By Peter M. Hutson, Capability Integration and Experimentation Analyst, Concepts, Capability Integration and Experimentation Branch, Joint Warfare Centre
NATO operates in an environment of continuous change, requiring the Alliance to rethink, reprioritise and reform in response to new risks and the evolving security landscape. As NATO has adapted its strategy, concepts, and Military Command and Force Structures over the last 15 years, Headquarters Supreme Allied Command Transformation (HQ SACT) has been leading the Military Transformation process, within which the JWC and its Concepts, Capability Integration and Experimentation (CCI&E) Branch have been instrumental.
Over this time of rapid, and sometimes, unpredictable change, CCI&E’s core function has been to plan and carry out Transformational Activities through the integration of new concepts, maturing capabilities, and other experimentation events into the JWC-hosted exercises. Coordinating and teaming closely with key stakeholders — such as capability developers and programme management at HQ SACT, requirement owners and operators at HQ SHAPE and the Joint Force Commands as well as from nations, industry and academia — the JWC and its CCI&E Branch have ensured that training and exercises deliver Transformation in its Programme of Work.
It is useful to consider the challenges of Transformation at the operational level in the context of the strategies and mandates laid out in the Alliance’s Strategic Concepts, Strategic Foresight Analysis (SFA) and the Framework for Future Alliance Operations (FFAO). As put forth in the 1999 Strategic Concept and the military implementation strategies, the Alliance is facing new risks since those of the Cold War. These risks consist of, amongst others, terrorism, complex ethnic conflicts, and proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and their means of delivery. In addition, the fundamental tasks of crisis response operations, building partnerships, and peace support missions were added to those of security, consultation, deterrence and defence. Furthermore, the 9/11 terrorist attacks against the United States brought terrorism to the fore and drove major internal reforms to adapt military structures and capabilities to conform with the new tasks, which led to the setting up of the UN-mandated International Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan.
Such new strategies and missions then required HQ SACT and, consequently, the JWC, to rapidly analyse and translate the new guidance into tasks that the defence planners, capability developers, and the education and training communities could act upon. For JWC, this meant adapting the Centre’s training environment, exercise scenarios and exercise and training objectives, as well as integrating new or maturing concepts and capabilities, such as the Comprehensive Approach, the Effects-Based Approach to Operations, Knowledge Development, System of Systems Analysis, Counter-Improvised Explosive Device Operations, and the Comprehensive Operations Planning Directive (COPD). Thus, for both JWC and its Training Audiences, the introduction of new concepts, experiments and capabilities also meant "changing" and adopting a different mindset — one that involved accepting risks and opportunities and recognising that Transformation requires action as a "present activity", and not as a future event.
At the 2010 Lisbon Summit, NATO revised its overarching Strategic Concept (as well as the SFA and the FFAO), and thereby endorsed an updated understanding of its core purpose in line with the evolving geopolitical and strategic landscape. Collective defence remained a core task for NATO, but crisis management and cooperative security were also elevated to core tasks to stress the fact that NATO must not only protect and defend Alliance territory but also against global, transnational, or non-traditional threats that transcend fixed, conventional boundaries.
Guided by this revised strategy, as well as the military perspectives of the SFA and the FFAO, HQ SACT and the JWC promptly shifted gears to address new major themes and initiatives to adapt and transform. One example was experimentation and scrutiny of NATO’s Ballistic Missile Defence capability, and its integration into multiple exercises to inform doctrine development and operational frameworks. Another example was cyberspace, which also received much attention with the recognition of Cyber as a new domain. With the requirement for resilient, robust and secure cyber systems, NATO developed its Cyber Defence Concept and the JWC launched a multi-year Cyber Capability Integration Campaign within its collective exercise programme. The aim was to challenge the operational level of command with simulated real-world threats, as well as to facilitate the development of the DOTMLPFI (Doctrine, Organization, Training, Material, Leadership, Personnel, Facilities, Interoperability) for Cyber.
NATO’s Strategic Communications, or StratCom, also quickly evolved as a core function in NATO policies and operations. Derived from lessons identified from the ISAF mission and the Ukraine crisis, particular challenges consisted of how to integrate the concept of "strategic narratives" at the operational level and how to adapt to new technologies and the global increase in the use of social media within the information environment.
"Transformation and warfare development will remain central to maintaining Alliance readiness, relevance and credibility."
Addressing Future Challenges
NATO and HQ SACT continue to monitor a dynamic geopolitical landscape through the SFA and the FFAO, which have identified complex and uncertain future challenges with both risks and opportunities. Besides the continued development of the Cyber capability, HQ SACT is also focusing on the NATO operational dependencies in the Space domain and developed a highly successful and transformational three-year Space Campaign within major JWC-directed exercises. In coordination with NATO’s Space-faring nations, this high-visibility project has yielded rapid doctrinal, organisational, training and interoperability developments for NATO.
Hybrid threats are another area that the JWC integrates into its warfare development and training processes. After the Ukraine crisis and increased tensions with Russia, NATO had to rapidly confront and counter the challenges of hybrid threats and asymmetric warfare including propaganda, disinformation, cyber-attacks, economic and energy threats, and blurring of distinctions between civilians and combatants. In the JWC exercises, Training Audiences are actively challenged with such threats, while offered the opportunity to adapt doctrine, develop capabilities, and apply operational countermeasures.
Other high-visibility projects that HQ SACT and the JWC have supported over the years relate to Disablement of Weapons of Mass Destruction; Joint Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (JISR) experimentation with the tasking and employment of the NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance Force (NAGSF), Operations Logistics Chain Management (OLCM) capability development, information environment studies, and numerous technology projects to assist with the development of medical, logistical, and operational information systems.
Transformation is difficult, yet the potential consequences of stagnating far exceed the disruption associated with change. For the last 15 years, HQ SACT, the JWC and its CCI&E Branch have been committed to supporting and delivering change. As NATO continues to evolve in response to both complex threats and a dynamic geopolitical landscape, Transformation and warfare development will remain central to maintaining Alliance readiness, relevance and credibility.
Originally published in Joint Warfare Centre's 15th Anniversary Book, "Celebrating 15 Years: 2003-2018" produced by the Public Affairs Office