABCA nations.

The focus of the CLH is on logistics command and control and planning at the operational and tactical levels. CG Sustain is responsible for this handbook. It reviews the data every year and makes changes and provides updates when necessary.

ABCA periodically conducts coalition training exercises to validate the doctrine. These exercises include Cooperative Spirit, which is a brigade-level combat training center rotation in Germany, and Agile Alliance, which is a future-focused seminar in the United Kingdom.

The ABCA Armies Program continues to evolve to achieve the defense goals of its five member countries. With its focus on interoperability, ABCA increases the ability of the U.S., British, Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand armies to train, exercise, and perform effectively together.

Thomas D. Little is a retired Army Transportation Corps officer currently serving as the international military affairs specialist at the Sustainment Center of Excellence at Fort Lee, Virginia. He served as the Army Training and Doctrine Command representative to the ABCA Capability Group Sustain and as the vice-chairman of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Movement and Transport Panel. He holds a master's degree in logistics management from the Florida Institute of Technology and is a graduate of the Army Command and General Staff College.

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