Elinor Sloan examines NATO force mobility and deployability, as well as the impact of programmes aimed at improving capabilities.
Big bird: NATO nations are dependent on the United States for long-range air transport ( © Reuters - 18Kb)
For much of the past decade, military and security literature has been filled with discussion of the so-called Revolution in Military Affairs. This notion immediately conjures up visions of high-tech warfare filled with advanced sensing, communications and computing capabilities, stealth technology and precision-guided weapons. However, what is often lost in the debate is the fact that there will be no revolution until such time as technological wizardry is combined with dramatic doctrinal and organisational change. Central to NATO's ability to respond effectively to the challenges of the new international security environment, is the increased deployability and mobility of its forces. Not surprisingly, NATO's Strategic Concept calls deployability and mobility an "essential operational capability" of Alliance forces, and the Defence Capabilities Initiative, NATO's high-level initiative to improve and update military capabilities, includes the deployability and mobility of NATO forces as a key area of focus for transformation.
Force deployability and mobility can be seen as a function of the readiness of forces, their training, organisational structure and equipment. Legal hurdles to deploying conscript forces outside national boundaries, combined with the requirement for highly skilled and therefore longer-serving troops mean that force deployability is more easily achieved by professional armies. Many NATO nations, such as Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States have always had a professional force, or at least have had one for several decades. But others have traditionally had conscript forces and here the past few years have seen significant changes.
Perhaps most notably, in 1996 French President Jacques Chirac made the dramatic decision, after more than 200 years, to eliminate conscription and in this way to professionalize the French armed forces. France had for its impetus the Gulf War and the rapid reaction force that went into Bosnia and Herzegovina (Bosnia) in 1995. In both cases, it could only provide a force contribution by "skimming off " professional soldiers from many disparate units. The professionalization process is now well underway and is to be completed by 2002, by which time more than 90 per cent of the French military will be careerists, as compared to less than 60 per cent in 1996.
By contrast, in the first post-Cold War decade successive German governments steered clear of any talk of reducing or eliminating conscription, arguing that national service is an important part of German defence culture that effectively binds the military and civilian society together. This viewpoint has only recently softened. In May 2000, in the wake of glaring evidence provided by Operation Allied Force , NATO's Kosovo campaign, that a conscript force was ill-suited to today's international security environment, the government-mandated Commission for Common Security and the Future of the Bundeswehr (the Commission) recommended significant changes to the conscript system. As a result, the number of German conscripts is to be reduced to 80,000 per year, much less than the previous level of 135,000, though still significantly more than the Commission's recommendation of 30,000.
Over the past decade, several other NATO nations have changed the composition of their militaries by increasing the proportion of professional forces. Belgium and the Netherlands have eliminated conscription altogether, while Italy, Portugal and Spain have plans to do so over the next few years. The Czech Republic and Hungary plan to eliminate or reduce conscription once they are in a financial position to do so, and Poland recently announced its intention to reduce and professionalize half its forces by 2003.
Changes in the heavy force structures of the Cold War era are also central to enhancing the deployability and mobility of NATO forces. Part of this involves the reduction in size of large Cold War armies. The French armed forces are being reduced from a 1996 level of 500,000 to 357,000 personnel by 2002, while Germany's force levels will be reduced from the current 320,000 to about 275,000 over the next three or four years. Other NATO nations, such as Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States, carried out similar force reductions of the order of 25 to 30 per cent in the early to mid-1990s.
More important is the organisational restructuring of the remaining forces into more rapidly deployable units, which are still highly lethal. Here again, there have been significant developments over the past few years. The United Kingdom's 1998 Strategic Defence Review set in train a shift from a continental European strategy to one of expeditionary forces for power projection during a crisis. The British Army has been reorganised into two deployable divisions, each made up of three flexible, mobile brigades. The United Kingdom is also creating a Joint Rapid Reaction Force, a pool of "powerful and versatile" units from all three services set to become fully operational this year.
