NATO recently said it has taken a significant step forward in providing its commanders the capability to defend deployed forces against attacks from ballistic missiles in a successful test in a realistic operational environment.

The NATO Active Layered Theatre Ballistic Missile Defense (ALTBMD) Interim Capability, was made available to the NATO operational community at the end of last year, under contracts with Team SAIC and Thales Raytheon Systems has been successfully tested.

The test was the first of two field tests scheduled by NATO’s commanders prior to the missile defense capability being declared as having reached military initial operating capability, the C3 Agency said in a statement.

The test took place between Aug. 22 and 24 and was conducted in conjunction with a previously-planned test of the command and control network of the U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense System’s European Components.

The test involved operational units from Germany, the Netherlands, United States systems and the NATO command and control headquarters in Uedem and Ramstein, Germany. The units involved include Patriot missile battalions from Germany and the Netherlands, U.S. Navy AEGIS systems, as well as the command and control headquarters for the U.S. and NATO forces, the statement said.

The units involved in the test responded to a simulated attack, the agency statements said. They received information from space- and land-based sensors about a simulated ballistic missile attack, and executed simulated interception missions against that attack, based on tactical information shared between all of the participating units under the direction of the NATO commander.

“This is a very significant event for NATO. It has, for the first time, demonstrated that NATO ballistic missile defense capabilities from a number of Alliance members, including the US can operate in a seamless manner under a unified command structure to accomplish this new NATO mission,” said Gen. Alessandro Pera, program manager of NATO ALTBMD. “It is an excellent beginning for NATO’s growing capability in this new mission area.”

Under the ALTBMD Program, NATO provides a command and control system that links sensors and interceptors from Nations into a capability that can protect deployed forces from ballistic This year, NATO commanders will have real-time missile defense situational awareness under contracts with Team SAIC and ThalesRaytheonSystems, the NATO C3 Agency said.

The ALTBMD Program Office will continue to upgrade the NATO Command and Control System for Theater Ballistic Missile Defense in incremental steps from 2013 to 2018, to field a more robust operational capability.

In line with the Lisbon Summit decision of November 2010, the ALTBMD capability will also be expanded to protect NATO European territory and populations as well as deployed NATO forces.