360° Scope Scenario Design and Development in JWC

By Lieutenant Colonel Michael Derksen, German Army, Head of the Scenario Branch, Joint Warfare Centre

The JWC Scenario Branch provides comprehensive and realistic scenario background and supporting documentation to the JWC-directed exercises, tailored to meet both NATO and National requirements, covering the Alliance 360° geographically. The mission of the branch is to support Allied Command Transformation (ACT), one of the two Strategic Commands at the head of NATO's Military Command Structure, in delivering training and exercise programmes to the Alliance. This is accomplished through designing and developing realistic, high-level exercise scenarios, such as SKOLKAN and OCCASUS, based on NATO’s current and future approaches to the changing, complex strategic environment.

The scenarios designed and developed by the JWC provide a credible, fictitious political, military, socio-economic, infrastructure, information and geospatial environment as well as the encompassing narrative on the political, strategic and operational levels of warfare to strengthen readiness and responsiveness and practice crisis management — one of NATO's fundamental security tasks. The narratives are relevant to the particular operational-level exercise programme, as each exercise is based upon a specific scenario. Scenario support is one of the cornerstones of the JWC’s mission portfolio, funded through a multi-million NOK annual budget within the Centre’s overall financial plan, involving contracting solutions, as most of the required non-military resources have to be acquired commercially on a regular basis.

The scope of these scenarios allows for exercises in both Article 5 collective defence and non-Article 5 Crisis Response Operations mode on various levels of effort, from divisional up to multi-corps, and in all domains of the joint spectrum — Land, Sea, Air — as well as the recently added Space and Cyber dimensions. Within this broad spectrum, and in addition to the conventional spectrum of warfare, the JWC scenarios can also accommodate a wide range of modern warfare threads, such as anti-access/area denial (A2/AD); chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN); civil-military interaction, cyber defence, hybrid warfare, state- and non-state actor sponsored terrorism, etc.


Before each exercise, military and civilian subject matter experts, in a wide variety of areas, develop the information and documentation needed to support the Training Audience with the advice and content to replicate key actors and entities during the execution phase. Focus teams for military-political, strategic and operational planning, intelligence, targeting, and geospatial development assist in channeling the information flow in order to create a realistic information environment as the source for the Training Audience’s knowledge development. As a whole, scenario support is coordinated by a small team of scenario managers who provide the interface to other critical elements and branches of the JWC’s overall exercise programme.

Scenario Branch’s first generation of settings and scenarios include two settings, which form the basis for four related scenarios. A setting, in this context, is defined as the geostrategic situation of the respective crisis region and includes a broad spectrum of relevant information on all potential exercise actors. Each setting is capable of "hosting" several scenarios, each of which describes events and circumstances that lead to the respective exercise crisis or conflict. The SKOLKAN setting, for example, is named after a fictitious but peer-level adversary located in Scandinavia, whose activities range from hybrid through low-intensity, up to full-scale, high-intensity combat campaigns. Since 2010, the JWC has developed different versions of the SKOLKAN scenario which was first used in 2012. They challenge NATO’s operational level commands in both collective defence operations of Norway and the Baltic region as well as in responding to a non-Article 5 Crisis Response Operation occurring in a fictitious state in southern Scandinavia. As an example, during TRIDENT JAVELIN 2017, SKOLKAN 3 provided the scenario for NATO’s so far largest and most ambitious computer-aided Command Post Exercise during which over 4,000 participants and directing staff exercised command and control in a large-scale conflict spreading from Iceland through the North-Atlantic and Norway to the Baltic States.


The SOROTAN setting, meanwhile, addresses NATO’s capability to conduct operations not only within or adjacent to its territory, but also in austere, conflict and peace-building regions of the world. To enable the required training and exercises in reflection of this ambition, a wide array of fictitious states has been created within the geographic contours of North-Western Africa and the Mediterranean. SOROTAN portrays a combination of state and non-state actors that openly oppose NATO, or states that have failed, or are in the process of dissolving, and states seeking NATO’s assistance. Tailored to the specific requirements of the Training Audience, these elements were combined into SOROTAN 1.0, the first scenario based on this setting, which came to life during the high-visibility, non-Article 5 exercise, TRIDENT JUNCTURE 2015.

Scenario Branch’s next generation of settings and scenarios are designed in response to NATO’s so-called 360° approach to current and future challenges. Until 2024, JWC’s Scenario Branch will develop three major settings in and around Northern and Eastern Europe, Northern Africa, the Mediterranean and the North Atlantic.

The OCCASUS setting, for example, assumes a synthetic geostrategic situation in which a fictitious peer-level opponent challenges NATO on a broad front of political, military, information and economic storylines. Geographically, this setting will host multiple scenarios in an arc from the North Atlantic to the Black Sea, allowing the exercising of single, regionally limited scenarios, or a combination of scenarios, adding up to a conflict across and around all of Europe. The scenarios will focus primarily on the operational aspects and level of collective defence operations during all stages of a potential campaign, but they will also support training on the strategic and political levels of the Alliance. OCCASUS scenarios are currently planned to be used in exercises TRIDENT JUNCTURE 2018, as well as TRIDENT JUPITER 2019, 2021 and 2022.


In addition, the FIKSO setting will specifically reflect NATO’s approach to strategic challenges from the south, geographically ranging from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea. In an approach similar to OCCASUS, the FIKSO setting will include a range of various "hot-spots" that can be combined into scenarios, as required, by the Training Audience. The FIKSO setting will concentrate on non-Article 5 operations and will include specific types of operations, such as counter-terrorism, disaster relief and peace support. FIKSO scenarios are currently planned to be used in exercises TRIDENT JUPITER 2020 and 2023.

Lastly, the North-Atlantic setting will complete the 360° circle of NATO’s approach to current and future challenges. The geographic extent of the North-Atlantic setting encompasses the Atlantic Ocean between the United States of America, North-West Africa and Europe. So far, specific parameters and requirements for the design of the setting, which will be exercised for the first time in 2024, are still being developed.

In summary, by 2024, the JWC’s Scenario Branch will have developed and delivered complex, well-structured and synthetic environments, consisting of both existing NATO and non-NATO actors and of fictitious state and non-state actors that cover most of NATO’s area of responsibility. Within this environment, the variety and design of challenging "problem sets" and the ability to combine them to create a multitude of different scenarios is critical to the flexible tailoring of Major Level Exercises in accordance with existing and emerging requirements. As a key facilitator in this, the JWC’s Scenario Branch continues to follow closely geostrategic developments and prognoses in order to allow NATO to exercise not recent, but future conflicts.


Originally published in Joint Warfare Centre's 15th Anniversary Book, "Celebrating 15 Years: 2003-2018" produced by the Public Affairs Office