ByGeneral Frank Gorenc, USA AF, Director JAPCC
The precise application of combat power from the air has been of strategic importance to the Alliance since NATO’s inception. Time and time again, NATO and its Member Nations have turned to Joint Air Power as the first, and in some cases only, military response option. Air Power, now coupled with Space Power, continues to demonstrate its inherent ability to ‘go over not through’ with attributes of speed, reach, flexibility, and precision. These combined qualities provide NATO and National political leaders with a tool of unmatched responsiveness and flexibility, supporting the politicalstrategic objectives of both the Alliance and its Member Nations.
Despite Air and Space Power’s undeniable contribution, NATO continues a drastic and increasing reduction of the very same capabilities. The current ‘climate of austerity’ will put investment in future Air and Space Power under further scrutiny, resulting most likely in further diminishing the minimum military Air and Space Power capabilities needed to support NATO’s level of ambition. Our Alliance now faces the increasingly dire risk of not having the right capabilities and / or suffi cient quantities of Air Power and access to Space capabilities to cope with the security challenges outlined in NATO’s forward looking Strategic Concept.
Therefore I directed the Joint Air Power Competence Centre to conduct the study ‘Air and Space Power in NATO – Future Vector’ to chart the path forward and guarantee Air and Space Power’s contribution to the success of NATO and the security of Member Nations. I would like to reiterate that the Future Vector Study is Joint in nature. The study focuses on Air and Space Power from all domains and includes the capability and competency requirements of all Services.
The crisis in Ukraine quickly highlighted why collective security in Europe is still required. Our Alliance will be required to execute Collective Defence, Crisis Management and Cooperative Security crisis response in a rapidly changing and challenging world. NATO and political decision-makers must continue to act collectively to maintain our asymmetric advantage – Joint Air and Space Power.
I strongly encourage you to read this publication as it offers ideas and potential solutions to enhance NATO’s Joint Air and Space Power and guarantees our collective security in the coming decades.
Context of the Future Vector Project
For more than fifteen years now, NATO has been actively pursuing efforts to improve the operational capabilities and competencies of the Alliance. Today, essential shortfalls still exist and the transatlantic capability gap has become even greater. Although this capability and competency gap in NATO is not new, it has become more apparent with the recent developments in the Ukraine and the changes in the relationship between Russia and NATO.
When it comes to defining the priority deficits, the conclusion must be that it explicitly touches upon a broad and essential range of shortages in Joint Air and Space Power capabilities and competencies in NATO and in particular between the United States and NATO / Europe. To this must be added a number of political-military strategic issues like the pivot of the United States to Asia; the new United States ‘win and deny’ war fighting strategy; the existing arrangement in NATO that no single Member State should provide more that 50 % of certain critical capabilities; and the fact that current capability development initiatives in NATO most probably will not solve or substantially mitigate the existing and widening capability gaps.
The conclusion of this all is that there is fair chance that crisis or conflict situations arise where the United States, because of domestic political reasons or other strategic interests, are not or not fully able to provide the needed Air and Space Power capabilities and competencies. Therefore in the future, NATO / Europe should possess the full spectrum of Air Power capabilities and competencies and maintain assured access to space based information and data to conduct Crisis Management Operations independently at the periphery of NATO’s geographical Area of Operational Responsibility (AOR).
This sense of urgency was well reflected at the 2012 Annual Joint Air Power Competence Centre Conference when a keynote speaker talked about the future role of Air Power in NATO. The main thesis of the lecture was that ‘from its beginning NATO has been an Air Power Alliance, which is now at risk. Why? Because of the existing “Air and Space Power Paradox”. On the one hand and since its inception, Air and Space Power has been pivotal for NATO’s effectiveness and success. On the other hand, there are continuing and drastic reductions in defence budgets and diminishing Air and Space Power capabilities in NATO. Therefore, it was stated that the adage should be to cooperate and share, or decline’.
These deliberations and standpoints led to the decision to conduct a comprehensive Air and Space Power study towards 2040. As an intermediate step, the Joint Air Power Competence Centre (JAPCC) delivered a paper titled ‘Present Paradox – Future Challenge’ in which the Air and Space Power Paradox has been qualified with respect to future challenges. Put simply, the Air and Space Power Paradox is:
The increasing importance of Air and Space Power as the military tools of choice for NATO and political decision-makers to successfully impose their collective will, yet these same decision-makers are seemingly unwilling or unable to act collectively to maintain and evolve this executive tool necessary to effectively intervene.
