By General 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 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 political-strategic 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 sufficient 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 competences 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 been starkly highlighted by recent developments in the Ukraine and the changes in the relationship between Russia and NATO.
When addressing the priority deficits, the conclusion must be that this issue explicitly touches upon a broad and essential range of shortages in Joint Air and Space Power capabilities and competencies in NATO. In particular, the capability disparity between NATO/North America and NATO/Europe is a factor that must be considered. To this consideration 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’ warfighting strategy; the existing arrangement in NATO that no single Ally 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, should a crisis or conflict situation arise (non-Article V) in which 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, the remaining portion of NATO might be unable to execute a full-spectrum air operation. 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 (JAPCC) Conference when a key note speaker spoke about ‘the future role of Air Power in NATO.’ The main theses 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, 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 initial step, the JAPCC delivered a paper in March 2014 titled ‘Present Paradox – Future Challenge’ in which the Air and Space Power Paradox is qualified with respect to future challenges. Put simply, the Air and Space Power Paradox is:
‘The inceasing importance of Air and Space Power as the military tools of choice for NATO and political decison-makers to succesfully impose their collective will, yet these same decision-makers seemingly unwilling or unable to act collectively to maintain and evolve this executive tool necessary to effectively intervene’
‘Present Paradox – Future Challenge’ provided a broad range of recommendations for a comprehensive Air and Space Power study towards 2040. Early 2014, this led 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 joint Air and Space Power continue to be key enablers for the security and success of NATO and its Allies.’
It is stressed that the ‘Air and Space Power in NATO – Future Vector Project’ is joint in nature. It focuses on Air and Space Power across the domain 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.
A Coherent Trinity
The Core Team executing the Future Vector Project decided to deliver a Compendium of essays consisting of two parts. Part One was published in July 2014 and focuses on the political-military aspects of the Air and Space Power Problem.
This is Part Two of the ‘Air and Space Power in NATO – Future Vector Project’ Compendium of essays. It consists of eight essays focusing on military- and operational-strategic aspects of the Air and Space Power Paradox in NATO. Although Part One contained some mention of the essays of Part Two of the Compendium, new insights have led to an adjustment of the titles and sequence of the essays in Part Two. All essays breathe the need for political- and military-strategic consideration and decisionmaking at the highest military and political levels.
Combined with the ‘Present Paradox – Future Challenge’ Study and Part I of the Future Vector Project Compendium of essays, this volume completes a coherent trinity providing an examination of the future of Air Power in NATO.
Each of the eight essays in this second Part of the Compendium of essays contains key messages, which are summarized here:
• Air and Space Power in NATO 2020 – 2030
‘The defence budgets of most NATO member-states have fallen since the start of the economic crisis in 2008. At the same time, the costs of defence equipment have continued to rise. For Alliance operations to remain viable and capability to remain credible, investment will have to improve. Innovative approaches to procurement, including pooling and sharing initiatives, particularly in respect of new technologies, will help mitigate costs.’
• Air and Space Power Force Structure – Towards a Right Balance
‘NATO/Europe must be ready, as a minimum, to face autonomously a Crisis Management Operation at the level of a Smaller Joint Operation – Air Heavy. Without the availability of a set of full spectrum Air and Space Power capabilities and competencies to cope with such a contingency’, there is a fair chance that NATO and in particular NATO/Europe is not capable of adequately dealing with emerging security challenges at the peripehery of NATO’s geographical Area of Operational Responsibility.’
• Air and Space Power: the Need for Cyber Resilience
‘NATO has become extremely dependent on computers and information technologies and, hence, potentially vulnerable. As cyber attacks can ultimately not be prevented or deterred, achieving cyber resilience requires top leadership attention. Leadership attention must no longer only focus on higher, faster, further. It must also focus on secure, reliable, and effective – even under conditions of major disruption.’
