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Joint Air & Space Power Conference 2018

The Fog of Day Zero – Joint Air & Space in the Vanguard

Conference Read Ahead

Force Protection on Day Zero

By Wing Commander Jez Parkinson, GBR AF

Wing Commander Jez Parkinson is a RAF Regiment Officer with 32-years’ Service; over half in the Multinational environment. He is the Author of NATO FP Policy, FP Doctrine for Air Operations and the current Custodian for Joint FP Doctrine.


Setting the Scene

Introduction. Many conflicts have been decided by the ability, or inability, to hold vital ground1. Rommel was defeated in North Africa because his lines of supply were cut and the British lost Crete because they failed to recognize the importance of Maleme Airfield and to protect it accordingly.

‘When one comes to consider that supplies and materiel are the decisive factor in modern warfare, it was already becoming clear that a catastrophe was looming on the distant horizon for my army.’

General Erwin Rommel

Context. The second half of the twentieth century was a bipolar world dominated by the Cold War between the United States of America/NATO and the Soviet Union. However, those days are gone and the world is now a far more complex place. Put simply, NATO is now surrounded by threats (to include within the Cyber Domain) so, if there are 360-degree threats, the Alliance must respond accordingly. NATO still has to be capable of holding vital ground as well as deterring an adversary, but what it has to hold, how and from whom, is now a more significant challenge.

Threat. It is easy to be overwhelmed by the current discussion of global threats but, in its most basic form, for any adversary to pose a threat, they have to have both the capability to do NATO harm and the intent to do so; without both components, there is no credible threat. When discussing how to respond to potential threats, by considering the threat posed by each adversary in turn, allows a list of responses to be developed. Some measures will be appropriate for all adversaries whilst certain adversaries, will require tailored responses. Irrespective of the threat-actor it is suggested that there are several inevitabilities going forward. Firstly, at some point an adversary will ‘get lucky’. NATO has to be prepared for a successful attack and have immediate response, recuperation and business continuity plans in place at all locations. Second, traditional geographic boundaries are irrelevant; there is no such thing anymore as a ‘rear-battlespace’. Air and Space Power is the Alliances strategic advantage so, why confront the latest platforms in the environment where their performance is optimized? Far better to destroy them at their home base if that is where they are least protected. An attack on the Homefront, will also likely have a very different impact on the will of member states to react. Finally, in a world with 24-hour news, much has been made of the concept of the ‘strategic corporal2’. The same concept applies to our adversaries; a lone actor, with access to resources could have a huge impact. Also considered in this category, the reality of an ‘insider threat3’ within Alliance territory.

Question: Is sufficient emphasis being placed on the threat posed by non-state actors?
Question: Why would any adversary choose to confront capability in the environment where it performs best?
Question: Is the so-called ‘Homebase’ correctly protected? What is NATO Air and Space Power’s weakest link?


Deterrence Made Simple. Deterrence Theory is complex and no single definition exists. However, for the purposes of this short piece, the simplest way to consider Deterrence is as a basic cost versus benefit analysis. Specific to preventing an adversary from launching action designed to seize territory, Deterrence can be considered to have two facets. First, the defender’s acknowledged ability to meet any attack with an immediate and decisive counter-attack. The second, to create a situation where a potential aggressor weighs possible options, and realizes that the costs far outweighs the potential benefits4.


Contested Space. A question that should be considered is that in the areas where its presence is contested, does NATO have a sufficiently robust, flexible and sustainable footprint in order for it to be seen as a credible deterrent? Robust, flexible and sustainable are inseparable, critical facets:

a. Robust. NATO forces need to be sufficiently robust to do significant damage to a lightly equipped, rapidly deployed adversary force. It is offered that the adversary force would necessarily need to be lightly equipped, in order to move swiftly, which in turn would be required to maintain the element of surprise. Further, surprise would need to be a key element of an adversary plan, as allowing the Alliance sufficient time to respond would inevitably lead to defeat.

b. Flexibility. Flexibility is required to counter adversary action across a broad spectrum of activity. In other words, have the ability to deliver a rapid and decisive counter-punch unhindered by time, distance, climate or geography.

c. Sustainable. Peer or near-peer competitors will recognize that a force can be neither robust nor flexible if it cannot be sustained for a sufficient period of time to be assured of success.

Understanding Cost. Much is made of the premise that we exist in a resource constrained environment and there are a multitude of competing priorities and Defence is often a long way down that list of priorities. However, there is a simple but stark choice to be made at the NATO Summit in Brussels. The Alliance is at a critical juncture and must modernize or, face the real possibility of humiliation and subsequent collapse. Deterrence is expensive, however, the cost to NATO of not deterring a competitor is exponentially greater; Deterrence is actually the cheapest option.

Question: What would be the true cost to the Alliance of a failure to effectively deter a competitor?

Strategic Communication. A competitor may see ‘reinforcement’ measures by NATO as escalatory. However, part of any ‘modernization’ initiative(s) needs to incorporate the development of more effective messaging; reinforcement needs to be demonstrated as being purely defensive. Similarly, there is a need when considering confrontation with a peer or near-peer competitor to acknowledge the role of the previously thought out-dated concept of Passive Defence to include physical protection of facilities, dispersal and redundancy.

