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Joint Air & Space Power Conference 2018

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

Conference Read Ahead

Joint Project Optic Windmill and Day Zero Operations?

By Lieutenant Colonel Berry Pronk, NLD AF

Lieutenant Colonel G. W. ‘Berry’ Pronk (RNLAF) has been working over 30 years in the domain of Surface-Based Air and Missile Defence. Besides his broad tactical experience he worked in several joined, national and international staff-positions. Currently he is the Subject Matter Expert for SBAMD at the JAPCC.



NATO exercises generally focus on the ‘main game’ (i.e. major land-component operations) time in conflict, starting at D+100, or beyond. Although recent exercises tend to move closer to a ‘D+0’ starting point, they still commenced at a day well beyond the onset of hostilities. While beginning exercises on a post ‘D+0’ (or ‘Day Zero’) operational construct may benefit certain components and exercise objectives, the dearth of ‘Day Zero’ exercises has come to reflect an institutional avoidance of the particular (difficult) problem sets that the Alliance would likely face when pitted against near-peer adversaries. Nonetheless, there dawns a move towards exercising in such a construct. For example, during the last Trident Javelin exercise the term ‘Day Zero Operations’ surfaced almost daily as an acknowledgement that at least some future exercises should start at the ‘Day Zero’ of a theorized conflict.

Discussions about the exercise Joint Project Optic Windmill (JPOW) often lead to definitions of what it is not, such as ‘not a Field Training exercise’ or ‘not a Command Post exercise’. As a matter of fact, it is an exercise that can facilitate adequate room for experimentation and which can enable great training possibilities that are shaped for optimal knowledge enrichment. JPOW is a Computer Aided Exercise where participants can train with their real systems, i.e. hardware in the loop, or simulators or even computer models of their capabilities. All of this exists in one exercise network loop, along with a simulated air threat. In the past, there have even been exercise combinations that paired with real air operations (such as time-sensitive targeting).

This paper will describe the exercise JPOW in general and its possibilities and opportunities in the context of ‘Day Zero’. JPOW takes into account that one of the most challenging missions for NATO is IAMD, primarily because this complex mission expands through all domains, involves all services, and requires flawless cooperation and collaboration between multiple nations and NATO entities. Since ‘Day Zero Operations’ aren’t universally defined, and therefore ‘Day Zero Requirements’ for exercises aren’t well identified, an attempt will be made to show how JPOW itself or the general construct of JPOW can be utilized as a valuable base for training Integrated Air and Missile Defence (IAMD) and other NATO forces for this critical timeframe.

Multinational Integrated Air and Missile Defence Exercise Joint Project Optic Windmill

After the first post-Cold War mission (Desert Storm 1991), where Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence (TBMD) played a significant role, the lack of sufficient TBMD training opportunities in NATO, especially at the tactical level, was recognized by air defence communities in the Netherlands, Germany and the USA. In 1996, a dedicated team of experts from the Royal Netherlands Air Force, the German Air Force and US European Command (US EUCOM) took the initiative to organize a small-scale Theatre Missile Defence exercise, complementary to the larger US and NATO TMD exercises, called ‘Joint Project Optic Windmill’. The initial goal of this initiative was to bring TMD operations to the lower tactical level, to exercise and to maximize the interoperability potential between the (in those days) three main Patriot users: the United States Army, and the German and Netherlands Air Force. JPOW ‘1’ proved to be an immense success, and the filling of this need in the existing exercise calendar was widely appreciated. As a consequence, JPOW became a recurring event. Throughout the years, JPOW evolved and expanded its scope to Air & Missile Defence, and matured from a small scale tactical level initiative to a leading Integrated Air & Missile Defence exercise for both the tactical and operational level in Europe.

JPOW distinguishes itself from other exercises by including a concept development and experimentation (CD&E) phase in the overall exercise set-up. This segment, which precedes the execution phase, offers the participants the unique opportunity to demonstrate, practice, evaluate and validate different IAMD programmes and concepts. Doctrine, Techniques, Tactics and Procedures (DTTP) can be developed, tested, validated, improved upon and tested again in a testbed environment. The implementation of lessons identified (from the CD&E phase) in the execution phase allows for immediate feedback and, subsequently, a steep learning curve.

