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Q&A with Gen Riccardo Marchiò on Brilliant Joust 18

Sir, could I please start by asking - what is ‘Brilliant Joust 18’ and why are we here in Bydgoszcz? 

Absolutely! Brilliant Joust 18 [BRJT18] is our first major event as a headquarters this year. It is a complex computer aided command post exercise designed to test the joint interaction and integration of our headquarters with the NATO Response Force components provided by the Italian NATO Rapid Deployable Corps [Land], the German Joint Force Air Component [Air], the French Maritime Task Force Command [Maritime] and the Spanish Joint Special Operations Command [Special Forces]. As a response force our readiness is critical and this exercise will allow us to understand how we can better support each other to achieve interoperability and joint effects, should a crisis rapidly develop. This exercise will also test our ability to understand the second and third order effects and implications of military decisions taken at the operational level. The scenario is a complex crisis situation that requires the headquarters to take a ‘comprehensive approach’ to the friction generated by multiple headquarters, host nation allies, international organisations, non-governmental organisations, the media and other actors involved in the region. Together with the other exercises that the headquarters participates in, this allows us to generate continuity and shared values – these allow us to be ‘stronger together’.

For those of us taking part, the exercise seems a little different from the typical crisis response exercises that NATO conducts. Could you explain to our readers why this is the case?

It is true that we are trying to do something a little different here in Bydgoszcz. The Joint Force Training Centre [JFTC] was established to provide, not only, state-of-the-art training facilities for JFC-level training, but also innovation and experimentation to explore different ways of providing that training. Major General [Wilhelm] Grün (COM JFTC) and Lieutenant General [Ton] Van Loon (Senior Mentor) designed this exercise to, not necessarily follow the usual stages of a crisis response operation, instead to allow the headquarters staff to develop their own answers to the problems set. It has been designed to create discussion, explore new concepts and advance processes, rather than simply practice and refine the processes we already have. As a headquarters we have already achieved our certification to command the NRF for 2018. Now we are being given an opportunity to show our intellectual agility and flexibility. I see this every day as I walk around the headquarters and the tents, seeing for myself the physical coordination between so many different units. Despite the many different uniforms, we are not so different as operators.

I would like to give you an example to illustrate my points. During this exercise some of the staff were tasked to take part in a table-top war-game exercise to test and examine the psychological motivations of scenario nations and to use war-gaming to assess likely actions - based upon the psychological assessments and leverage available to those nations’ leaders. This exercise was not for senior leaders - the participants were drawn from all parts of the HQ and from all rank levels. It was facilitated by external specialists and the results of this war-game were briefed directly to me. So, even though we are a hierarchical military organisation, this proves to me that we are able to leverage the intellectual firepower of all of the HQ and we are able to consider novel approaches to our operational analysis.

And it should also be noted that we have been able to test the wider effects of tactical issues, such as conflict related sexual and gender based violence incidents, causing strategic effects. CRSGBV (as the military call it) might be the world’s worst acronym, but it is a critical issue of concern in modern warfare that we need to understand and learn how to address properly. In this case the scenario tested the entire headquarters and not just the gender advisor - issues caused by gender-based violence had implications that affected all elements of the staff, the components and external elements; this required the headquarters to conduct intense coordination and to look closely at their own processes to ensure that the correct actions were taken. A full arsenal of novel problems involving hybrid warfare, cyber warfare and information warfare has been set by the JFTC for the HQ to resolve - and of course, our ability to coordinate combat actions is also being thoroughly tested. This is a challenge - not least because we have also split our headquarters to test our ability to reach-back and coordinate operations from a split location.

Of course, we will review the findings of this exercise with the exercise staff, note the lessons and conduct a comprehensive review. But as I said earlier, we are already certified. We are here to move to the next level. To understand and to set the conditions to thrive in complexity. And I will also add I am being challenged too by this exercise – we are all learning new ways of dealing with challenges, such as the media, that are becoming more critical at the operational-strategic level.

So what are your first impressions of your new command? Is the HQ pulling its weight?

Ok, I am not here to give anyone an easy ride. I have worked in NATO for many years and have deployed operationally with NATO on many occasions. I know the expectations that SACEUR has of us and I know the successes that NATO has experienced in the past. I also know many members of the staff and I have previously commanded the NRDC-ITA, that is here as our land component. This is why I can say with great confidence that you, as a headquarters, are exceeding my expectations. But we must not rest on our laurels. This is our year and we will have many opportunities to continue to develop our skills.

Speaking of the NRDC-ITA, did you enjoy working with your old unit?

Well of course! Every commander looks back at his or her previous commands - from platoon through to the higher levels - with great affection, but I also have great pride seeing the integration of the NRDC with the French maritime forces, the German air component and the Spanish special forces component, not to mention the integration with our, already integrated and multinational headquarters. The pride that all of have in serving in NATO is remarkable; we are all brothers and sisters in arms.

Sir, can you explain for us what the NRF18 is and what this commitment means to JFCBS?

NRF is NATO’s high readiness force that is prepared, capable and ready to provide an immediate response capability to support every task from humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to peace-support operations and war-fighting. JFCBS is providing the headquarters command and control element, which is rotated between us and our sister command in Naples [JFCNP].

Thank you, a cynic might say that the NRF is merely a tool to sabre-rattle in front of potential threats?

Well first, we should not forget that the NRF capability is indeed partly a deterrent and that such a deterrent effect is of great value. Having a credible and well trained response force sends a significant message to any potential aggressor. You may not remember, but NATO has deployed elements of the NRF during disaster relief operations in Pakistan and to support Afghan elections in the past. The NRF training cycle, through organisations like the JFTC, also provides NATO with a tool to train units throughout the alliance in the latest doctrine and for them to take the lessons learned back to their national militaries. NRF is, therefore, also a mechanism to raise standards and interoperability throughout the alliance.

Sir, I will not take up more of your valuable time – to conclude, do you have anything else that you would like to tell our readers?

I would like to, again, thank all participants from the components and the JFTC that are reading this article. Their efforts were critical to make our training both realistic and challenging. Their hard work is greatly appreciated by me. And finally, I would like to thank the headquarters – the staff that deployed forward to Bydgoszcz, the staff in reach-back at Brunssum and the support staff. We are truly ‘stronger together.’

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