Question: Can NATO communicate, quickly and effectively to counter adversary messaging and is NATO prepared to defend high value civil or/and military objects of interest through renewed investment in passive defence?

Delivering Deterrence

Reality. In short to medium-term, NATO has no peer competitor that can hope to prevail over NATO in a protracted conflict. This is something that is regularly not discussed but, is something that NATO does not, in the immediate future, have to contend with. Furthermore, it is offered that not all states on the periphery of the Alliance are under equal threat; some are simply too large to be challenged by any likely competitor. This provides the Alliances with its first advantage in that any competitor has to achieve both a quick win and be sure that having achieved such advantage, NATO will not respond because the concept of Deterrence becomes reversed i.e. NATO cannot respond because the politically perceived cost of doing so far outweigh the benefit.

Focus. Identify where the true risk lies and respond accordingly. The focus for Deterrence needs to be on doing what is required to prevent a quick and what is realistically likely to be an irreversible ‘land-grab’5, which in turn, then undermines NATO credibility and cohesion6. This needs to be done whilst simultaneously protecting assets within Alliance Territory from the more likely terrorist-style attack. It would be too easy to say that all areas where NATO has currently deployed an Enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) are equally under threat. Those areas most at risk are those that are small enough to be over-run rapidly, with the commitment of a relatively small force and, as a result, where NATO would then have to confront the issue of Deterrence from the completely opposite perspective i.e. Nations having to consider whether the benefit of having to mount an operation at scale to eject an invader was worth the cost.

Question: How strong is NATO Cohesion – has the Alliance over-expanded and in an increasingly complex world, is it time to re-think the approach to European Defence?

Real Presence. Where the risk of a ‘land-grab’ is identified as being possible, NATO should plan to position forces sufficient to remove from any adversary the option to take swift and decisive action. By doing this, NATO creates a state where a competitor has to acknowledge that in order to achieve their objective(s), the only option would be to confront NATO forces with mass over time.

Question: What scale of Joint Force would be required to deliver ‘real presence’?

More Balanced Forces. So how should NATO deliver Deterrence in those areas where it is necessary? The proposed answer is to develop the current concept of eFP into a more robust, flexible and sustainable force. Key to such development would be to develop a balanced force. One that is able to operate across all domains, with components able to switch seamlessly from the supported to the supporting role. In the future, eFP needs to be delivered in a truly Joint manner, underpinned by a broader Comprehensive Approach.

Understanding what is Vital. To be successful, a competitor will need to focus his actions on vital ground be this airfields, seats of government, ports, main supply routes etc. Therefore, NATO needs to protect these assets using both active and passive measures and pre-position sufficient operating stocks with these protection forces to enable them to hold for a protracted period until relieved. In other words, eFP needs to deliver enhanced protection to those assets that are vital for success.

Enhanced Forward Presence at the Rear

Threats without Borders. The title above may appear an oxymoron but, the reality is that the Alliance is facing 360-degree threats. How these threats will manifest themselves at different locations over time will vary, however, the inescapable challenge is that every location needs to be adequately protected against the specific, identified threat. This development has greatly increased the complexity of Force Protection requirements from when there was a clearly defined front line.


The reality is that NATO cannot hope to protect itself completely from all of the challenges that are currently possible. By understanding the concepts of threat and deterrence in their most basic forms and simultaneously applying a reality-check to who our competitors really are and what they are actually capable of, it is suggested that a way forward can be defined. As with many things, a ‘balanced approach’ is required. We need to adopt an approach that protects both the periphery and the core of NATO through a mixture of active and passive measures but, recognizing that whereas the concept of threat might be ubiquitous, the actual way in which a threat will manifest itself will be different, therefore, different location-specific approaches will be necessary.

1. In all domains to include the likes of shipping lanes and airspace and today, cyberspace.
2. The concept that very junior military leaders can make significant decisions. Tactical decisions that have strategic or even political implications. After Charles C. Krulak, ‘The Strategic Corporal – Leadership in the Three Block War’.
3. In its simplest form, an insider threat is defined as a threat that originates from within the organization being attacked or targeted and is carried out by an employee, former employee, contractor or other such individual who has apparent legitimate access. An attack may be kinetic or non-kinetic (e.g. an attack with an actual weapon or through the introduction of malware etc. into the organizations systems).
4. H. Praks, ‘Hybrid or Not: Deterring and Defeating Russia’s Ways of Warfare in the Baltics  the Case of Estonia’, NATO Defence College, Research Division, Rome, Dec. 2015.
5. D. Shlapak and M. Johnson, ‘Reinforcing Deterrence on NATO’s Eastern Flank – Wargaming the Defence of the Baltics’, Rand Corporation, Santa Monica, 2016.
6. As a result of creating a situation where a number of nations, as democratic societies, are simply unable to answer a call to arms under Article V as a result of domestic public opinion.