Sir, we last spoke during Exercise Brilliant Joust 18, during a particularly intense period of activity for the headquarters. You have now passed 100 days in command of JFC Brunssum and we would like to take this opportunity to ask for your assessment of where we currently stand with regard to NRF, the exercise program, eFP and other issues facing the HQ.
Firstly, our followers are aware that you have undertaken a very intensive program of visits and meetings with, amongst others: the enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) Battlegroups; Multinational Division North-East; Multinational Corps North-East; and the Defence Chiefs of those nations on our Eastern flank. What is your impression of the readiness and the evolving command and control (C2) structures of these critical NATO elements?
As you should be aware, the eFP Battlegroups have become a key part of the deterrence and defence posture of the Alliance along NATO’s north-eastern flank. All four battlegroups are fully operational and the Multinational Division North-East has an initial operating capability that is moving rapidly to full operational capability. The pace of this deployment and the rapid integration of their unique C2 relationships have been remarkable. What are truly impressive are the close links that the Battlegroups have established with the host nations as well as the strong links between contributing nations within each battlegroup.
General, you have also visited a number of exercises that JFC Brunssum personnel have been involved in. Given the significant commitment that this HQ has to NRF and supporting its own exercise program, could you please explain the value and relevance of some of these additional tasks?
Firstly, as you can see in the Resolute Support Mission (RS) and during Operation Unified Protector (Libya), etc., NATO usually doesn’t work alone, but with partners. As an example, members of this HQ recently took part in Exercise VIKING 18 in Sweden. This was a huge multinational and inter-agency exercise testing crisis response operations. Although it was organised by the Swedish military, it also included a NATO component, an EU component and multiple governmental and non-governmental organisations, thus giving us a different perspective on the comprehensive approach. By participating in such exercises we are better able to take advantage of opportunities to train alongside [non-NATO nations] OR [NATO partners] as well as to take advantages of opportunities to gain external training benefit that will have real-world rewards. Participating in non-NATO exercises such as these, in addition to our own NATO exercises and ‘in-house’ exercises, etc, are the best way to identify our capability shortfalls and improve our internal processes and overall readiness.
We’ve spoken of eFP and you’ve mentioned RS. We can also see that there is an initiative to evolve command structure elements throughout ACO (NATO Command Structure Adaptation – NCS A). What does this mean for the NATO Response Force (NRF) and this HQ?
I would like to begin by stating that we (NATO) are in a process of adaptation, i.e. re-evaluation, modernisation and improvement. We are doing this in response to a changed security situation that requires NATO to make its Command Structure (NCS) more capable of moving forces rapidly across NATO territory to address emerging threats. This is in support of our overall purpose, which will always remain the same - the preservation of peace through deterrence, and be ready to defend.
The NRF has already been enhanced by the VJTF (Very High Readiness Joint Task Force), giving it a spearhead that is able to deploy at very short notice. The NRF will remain NATO’s crisis response force and we will continue to rotate the C2 responsibility with our sister JFC, in Naples. For 2018, JFC Brunssum will assume command and control of the NRF wherever it deploys, if it is activated. This means we must all remain flexible and agile - we have practiced reach-back during exercises and will continue to exercise the deployable capabilities of appropriate elements within the HQ. We will continue to explore options to establish the most optimal way of operating.
I would like to take this opportunity to remind your readers that, because the threat is changing, NATO Command Structure Adaptation is establishing and strengthening capabilities whilst, at the same time, enhancing support to domains such as information and cyber. There are a lot of changes happening in NATO, it is an exciting time for us and we, as JFC Brunssum, are truly at the leading edge of this adaptation.
You were cautiously optimistic regarding your initial impressions of your new command? Now that you have been here for 100 days, do you have any further comment?
As I said before, I am not here to give anyone an easy ride. I have high expectations and expect high standards from my staff. Many changes are underway in both the HQ and in NATO as a whole. This is an intensive period for the Resolute Support mission, eFP and NRF – all require our dedicated professional focus. The second half of the year will continue at the same intensity and we must continue to give our best efforts. The headquarters is working well, but we can always make minor course corrections to optimise our contribution. And, as we have just discussed, NATO Command Structure Adaptation will help us better respond to fresh and emerging threats – we must continue to support this effort and remain prepared for anything and everything.
To conclude General, do you have anything else that you would like to touch upon at the moment?
I would like to thank the headquarters staff for their hard work and innovation. It is their impressive efforts that give this headquarters its well-deserved reputation for high standards of professionalism. And, personally, I see this frequently as I walk around headquarters’ offices and as I read reports prepared by the staff and attend well-prepared briefings. As we approach the summer I encourage everyone to take the opportunity to relax, maybe watch a little football and come back prepared to continue the hard work that I have seen so far. Everyone’s contribution is critical – only then can we be ‘stronger together.’