Developing Future Force Protection Capability

Part 2

By Wing Commander (ret.)

By Wg Cdr



, UK


Joint Air Power Competence Centre

 September 2014
Subject Areas: Force Protection


In the first part of this article the author set the scene for the definition of what can be described as a Force Protection (FP) Minimum Military Requirement (MMR). The thinking behind this work is that if a MMR can be defined that will provided a satisfactory level of protection across a spectrum of future scenarios, then NATO can seek from the nations the commitment of forces ahead of time as part of any national contribution to the NATO Reaction Force (NRF).


Students attending the NATO School Oberam­mergau (NSO) FP Course1 over the last 12 months have been challenged to analyse likely future military tasks and assess the FP implications. This has allowed the capture of over 150 different views, from 36 countries, all components2 and from across a range of ranks. The resulting information has been analysed by the author who is a career FP officer.

Why the Requirement? A Brief Recap

The author’s view is that the Alliance has been failing to correctly resource FP for a number of years and we have been extremely lucky that our adversaries have not exploited this weakness; this situation cannot be allowed to continue. As the post-ISAF era dawns, not only are nations now increasingly reluctant to engage in military operations, but even if they were to do so, there would be considerable pressure on governments to ensure an absolute minimum of casualties. Part 1 of this article attempted to explain the complex and inter-related reasons why FP is not being correctly resourced but the situation can be summarized as follows:

Lack of Understanding. There is a lack of understanding of the complexity of providing effective FP in both the contemporary and likely future operating environments. This is compounded by differing national perspectives and inter-Component friction.

Diversion of Scarce Resources. FP is viewed as supporting activity i.e. it is not part of why nations have chosen to deploy their forces. Nations increasingly want the whole of their contribution to be assigned to the Main Effort and providing resources for FP is unfortunately seen by many as a diversion.

Aversion to Risk. In order to deliver FP effect, forces will on occasions have to engage the enemy. Nations are becoming increasingly reluctant to deploy forces unless they can operate in a benign environment with negligible threat.

Someone Else’s Problem. Specific to Air Forces, some nations will only contribute if that contribution can ­operate from an already established safe and secure en­vironment but, they are increasingly looking to others to provide that environment. In a period of continuing austerity, FP is clearly seen by some as a desirable rather than essential and resources are being cut.

A key point from Part 1 should be emphasized: Whilst the author fully accepts that NATO FP doctrine should be more than the defence of fixed installations3, in reality, beyond fixed installation other NATO or national doctrines will take precedence. Recent operations have demonstrated that the nations have a desire to gain the benefits from the economies of scale provided by operating many assets from a single location. These locations quickly become self-perpetuating and with most if not all partners operating from them become tempting targets. They are of strategic importance to and as such, this is where we must ensure that the FP MMR is met.

The Simple Reality

If FP does not contribute to the Mission, its absence or failure will certainly contribute to its failure. We have not correctly resourced FP for the ISAF Mission for many years and this may yet come to haunt us; we have been lucky so far but, how long will our luck hold?

Location and Threat

The most frequent response when someone is asked to ‘define a FP requirement’ is: ‘Where am I going and what is the threat?’ Without location or a specific threat many argue that it is difficult to establish a start point for planning. Is this a valid argument or, just an excuse to avoid confronting the issue of how to provide effective yet resource efficient FP in the future?

If we look at the reasons why the International Com­mu­nity would deploy forces in the future it is safe to assume that any deployment will be to a failed or failing state and the operating environment in terms of climate, physical terrain, human terrain and distance from the home base will all pose significant challenges. In the short to medium term it is unlikely that we will become involved in state-on-state conflict. As a result, whilst an adversary may be state sponsored, they are unlikely to be in a position to challenge NATO forces directly. Therefore, we can use a scenario that sees the Alliance facing a well motivated, well equipped, cap­able and intelligent adversary but one that is going to rely on asymmetry in order to stand any chance of ‘defeating’ NATO. Any ‘defeat’ is unlikely be military rather, a strategic failure because our adversary has caused contributing nations to withdraw their support as a result of public pressure on government – a shattering of Alliance cohesion. This in turn, will have been brought about by adverse media reporting of incidents of apparently successful attacks that result in mounting casualties.

A crucial aspect when considering threat is to acknow­ledge that ‘threat’ will change over time. It is unlikely that the FP forces required at the beginning of any operation will be the forces required by the end. Numbers may rise or fall and capabilities required will change. Importantly, even if the threat is ‘negligible’ at the start of an operation, the ‘World Order’ is such that the presence of NATO forces will likely attract a threat in a relatively short time4. Put simply, the FP posture needs to be agile and capable of reacting quickly in response to new ‘enemy’ Tactics Techniques and Procedures (TTPs). Whilst history demonstrates that we never correctly identify the ‘next’ threat until it is almost upon us, an educated guess can be made as to some potential regions of possible involvement. From this we can deduce that there is an increasing likelihood that a future ‘enemy’ will have identified that a way to have possible strategic impact on the Alliance is by attacking the home base to include Cyber attack.

