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Building on Capabilities and Steering Change

Building on Capabilities and Steering Change

Speech by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson, at the SACLANT Seminar, Norfolk, 19 June 2003. Source: NATO.




Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me first, once again, congratulate Adm. Giambastiani on assuming his new duties as SACTRANS.

It is now time to turn to the second stage of our proceedings here today: the Seminar. And the theme of the Seminar is, in a sense, the core of the mission of the new Transformation Command: "Building on Capabilities and Steering Change".

I will unfortunately not be able to stay for the full Seminar, as I have to leave for the EU-Balkan Summit in Thessaloniki. But those of you who have the privilege to remain will get a vivid demonstration of transformation in action, including tomorrow at the Joint Warfighting Center. You will see revolutionary new technologies and new doctrines. And you will get a glimpse of what these changes might mean for the future of military operations.

That future, however, is now. These transformation concepts are no longer restricted to the battle lab. They are no longer theories dreamed up by academics and brainy colonels, and demonstrated on computers. These new technologies, new doctrines and new concepts are being used today -- in the major conflicts on the front pages of our newspapers.

Kosovo, then Afghanistan, and now the recent war in Iraq demonstrate the implications, and the importance, of key new capabilities – and new ways of thinking about using these capabilities. Precision strike, for instance, not only allows those who have it to hit exactly the target they want, with the minimum of unintended casualties. It also means a huge reduction in the amount of munitions required, and even in the number of planes needed. This has enormous potential to free up resources for other pressing needs.

Battlespace awareness, or knowing where the enemy is, enables those who have it to place their forces wherever the enemy is not, throughout the battlefield, and then to out manoeuvre them. It allows for smaller, lighter but more effective forces.

There are other equally important characteristics of transformation, such as speed of decision making and action, but the point is clear. We have seen enough proof, over the past few years, that these transformational concepts deliver on their promise: military success, in a relatively short time, and at a low cost in lives on both sides. That is why transformation is so important, and why I have championed it so long, and so loudly.

But like anything, transformation must be done right, if it is to deliver. And that means that NATO’s transformation must meet two key tests.

First, we must invest in the right capabilities. And we know what they are. Strategic air and sea lift, to get our forces to where they need to be, in time. Air-to-air refuelling. Precision-guided munitions. Chemical, biological and nuclear defence, including early warning, surveillance, consequence management, stand-off detection and collective protection. Deployable and secure command, control and communications capabilities for our Headquarters. Air-to-ground-surveillance. Suppression of enemy air defence and support jamming. Combat support and combat service support.

These are the requirements for modern operations. And the entire Alliance is already moving together to develop and deliver them. At our Summit last November, our Heads of State and Government gave their support to the Prague Capabilities Commitment, which set out specific targets in each of these important areas, and clear timelines to acquire them.

We have made good progress since then. In acquiring PGMs, for example, we are right on target; and the ambitious initiatives on strategic airlift and sealift are moving ahead well. But there are other areas where progress is lacking, and we need to do more. Because the potential of Allied Command Transformation can only be reached if our forces have the tools to translate theory into reality.

But transformation is about far more than new weapons. It’s about a change in mindset; an openness to new, sometimes radical, ideas; an ability to connect all the dots of ideas and information; and a nimbleness to reflect all of this in joint operations.

For transformation to be successful, it must also be shared. If the United States’ Allies lag behind in embracing transformation, then American unilateralism will become a self-fulfilling prophecy, whether the US wants partners or not. This is in no one’s interest, on either side of the Atlantic.

ACT has the vital role to play here. This command will plug in to the latest US thinking on transformation through the Joint Forces Command. And it will act as a bridge across the Atlantic, making sure that the best practice and latest ideas from Europe and North America are shared – in both directions.

ACT will provide NATO commanders with up-to-date scenarios, the latest lessons learned, realistic mission rehearsals, and well-trained staff. As the command in charge of training, standardisation, concept development and experimentation, ACT will have a huge, and positive impact, on how NATO trains and prepares for future crises.

The NATO Response Force will also help here. The NRF will be a hothouse in which these advanced technologies and doctrines flourish. And because all Allies will have the possibility of contributing forces to the NRF, the benefits will flow throughout the Alliance.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The requirement for transformation and the benefits of transformation are both clear. That is why Allied Command Transformation has been created. But the issues are not simple and I hope that this seminar will expose some of the still unanswered questions.

So let me end by raising two points on which I have still not seen satisfactory answers, and which I hope you will address today and tomorrow.

First, we all need to be convinced that transformation will apply not only to high intensity warfighting but to operations across the military spectrum.

I am sure that it should. Stabilisation operations in Afghanistan and Iraq appear in reality to be as demanding as the warfighting which preceded them – even if in very different ways. Asymetric threats pose perhaps the greatest risk to our homelands. Certainly the capabilities which we have identified in the Prague Capabilities Commitment are as important in stabilisation and defeating asymetric threats as in high intensity combat.

The transformation gurus need now to show that they are thinking about winning wars of all kinds and securing the peace.

Second, you need to address the issue of the usability of NATO forces. This is less sexy than some aspects of transformation but no less vital.

As I explained last week to NATO Defence Ministers, the 18 countries of the NATO Integrated Military Structure in principle have 238 combat brigades declared to NATO. A huge figure in theory. But only 114 of these brigades are declared as deployable, and therefore usable for today’s real-world operations. And of these 114 brigades, 29 are American and over 30 are assessed by NATO to be undeployable in practice.

So 17 Allies between them deploy fewer than 50 usable brigades. These are the forces we depend on in the Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa and so on. Yet given the need to rotate and rest forces, the absolute maximum we could sustain is around 16 brigades. And even this would require countries such as Germany, Italy, Spain and Turkey to keep two or even three brigades deployed at any one time.

There is therefore a disconnect between our collective aspirations and our current ability and willingness to deliver the forces needed to meet them. I look to the transformation community to help address this shortfall as it is already bridging the capabilities gap.

So I have no doubt that Allied Command Transformation has a big and important job to do. But I am also confident that it is in good hands. Admiral Giambastiani, let me congratulate you one final time on this appointment. And, while this Command will no longer have a dominant maritime tint, I nonetheless wish you good "sailing" in the years ahead.


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).