In accordance with its 1996 Military Programme Law, France is restructuring its army into 51 manoeuvre regiments, supported by 15 logistics regiments and 19 specialised support regiments, all grouped into 11 combat brigades. The regiments represent the basic modular units that can be brought together in varying combinations depending on the nature of the crisis to which they are responding. France also aims to have in place, by 2002, a Rapid Reaction Force of between 50,000 and 60,000 troops to be quickly deployable to areas around the world. Meanwhile, Germany has created its own Crisis Reaction Force, comprised of six fully equipped brigades, 18 squadrons and roughly 40 per cent of the navy's ships at any one time. Made up entirely of professional troops, in accordance with the Commission's recommendations, this force of 50,000 is to be transformed into a 150,000-strong Readiness Force in which sailors, soldiers and airmen will be available in three 50,000-man rotations.
Meanwhile, the US Army, stung by its inability to deploy rapidly its Apache helicopters into Albania during Operation Allied Force, has undertaken its own dramatic overhaul of force structure. To round out its heavy and light components, the service is creating a medium- weight strike force to be comprised of at least five rapid-response brigade combat teams by the end of this decade. In addition, the US Air Force has completely reorganised its combat forces into ten Air Expeditionary Forces that are designed to be able to deploy rapidly anywhere in the world. Several other NATO nations, including Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Turkey, have also restructured their forces over the past decade to increase deployability and mobility.
NATO as a whole has undertaken initiatives to adapt its force structure to the post-Cold War security environment. In the early 1990s, NATO established the Allied Command Europe's Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC), a mobile headquarters of some 1,000 multinational military personnel. In addition, since 1994 the Alliance has been working to implement the Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) concept. This entails the development of mobile command and control head-quarters that can be detached from the Alliance's permanent, standing command structure, and will allow units from different services and nations to be brought together and tailored to a specific contingency. NATO's standing command structure itself has been significantly modified, with the transition to a new command structure well underway.
While the CJTF concept is proceeding, it has yet to be fully implemented. Moreover, there is a growing recognition that the ARRC — which was deployed to both Bosnia in 1995 and Kosovo in 1999 — needs to be augmented by at least a second such mobile corps headquarters. Admiral Guido Venturoni, chairman of NATO's Military Committee, has argued that the figure may be closer to three land corps headquarters and forces at high readiness, and six such headquarters at lower readiness for sustainment operations. Comparable forces and headquarters are needed for the navy and air elements. Member countries have already offered a dozen headquarters that would have to become multinational (or more multinational) to operate at Alliance level, among them the five-nation Eurocorps and the German-Dutch corps. Decisions on these issues will no doubt figure in the conclusions and recommendations of NATO's current force structure review. In this way, a number of national and Alliance measures are underway to address the organisational and restructuring demands of a rapid reaction capability.
To date, Canada and European members of NATO have made little progress towards equipping their militaries with the means of moving their armies swiftly into place by air and sea.
In terms of equipment, two elements are central to increasing the deployability and mobility of military forces. First, there is the requirement for more mobile army platforms that are still highly lethal and do not reduce troop protection. Many NATO nations have equipped or plan to equip their crisis reaction forces with light armoured vehicles, such as the LAV III (Canada and the United States), the future armoured infantry combat vehicle (France) and the All-Protected Carrier Vehicle (Germany). These wheeled platforms are much lighter than a tracked main battle tank, can be deployed by plane in greater numbers and are more versatile once on the ground. Yet, they do not offer the same levels of troop protection and firepower as a main battle tank. As a result, NATO nations continue to upgrade and/or field new tanks, such as the Leclerc, Leopard 2, Challenger 2, and M1 Abrams.
Projects are underway to develop light combat vehicles designed to suit the transport requirements for rapid deployment. They include Canada's Armoured Combat Vehicle, Germany's New Armoured Platform, and America's Future Combat System. But these systems will not be operational for at least a decade. The United States is most inclined to the shift from a heavy to lighter, more mobile and deployable ground force, as a result of its geostrategic position and global security interests. It has therefore significantly cut its Abrams upgrade and Crusader self-propelled howitzer programmes, and channelled these funds into its Future Combat System. By contrast, European investment programmes continue to maintain heavier armoured vehicles, such as tanks, self-propelled howitzers and artillery.
