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Alliance Moves Toward Change

September 2003
By Maryann Lawlor
E-mail About the Author

NATO restructures to keep up with U.S. military transformation.

The international community is pulling up alongside the U.S. armed forces in transformation efforts that will increase speed, agility and efficiency to defeat today’s global threats. With a new command structure in place, NATO now moves on to the business of getting the doctrinal, educational and training processes into place so it is aligned with future U.S. concepts of operations and can better address the need for a more proactive approach.

Work underway today is the follow-through on a transition that began early last year, was discussed at the Prague Summit last November and approved this June. NATO’s structure was redesigned and now consists of two strategic commands. Allied Command Operations (ACO), headquartered in Mons, Belgium, comprises two standing joint force commands—one in the Netherlands and the other in Italy. The command will conduct operations from these locations or provide a land-based combined joint task force headquarters and a robust but more limited standing joint headquarters from which a deployed sea-based capability can be drawn.

The changes for NATO do not stop with the ACO, and it will be the primary job of the second strategic command to ensure that the momentum for change continues. One of the principal missions for the Allied Command Transformation (ACT) will be to promote and oversee the continuing transformation of alliance forces and capabilities. Once doctrinal, educational and training initiatives are in place, ACT is likely to move forward in other areas such as research and development, materiel and equipment.

As a result of the restructure, the Supreme Allied Command Atlantic was decommissioned. The commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM), Adm. Edmund P. Giambastiani Jr., USN, became the supreme allied commander transformation. A synergistic relationship between the two organizations benefits both because JFCOM leads transformation efforts for the U.S. military.

One of the primary architects of NATO’s plans to change its structure and strategies is Adm. Sir Ian Forbes, CBE, RN, former supreme allied commander Atlantic, and current deputy supreme allied commander transformation. After observing the U.S. Defense Department transformation, Adm. Forbes says, the alliance began to determine how it could embrace a similar process. Leaders went on to test, analyze and develop this concept to a point of veracity so that they could convince 19 nations that transformation is a sound decision.

National leaders not only agreed that NATO had to change but also concurred that it needed to happen as quickly as possible. The admiral explains that they realized that the widening technology gap between the United States and other nations was causing the intellectual gap to grow. This could result in militaries conducting disjointed operations.

Creation of ACT is the first step in closing that gap, Adm. Forbes says, but the work is just beginning. “Now what we have is the machinery. We have the car; we now have to put the petrol in the tank to make the car move from point A to point B,” he observes.

When looking objectively at the future, the mindset of the people must be the first change, he notes. To accomplish this task, ACT is starting with education, doctrine and training that is more consistent with what the alliance will do today and in the future. “The big piece is that, also in Prague, NATO undertook the mission to go as and where it is necessary to counter new threats. This was a huge strategic step, and you’re seeing the first movement in that direction with the NATO deployment to Afghanistan,” he explains.

These changes will improve the future credibility and utility of NATO in a military context, Adm. Forbes maintains. “I think there is absolutely no doubt that the alliance continues to be a powerful political instrument. …The change that has occurred in the world after 9/11 is obviously the need for a military capability now that demands speed of response, that demands speed of deployment, that demands lethality of weapons and demands precision. It demands the ability to move very fast and get ahead of your enemy’s decision-making loop and win fast and quickly and dare I say morally as well,” he states.

The Prague Summit addressed these needs with the creation of the new NATO Response Force (NRF), which will offer the first opportunity for turning transformational thinking into action. The NRF will be a rapid-reaction, self-sustaining force ready for operations worldwide. It balances the risks of operations more fairly among nations by engaging more allies in actual missions rather than only in post-conflict responsibilities.

Operations that took place during the past decade revealed specific capabilities requirements, and Adm. Forbes says NATO identified existing groups such as research and development and standardization organizations that can help the alliance meet these needs. What has been lacking, however, is a conduit to pull all of this together, he adds.

ACT will take NATO’s varying, futuristic elements, combine them in a coherent manner and inject jointness into their thinking so that they are more relevant to the operations sector. Integration is particularly important in the area of command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) capabilities, he maintains.

Two key partnerships are crucial to ACT’s success, Adm. Forbes says. First, ACT will provide the operations sector with what it needs in terms of capabilities.

Second, ACT’s work with JFCOM will allow it to keep pace as U.S. military leaders design future fighting concepts. In the areas of doctrine, training, acquisition and education, for example, this relationship will help achieve interoperability.