Currently, JPOW is a bi-national DEU-NLD led exercise which enjoys strong support from US EUCOM. JPOW has already proven to be a valuable tool in supporting NATO air operations by improving planning and C2 procedures throughout the domain of IAMD. The last iteration of JPOW provided IAMD training for over a dozen NATO and partner nations.

Because it is forged by corresponding IAMD stakeholders for their own exercise participants, JPOW offers important training opportunities and consistently reflects relevant IAMD issues. Furthermore, NATO regularly expresses its appreciation for JPOW, particularly because the flexible set-up of the exercise enables new ideas and concepts to be validated or tested. A considerable part of NATO’s IAMD procedures, as well as parts of its current Command Structure, were developed and evaluated during JPOW exercises.

JPOW and Day Zero Operations

While JPOW is a flexible means to create training opportunities the concept of ‘Day Zero Operations’ is relatively new and, as stated above, not well defined. Hence, it is quite difficult to build an exercise dedicated to this purpose. In short, ‘Day Zero’ is difficult to define and hard to fight. Therefore, the simplest answer has been to avoid the topic entirely and move on to easier paradigms.

However, this dilemma dovetails into what makes JPOW special among other exercises. While most exercises cannot accommodate vague starting conditions and potential failures by the ‘blue team’, the isolated run capabilities of JPOW satisfy these special criteria and can be easily accommodated within the CD&E phase of the exercise. For example, during the CD&E phase, specific problem areas could be explored and/or tested. Bigger challenges can be chopped into more defined problems to be explored, analysed and then tackled under controlled circumstances. In addition, JPOW contains a Combat Enhancement Training/Force Integration Training (CET/FIT) phase where ‘Day Zero’ academics can be briefed and discussed to enable a common understanding before the start of the exercise.

The organizers of the next edition of JPOW (JPOW 19) are considering designating the transition from peacetime to conflict as the starting point of the exercise. However, the anticipated time required for the stand up of a wartime Air C2 structure would consume all available exercise time. Therefore, the exercise planning groups are using the flexibility of JPOW 19 to amalgamate parts of the transition (towards a JFAC), the mix of standing NATO peacetime missions and wartime NATO procedures, as well as initial entry operations.

Of note, JPOW does not support actual large troop movements, nor strategic deployments, but could create circumstances that can still challenge logistics planning and Command and Control procedures. Also, the scenario can be specifically shaped in a way to better identify necessary conditions for day 1 operations, which will support the definition process of Day Zero operations (e.g. shape I&W needs, identify necessary ROE and units available for certain circumstances) or create/improve DTTPs.

The concept of having a starting phase of an exercise with a more experimental character, like JPOW, could be highly beneficial for other exercises as well. This is especially true for exercises like Trident Juncture/Javelin, which are currently used as evaluations of Joint Force Commands. Unfortunately, evaluation exercises are (generally) not the time for exploration and optimization since the allowance for failure is drastically minimized. These kind of ventures are good for exercising identified Best Practices but leave little room for creativity. Consequently, an ‘allowance for learning’ would need to be instituted in these type exercises in order for them to effectively support a JPOW-like ideal.

Overall, a JPOW-like structure, where there is emphasis on experimenting with ideas (as a whole or as single scenario vignettes) that can be tested without the pressure of an evaluation, would be beneficial to test a ‘Day Zero’ construct. The exercise should embrace a mindset of ‘Trial and Error’ to get better, rather than a pass-fail scorecard that stifles creativity and honest introspection.

The combination of academics and experimentation, a flexible CD&E phase, and an actual exercise construct that has proven to be highly effective during JPOW can do the same for exercises that test various scenarios and training audiences, including ‘Day Zero’. Instinctively, in today’s environment, many within the Alliance feel that changing circumstances require an adapted and creative exercise process to remain fruitful and successful for tomorrow’s conflicts. Therefore, it might be beneficial to scale down the evaluation/certification segments of some exercises and use the regained time for experimentation, which will allow the participants to experience trial, error and then learn from their mistakes. Not every exercise should be changed into a JPOW-like structure, but where there is a need to exercise ‘Day Zero’ scenarios, the JPOW paradigm will likely pay the most dividends.