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Meeting the challenge of integrated operations – Robbin Laird

Like the RAAF, the Royal Norwegian Air Force is currently undertaking a major modernisation program, including the acquisition of F-35As, P-8s, and the Joint Strike Missile. While the two air forces’ geopolitical circumstances are very different, the similarities of their organisational approach to managing change are noteworthy

Dr Robbin Laird recently interviewed the RNoAF’s newly-appointed chief, Major General Tonje Skinnarland, and the head of the National Air Operations Center, Brigadier General Jan Ove Rygg.

Major General Tonje Skinnarland. Credit: RNoAF

Major General Tonje Skinnarland. Credit: RNoAF

Among other things, Major General Skinnarland emphasised the need to reshape concepts of operations, and to integrate C2 across the Norwegian defence structure. She noted that the F-35 will enable distributed operations, and that part of the challenge in reforming C2 will be to endorse the notion of “mission command”; that is, to give individual pilots greater tactical decision-making authority, instead of using an excessively centralised system.

Dr Laird: “The RNoAF is in a period of significant transition. What are the main challenges and opportunities?”

Major General Skinnarland: “We are modernising our platforms but we need to transform our force, our culture, and our processes as well.

“The strategic decisions made in a long-term investment will make us, even though small, one of the most modern air forces in the world in some years to come.

“At the same time, the security situation is challenging. After the annexation of Crimea and the build-up of Russian capabilities over the last years, we understand that we have to revitalise the concept of actually defending Norway in high intensity operations.

“It is not just about adding new platforms; it is about shaping joint capabilities for the defence of Norway in a high intensity operational setting.

“To achieve integrated defence and joint operations will not be easy and certainly will not happen simply by adding new platforms.

“There are a lot of different tasks to be done, ranging from getting all the spare parts, logistics, the training and, of course, shaping the national defence plan.

“As we get all these new systems, which will make us even more capable of handling the current situation and current threats together with other allies and partners, there is another [major] challenge: How best to manage the process of change.

“A key challenge here will be on the human capital side.

“How do we best train and task our people in shaping our new integrated force? For it will depend on them to actually bring such a force into being.

“When it comes to the opportunities inherent in our new systems, particularly the F-35, the capability in the aircraft itself with weapons technology and networking will come.

“But how do we make sure we are able to utilise these technologies fully and effectively?

“We must shape the correct competencies, the correct concepts of operations, and develop and execute effective plans for joint operations as well.”

Brigadier General Jan Ove Rygg: “If I address the same question, but from my perspective, the challenge is to get the joint processes in Norway to the point where we can do targeting efficiently.

“We need to build an effective national command and control capability which seamlessly works with core allies who are crucial to defence operations in the High North.

“What makes this particularly challenging is national coordination and C2 for national defence in ground, sea and air operations, which can work with key allies in extended defence operations.”

Dr Laird: “Clearly, with core allies in the region operating similar platforms, notably the F-35 and P-8, there are significant opportunities for interoperability built in, but obviously these potentials need to become realities. How can you best ensure that happens?”

Major General Skinnarland: “With the UK, the US, the Danes and the Dutch operating the same combat aircraft, there are clear opportunities to shape new common operational capabilities.

“It’s also crucial to shape a strong European F-35 sustainment base to ensure that we get the kind of sortie generation capabilities inherent in the aircraft, but you need the right kind of logistical support to achieve the outcomes you want.

The RNoAF's first F-35 taking-off at Luke AFB, Arizona. Credit: RNoAF

The RNoAF’s first F-35 taking-off at Luke AFB, Arizona. Credit: RNoAF

“The P-8s operating from the UK, Iceland, and Norway can shape a maritime domain awareness data capability which can inform our forces effectively as well but, again, this requires work to share the data and to shape common concepts of operations.

“A key will be to exercise often and effectively together.

“To shape effective concepts of operations will require bringing the new equipment and the people together to share experience and to shape a common way ahead.

“[We see international exercises] as especially important in shaping effective national C2 and working towards more integrated operations with allies coming to Norway for exercises. We should plug and play in terms of our new capabilities, but that will not happen by itself, by simply adding new equipment. It will be hard work.

“We have regular exercises in Norway like the Arctic Challenge Exercise, which builds on the weekly trilateral fighter training between Finland, Sweden, and Norway.

“In May/June 2017 this Invitex will see more than one hundred fighter aircraft from eight nations, including the UK and US, participating in high quality training in the Nordic countries.

“You also have other national exercises which are important in shaping our concepts of operations.

“We need to enhance engagement with core NATO allies, such as expanding our working relationship with allied airpower operating in Norway during exercises.

“We would love to see a UK F-35B squadron and a USAF F-35A squadron deploy to Norway during an exercise and operate in the northern part of Norway under Norwegian command and control to see how we can get them to work together.

“They might fly either from home bases with air-to-air tankers or stage from Norway, and work on how we effectively can integrate those squadrons during joint operations.”

Brigadier General Rygg: “The C2 issue is really a strategic one.

“We are very good at the tactical level in operating in a joint context with our C2; we need to be as capable at the strategic level.

“With a fifth-generation force, you have capabilities to off-board weapons and to direct fire from sea or land as well as air.

“When you try to do targeting and actually engage targets with different resources it is a challenge.”

Dr Robbin Laird is a military and security analyst. He has taught at Columbia, Princeton, and Johns Hopkins universities


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