“As I see it, and I think others do as well, this is a two-way street. Undoubtedly, we can have a deepening relationship, a strengthening relationship with JFCOM. We can take ideas and pick up ideas that you are developing and flow them to the alliance. But equally, I think we have a lot of ideas in Europe that we can flow back through the ACT mechanism and will benefit the United States as well,” he notes.

Although the United States excels in high-intensity warfighting, for instance, Europe has more experience in re-establishing structure in the post-conflict environment, Adm. Forbes points out. An integration of these two sets of capabilities will create a better understanding of the whole range of using force, he offers.

JFCOM’s experimentation directorate has been examining and refining concepts such as effects-based operations and operational net assessment for some time, and the admiral relates that he observed some of these concepts flow into operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. “I came away from that very clear in my mind that NATO has to get into an experimentation process to start thinking about how it is going to do things in the future. We are working alongside JFCOM in the experimentation field, and I would say that we are beginning to stand up a NATO experimentation process consistent with what JFCOM is doing.

“Equally, we are working closely with them in the training and education field with regard to standing up a joint warfare center in Norway that is similar to what JFCOM has in Suffolk. Those two centers can hold hands, so to speak, so that we can train NRF commanders and command elements and at the same time bring new doctrine, new concepts and new thinking to their process,” he says.

Political leaders around the world recognize how new concepts affected missions in Iraq, the admiral states. As NATO military leaders examine the lessons learned in the operation, they are already beginning to think in terms of how these ideas can be incorporated into the NRF as well as examine which ideas should be fast-tracked.

Moving to a fully integrated battlespace, where troops can operate in a simultaneous rather than a sequential way, is enormously powerful, the admiral notes, and the common relevant operational picture (CROP) facilitates this. “People debate whether or not U.S. transformation is a revolution in military affairs. In my view, as a man engaged in operations for 38 years, the common relevant operational picture is a significant step. When you move from coordinated to integrated, that is a really major breakthrough. U.S. transformation is due to accelerate because when you make that breakthrough, you start to play with all sorts of new ideas. That leads to an acceleration in your process. You begin to do things faster and more effectively because you’re suddenly in a whole new environment,” he says.

Several technologies stand out in Adm. Forbes’ mind as important to employing new concepts. In addition to CROP, technologies that facilitate the integration of information from intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities are important. The admiral also cites precision and reliability in guided missile weaponry as important because they facilitate the use of force in a way never done before. All of these capabilities also allow militaries to operate in a moral way with regard to collateral damage, an issue that will be important to the NRF, he adds.

To help ACT accomplish its tasks, Adm. Forbes recommends that industry “get alongside the way military thinking is going.” This has been occurring in the United States with powerful results and also is taking place in Europe but in a different way. “U.S. transformational thinking is now moving in a direction that is irreversible. European transformational thinking has yet to really start in the same way, but I think that Iraq will be the trigger for that. People are going to start to look very vividly and think about, for example UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] and how they help the allies and how they help to interpret the battlespace,” he says.

After spending nearly two years in the United States, Adm. Forbes believes that the country is very keen about working effectively with allies; however, this will require an increase in technology sharing. The debate in this area has just begun, the admiral says, but it is becoming clear that information sharing can take place only if nation’s have comparable capabilities. This is particularly true in the area of C4ISR, and the technologies exist that can facilitate this, he adds.

“The door’s just opening in terms of enhanced technology sharing. On the big-ticket items, the Joint Strike Fighter is a good example of that. I think now we want to look further down the food chain, and I think there are going to be other things that are going to force this equation. When you get into the counterterrorist-scenario world that we now live in, and you’re into the interagency piece and how does this nation’s CIA talk to the FBI talk to NORTHCOM and so on, you’re going to have to have mechanisms that allow for that information to flow quickly. And that for me is the crucial piece because that is exactly the same as a warfighting scenario, and I think technically those can be delivered. So, if industry wants to focus anywhere, my gut instinct is that that’s where it should focus,” he states.

The Joint Warrior Interoperability Demonstration (JWID) is one forum where industry brings its solutions to the military for evaluation. In the past, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers, Europe, coordinated NATO’s participation in the event. Beginning next year, ACT will assume this responsibility, and Adm. Forbes says a priority will be to determine how to facilitate the movement of good ideas from events like JWID so they can support concepts.