This JAPCC Study provided a broad range of recommendations for a comprehensive Air and Space Power study towards 2040. Early 2014, this lead to the start of the ‘Air and Space Power in NATO – Future Vector Project’ with the overall aim:
‘To identify viable options and solutions to guarantee that Air and Space Power continue to be key enablers for the security and success of NATO and its Member States.’
Compendium of Essays
The Core Team executing the Future Vector Project decided to deliver a Compendium of essays consisting of two parts. Part One focuses on the political-military aspects of the Air and Space Power problem. Part two will have a dedicated focus on the military- and operational-strategic aspects of the defined problem.
Some might ask themselves, ‘how about the other Services?’ It is stressed that the Future Vector Project is joint in nature. It focuses on Air and Space Power from all domains and does not exclude the Air and Space Power capability and competency requirements of any of the Services in the defence organizations of the respective Member States.
The presented Part One of the Compendium consists of eight essays covering a broad range of issues, but each emphatically contributing to the mitigation of the Air and Space Power Paradox in NATO. Where possible a reference to cost was made. All essays emanate the need for political and military strategic consideration and decision-making at the highest level.
All essays in Part One of the Compendium deliver key messages:
’Transatlantic security issues have been dominated during the past decade by at least five issues, collectively grouped as the 5 Ds: continuous deployments, growing public debt, negative demographic trends, declining defence budgets, and the increasing focus on domestic issues leading to disinterest and even disengagement in foreign affairs and security issues by some governments and publics.’
‘Without a sustained and active dialogue among Alliance leaders NATO’s collective Air Power capabilities will be drastically reduced and arguably not upgraded which will have an enormous negative impact on the ability of NATO and in particular NATO / Europe to provide for the security and economic well-being of its populations, territory, and the greater transatlantic space.’
‘The capability and competence gap in NATO and in particular NATO / Europe is in essence an Air and Space Power gap. This gap is not new, but has become more manifest with the recent developments in the Ukraine and the changed relationship between NATO and Russia.’
‘NATO / Europe must be capable of independently carrying out Crisis Management Operations at the periphery of NATO’s geographical Area of Operational Responsibility. The ability to execute these operations is very much dependent on the availability of a set of full spectrum Air and Space Power capabilities and competencies provided by the NATO / European Member States.’
‘NATO should develop a unified forward-leaning air minded concept for the application of Air, Space and Cyber Power. The need to define an end-state that is credible, legal and moral as the critical element of every military plan has been the missing ingredient in strategy since Thucydides.’
‘The opportunity to take partnerships to the next level of maturity may be best found in terms of what can be done in Joint Air and Space Power.’
‘Air and Space Power is crucially dependent on advancing technology.’
‘Structured dialogue between the Armed Force and Industry at a very early stage of the requirements definition, design, and procurement process is a prerequisite for a healthy defence technology and industrial base, which in turn, is the prerequisite for technological superior and affordable Air and Space Power.’
‘Burden sharing in NATO has evolved from an optional policy to a required policy.’
Besides a focused set of key messages, many of the essays in Part One of the Compendium are breaking new ground. They provide a number of options and initiatives, such as: a Joint Air Power Capability and Competence Building Initiative in NATO; an F-35 European Participating Air Forces Initiative; a Regional Approach to Air Power in NATO; a NATO / European Missile Defence Initiative; the development of a NATO / European Air Warfare Centre; a new concept based on systematic empowerment and systematic paralysis that challenges current military doctrine; and a fundamentally new relationship between Industry, Industrial Associations and NATO and its Member States. For a complete list of ideas and options, the reader should refer to the recommendations in the various essays.
The essence of this Compendium Part One is the need for a clear sense of urgency and the need for swift political and military support to discuss and address the key thoughts, ideas and options provided. This is a tough nut to crack, but ignoring the problem is no longer an option. If NATO wants to remain a credible security provider and wants to be able to act throughout the entire spectrum of conflict, its Member States should show the will and support to embark on a set of solutions thereby mitigating especially NATO / Europe’s Joint Air and Space Power capability and competency gaps. The first opportunity to show this political intent might be at the upcoming NATO Summit in Cardiff this year. The ‘controls’ are in your hands!