Likely Future Operations

Information in the public domain, describes anywhere between 7 and 11 potential NRF Mission types; the number of types of missions depends on whether you view a mission as a separate or discreet mission or, a subset of a broader category. Of note, is that likely NRF deployments are similar if not identical to what have become known as the ‘Petersberg Plus Tasks’5, these are: Joint Disarmament Operations, Humanitarian and ­Rescue Tasks, Military Advice and Assistance, Conflict Prevention and Peacekeeping, Crisis Management, Peace-making, Post-Conflict Stabilisation and Support to Counter Terrorism. To provide a little more detail to this list, deployments may include:

  1. preventative deployments to forestall violence bet­ween communities or states;
  2. enforcing sanctions;
  3. monitoring or supervising a tense situation, stalemate, cease-fire, or settlement;
  4. establishing, monitoring, or supervising cantonment areas, demilitarized zones, and buffer zones between warring parties, which may involve interposition by the field force;
  5. support, supervision, and implementation of a process of disarming and demobilizing warring factions;
  6. protection and support of humanitarian assistance efforts;
  7. Non-Combatant Evacuation Operations (NEO);
  8. establishing protective (‘safe areas’) zones;
  9. protection and support of national reconstruction and reconciliation efforts, including the conduct of elections;
  10. helping to restore and maintain general civil order;
  11. train and equip local forces in the course of their modernization, reinforcement or reorganization.

Assembling the Jigsaw

Whilst necessarily simplistic given article length and security classification, it is hoped that what has been presented so far will assist in shaping the requirement? Forces involved in delivering any mission on the ground (or at sea) and operating outside of main base locations will self-protect. Small or temporary bases will likely be national assets and will be protected as such. It is only when we come to large installations where most if not all nations participating in any oper­ation come together, and no one nation accepts and /

or could reasonably be asked to provide FP, do we start to see a challenge; these installations are likely to be headquarters and major operating bases such as air bases. These locations in turn will be impossible to conceal and will probably be on or develop around existing infrastructure which by their nature will be close to centres of population. We will likely be operating in a harsh physical environment. The threat we will face will be capable of massing groups of suf­ficient size and capability that if such a group were to attack an insufficiently protected NATO facility, it would have mission altering impact. This could include mission failure. Therefore, for planning purposes, it is reasonable to assume:

  1. The operation is likely to be far from the home base.
  2. Any situation will be complex both politically and militarily with multiple actors, each of which will have their own agenda.
  3. We will face a capable and adaptable adversary that may well have a covert state sponsor willing and able to provide high-end technology up to including military standard6. The adversary will be capable of massing forces for one-off spectaculars but will make best use of asymmetric tactics and particularly any ability to ‘hide’ amongst the civilian population. Any adversary will be able to adapt his TTPs rapidly in response to any Alliance countermeasures developed.
  4. The location is likely present inter-cultural challenges for Alliance forces. Ethnic tensions will probably be present with religion likely to be a factor together with widespread poverty.
  5. The operating environment will be geographically and climatically testing.
  6. Fixed installations or temporary camps where a large number of nations are assembled will be obvious enemy targets and are likely to be in, or in close proximity to, population centres.
  7. Large NATO facilities will be few in number and could be co-located e.g. a headquarters within the perimeter of an air base. However, they will almost certainly be mission critical and / or strategically ­important.
  8. It is unlikely that the FP task of large multinational and potentially common funded installation could reasonably be undertaken by a single nation (to ­include any Host Nation). FP will need to be a multi­national effort given the range of capabilities and number of resources required.

Creating the MMR

Before assessing how we create a FP MMR to counter the challenge described above, it is worth considering as part of the broader problem, the provision of robust measures in protection of the home base or mission enabling facilities outside of the actual theatre of operation; this should include robust Cyber Defence. What better way to create friction within the Alliance than through attacking a troop contributing nation on its own territory? If the Alliance cannot ­collectively mount, sustain and subsequently redeploy, then the Alliances very credibility will be at stake. Protection of the home base is vital. The serials below represent the FP MMR counter to the challenges presented above:

Expeditionary Capability. The FP MMR is for a FP capability that can be deployed, sustained and ­recovered to a secure base area. It is a little con­sidered factor that FP forces require FP! Equally, FP assets will need to be deployed as part of any initial reconnaissance, reinforced to cover the actual mission and then not redeployed until all other forces and their equipment have been safely recovered. Any ‘Exit Strategy’ is likely to involve capacity building of local forces and this need should be identified as early as practically possible and appropriate forces deployed to undertake the task. A Host ­Nation (HN) reaching a particular level of capability is likely to be a pre-condition for redeployment.

