Consensus means all 28 nations have an equal say.  Collaboration means all the nations must work together to find a common operational solution to an issue be it humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HADR), or a particular combat operation.  Nations will bring to the table what they can; it is then up to highly trained, and skilled military leaders to determine how best to utilize those assets and capabilities.  Finally, it falls on the shoulders of the warfighters to work together to execute the operation.

That is why interoperability is necessary to the alliance, operating like weapons systems for its land, maritime and air forces.  One of those key, interoperable weapon systems operating today is the Patriot Missile System.

The Patriot Missile System is a combat-proven air defense system.  As the last commander for NATO’s Allied Air Command in the southern region in Izmir, Turkey and the Combined Forces Air Component Commander for NATO’s Operation Unified Protector, I witnessed firsthand the importance of NATO interoperability.  In daily peacetime operations, exercises and training, and in combat operations, I commanded NATO forces, which reacted quickly and proved to be highly effective because of collaboration and interoperability.  When the alliance decides to react to a crisis, be it HADR or a combat operation, you cannot wait for concepts.  Having a proven system, like Patriot, which the United States and our allies fund and operate together, ensures a speedy, efficient deployment and success on the battlefield.

Last year, when the crisis in Syria threatened the southern flank of NATO, it was an easy decision for the alliance to turn to the countries operating the Patriots and deploy those missile systems to Turkey. Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States reacted quickly and deployed Patriot because the system is proven, reliable and interoperable. Those nations operating the Patriot Missile System all trained, exercised and operated together in the past.  For nearly nine months now, NATO’s southern flank has remained secure because of that interoperability on a current, up-to-date Patriot system.

The United States and its allies have long enjoyed a competitive technological edge against potential adversaries, be they nation states or terrorist organizations.  However, those potential adversaries continue to improve their technologies and are closing the gap on our normally wide operational and technological advances.  We cannot afford to cede ground now.

As fiscal challenges affect nations across the world, we’ve seen no one nation can do it on its own anymore.  Common, interoperable systems, and what NATO has called “Smart Defense” are not simply a trend but required to ensure peace and security during these tough fiscal times.

In the throes of sequestration, the importance of close allies, partners and friends for the United States is even more relevant today than it was yesterday.  Ultimately, though, fiscal decisions made by our Congress and Department of Defense must continue to provide our warfighters with the systems they need to combat those emerging threats and maintain the competitive edge, today and tomorrow.

Therefore, focusing on proven systems, like Patriot, in an era of dwindling resources is even more valuable.  The Pentagon wisely chose to upgrade Patriot with buy-in from 11 other partner countries.   This evolution of Patriot through pre-planned product improvements is less disruptive, quicker to field, more affordable, and better for the warfighter.  Now, that is what I call burden sharing.

Every commander will tell you; it is always an honor, and a privilege to lead our brave soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, and those of our allies, in peacetime and combat ops.  It is made easier when you know you have proven interoperable weapon systems that maintain our competitive, and combat, advantages.  There is no question; specific modernization plans are required.  We owe it to our warfighters, to our nation, and to our allies to prioritize Patriot and other system upgrades.  In these challenging times, we must continue to provide peace and security.  Make that job #1.

Jodice is a retired Air Force command pilot with more than 3,500 flight hours. A decorated flag officer, he was the Combined Forces Air Component Commander during Operation Unified Protector, and has received numerous awards and decorations including the Distinguished Service Medal and Defense Superior Service Medal.