• Air and Space Command and Control (Air C2) in NATO – More Than Just a Technical Issue
‘Air Command and Control in the NATO Command Structure (NCS) has been reduced to a level incompatible with the requirements of its Level of Ambition (LoA). Key to a solution is the availability of sufficient numbers of trained operators, both in the NCS and in the nations which contribute to the NATO Force Strucure. This makes teaming with capable national Joint Force Air Component organizations an inevitable prerequisite. Responsibility for ‘Air and Space’ must be complemented by proper expertise and set tools in the Air C2 organization to enable the Air Commander to fill his role as ‘Air and Space Power Advisor’ for the JFC.’
• Keeping up Preparedness, Readiness and Effectiveness of Air and Space Power in NATO
‘Keeping up preparedness, readiness and effectiveness of Air and Space Power in NATO is not so much about a radical transformation of the role of the Alliance.’ ‘It is about effective and efficient ways of educating, training and exercising and about making the Alliance more flexible in assisting Member States to maintain the superiority of Air and Space Power in NATO in a way that it is fit for purpose for the future.’
• Space and Air Power in NATO
‘Space is an esential resource for Air Power in NATO. Assured and uninterrupted access to Space therefore is of paramount importance. To that end the Alliance must develop a comprehensive Space policy and foster bi- and multilateral sharing agreements among the Space fairing nations and with the European Union (EU) and the European Space Agency (ESA).’
• Air and Space Power in Counter Insurgency Operations
‘Counter Insurgency Operations (COIN) are a key component of contemporary warfare and will remain so in the foreseable future. ‘NATO and its Member States need to calibrate their Armed Forces, and Air, Space and Cyber power specifically to their primary mission of national and collective defence, but they need also to master the art and science of COIN.’
• Assured Air and Space Power Entry Capabilities in Denied Airspace Environments
‘Air and Space Power will remain of paramount importance to the conduct of NATO’s current and future military operations. However, the freedom to deploy and employ this Power will be increasingly contested in the future. To maintain freedom of action NATO must address these challenges through an integrated joint/combined cross-domain concept within the military sphere as well as synchronisation and coordination outside it as part of a comprehensive approach’.
• The concept that NATO should serve as a clearing house for best practices and for sharing experiences related to human resources and education.
• The initiative that NATO should consider acquiring a commonly funded NATO ‘responsive space capability’ with small satellites.
• The theory that Air and space power can play a major role in COIN operations by capitalizing on traditional and non-traditional ISR and highly precise targeting. NATO can be considerably more effective and efficient in supporting indigenous forces if such operations encompass air-mindedness rather than remaining ground-centric and battlefield-oriented. Together with indigenous and special forces, aerospace power can form a trinity that challenges the old notion of deploying large numbers of troops into the theatre.
• The development of an integrated joint/combined cross-domain concept to ensure freedom to deploy Air and Space Power in contested and/or denied airspace environments.
• The realization that the proliferation of anti-aircraft systems to possible future adversaries must be countered by NATO through a comprehensive approach, which involves application of the other instruments of national power as well as military activity. This approach must be synchronized and coordinated both within and outside the Joint Operations Area (JOA) and it spans the spectrum of conflict from peace to war and back again via reconstruction/transition.
• The suggestion to consider earmarking personnel resources dealing with peacetime air issues in multinational staffs and headquarters as available to augment NATO’s Air Command and Control system and train them for JFAC-functions.
• The concept to formal team NATO/AIRCOM with the USAF’s capable standing 603rd Air Operations Centre on base in Ramstein.
For a complete list of ideas and options, the reader should refer to the recommendations in the various essays.
With the publication of Part Two of the ‘Air and Space Power in NATO – Future Vector Project,’ an important phase of the Project has been completed. The Future Vector Project trinity of publications not only shows that the Air and Space Power Paradox is real, it also shows that the future security environment includes a number of developments, challenges and threats that will directly impact Air and Space Power in NATO and in particular that of NATO’s European Member States. This trinity provides NATO and its Member States with a broad range of viable options and ideas that also form the basis for an important new phase of this Project, a phase in which the thoughts and ideas must be further developed, validated and discussed at the highest political- and military-strategic levels in NATO and its Member States. It is the belief of the Future Vector Project Core Team that, should this discussion occur and decisions are taken by NATO and national leaders, Air and Space Power in NATO will be fit to address the security challenges of the 21st Century, thereby supporting the preservation of the credibility and success of our political-military Alliance.