Effective Command and Control (C2). The nature of the FP challenge of the future is such that any FP MMR must have at its core an experienced, specialist FP Command, Control and Coordination element; every base will require a specialist FP headquarters element. This organization will need a robust planning capability which in turn will need to be fed by a dedicated intelligence cell. A FP orga­nization protecting an installation will need ‘local knowledge’ and ‘local intelligence’. The Commander and his staffs need to go beyond Situational Awareness and require true Situational Understanding if they are to be effective.

Capable Forces. A capable and resourceful adversary will need to be countered by equally capable FP forces that are present in the right numbers with the right equipment. Force levels and equipment needs will change over time as the threat evolves. A lack of specialist forces can be mitigated to by the deployment of a robust specialist FP C2 element but effective C2 cannot entirely counter a lack of appropriate forces. A point of some current dis­agree­ment is the need to deploy beyond any peri­meter in order to protect what is within the peri­meter. Put simply, if an adversary can pose a threat from a distance and without need to approach or breach a perimeter, then the FP organization must possess an effective counter.

Ability to Influence. Any FP MMR will need forces that have a high degree of cultural awareness. Local Nationals will be employed on our bases and the location of major bases will be such that daily interaction with the local population will be inevitable. FP forces operating on and around any installation will need to engage with the enemy in ‘the battle for the hearts and minds’ of the local population and for this, appropriate resources for ‘Influence Activity’ will be needed.

Training and Equipment. The nature of future oper­ations will need forces that are appropriately trained and equipped to deal with harsh terrain and extreme climates. This would be an ideal area for the development of the concept of the ‘Connected Forces Initiative (CFI)’ as no single nation can reasonably be expected to resource all possible training or equipment requirement options.

Comprehensive Plans. The FP Estimate is the ­basis of any FP plan. Any plan must be sufficiently resourced, and hence the concept of a FP MMR. The FP MMR must take account of many factors, some of which have been discussed here but importantly, any plan must provide a layered defence starting at the centre of an installation and working outwards to potentially well beyond any peri­meter. It is inevitable that on occasions an enemy will ‘get lucky’ and so plans must include provision for what to do post attack. And of course, no plan will succeed (or stand contact with the enemy) if those who have to implement it are not well led, trained, equipped and regularly rehearsed in what is expected in the event of an incident. Winning the battle for the ‘hearts and minds’ of any local population will be critical as this is an area where if we do not succeed, our adversary will.

Scale. It would be easy to become overwhelmed by the apparent scale of establishing a FP MMR, how­ever, if the information presented here is accepted as a reasonable definition of the need, then any MMR (emphasis on the first ‘M’ – ‘Minimum’) need only actually be established to cover a maximum of three large facilities: A single theatre headquarters, a major NATO airbase and a sea port / harbour. This could be reduced further by co-locating facilities.

Interoperability. Interoperability or at least ‘Oper­ational Compatibility’ between nations based on a common doctrine will be the cornerstone of any capability.


It is offered that the establishment of a FP MMR is a workable concept. However, to deliver the MMR and realize the benefits, there are two prerequisites. One is clearly the commitment ahead of time of sufficient quantities of the appropriate resources but for this to happen there first needs to be an agreed approach. Whilst the intention was not to write an advert for FP doctrine, it would appear that by analysing whether a MMR is achievable, the conclusion that underpins any requirement is that common doctrine is essential.

The author is the current Officer with Principle Responsibility (OPR) for the NSO FP Course.
To include Civilian, Marine and Coastguard.
Such as headquarters, airbases, sea ports and logistics facilities etc.
Measurable in weeks rather than months.
Petersberg Tasks from the Treaty of Amsterdam ’97 and ‘Plus’ tasks from the Treaty of Lisbon ’09.
E.g. Man Portable Air Defence Systems (MANPADs), anti-armour weapons and / or sophisticated Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).
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Wing Commander (ret.)
Joint Air Power Competence Centre

Wing Commander (ret.) Jez Parkinson is a RAF Regiment Officer with 33-years’ regular Service; over half in the Multinational environment and in excess of 7-years on operations. He continues to work as a Reservist in the Force Protection Environment and as a civilian on Asset Protection collaborating with the military, industry and academia. He is the author of NATO FP Policy, FP Doctrine for Air Operations and the current Custodian for Joint FP Doctrine. He is responsible for the development and delivery of NATO FP Courses as well as writing several publications and articles on FP.

Information provided is current as of February 2022

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