Even more important for increasing deployability and mobility is strategic air and sealift. Here, Canada and European NATO members lag far behind the United States. Although several countries have fleets of C-130 and C-160 transport aircraft, these are considered more of a tactical than a strategic platform. Moreover, many larger transport aircraft, like the French and German C-160s, are old and due for replacement. With no equivalent to the US C-17 or C-15 heavy transport aircraft, NATO nations are almost completely dependent on the United States for the long-range air transport of their troops and "outsize" equipment.
Measures are being taken to address this problem. Several European members of NATO — including Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Turkey and the United Kingdom — have signed on to buy about 200 Airbus Industries A400M heavy lift air transporters, otherwise known as the Future Large Aircraft. But the aircraft is not expected to be in service before about 2007 and current design specifications indicate it will not be built to transport "outsize" equipment. To fill this strategic airlift gap, the United Kingdom has undertaken to lease four C-17 aircraft, with the first due for delivery to the Royal Air Force later this year. To meet short to medium- term requirements, France and Germany may also lease some C-17 aircraft, or perhaps the Russian-Ukrainian AN-70 airlifter, though a decision has yet to be taken. Canada is also exploring options to improve its airlift capability. In 1999, France backed a German initiative to form a European Military Airlift Command to pool across national boundaries airlift resources such as strategic transport and air-to-air refuelling tankers. This initiative is being considered in the European Air Group, which as a first step is establishing an Airlift Coordination Cell.
To increase sealift capabilities, the United Kingdom is planning to build two new, larger, aircraft carriers by about 2015 and is increasing the number of its roll-on/roll-off container vessels from two to six. France has cut back its carriers to just one, the Charles de Gaulle, but has plans to acquire more roll-on/roll-off ships and has agreed with the Netherlands to pool shipping capacity to move heavy equipment to trouble spots by sea. Canada is progressing with its Afloat Logistics and Sealift Capability project, which is designing a multi-role ship geared in part to strategic lift for the army. Germany is focusing not so much on strategic lift but rather on building a flexible naval force, with new frigates, U-2 boats and supply ships on the way.
For those countries that are members of both the European Union and NATO, a major incentive to increase the deployability and mobility of their military forces is the European Union's Headline Goal of creating a 60,000- strong rapid intervention force by 2003. The force is to be mobile, militarily self-sustaining and deployable to a far-off crisis within 60 days. Whereas NATO's responsibilities range across the full spectrum of conflict, the EU force will likely focus on peace-support operations and crisis-management missions. The differing tasks make it conceivable that the EU initiative could divert EU members of NATO from improving their military capabilities in those areas that are more relevant to high-end collective security operations, like precision engagement and suppression of enemy fire. However, whether responding to war or conflicts of an intensity less than war, EU members of NATO will want to be able to get their troops to the crisis quickly and to be mobile once in theatre. Indeed, the primary incentive for France and Germany to lease heavy-lift assets in the next few years would be their EU commitments, with-out which the 2003 deadline will not be met.
The impact of the EU initiative on developing a lighter, yet still highly lethal, ground force is more difficult to gauge. The European Union's focus on lower-end tasks may speed up the acquisition of wheeled armoured platforms that, by virtue of their greater battlefield mobility, are better suited to peace-support operations. But by the same token, it may slow the development of systems akin to the Future Combat System.
Much of what happens will depend on defence budgets and particularly on the proportion allocated to equipment acquisition. The defence budgets of all NATO nations fell dramatically during the 1990s, a trend that has only recently been reversed. Canada, the United Kingdom and especially the United States have registered real increases in their defence budgets over the past couple of years. By contrast, Germany's has continued to fall, while the French defence budget has remained essentially static. Eleven other European members of NATO have indicated that they plan real increases in defence spending in 2001, but the increases will be small and it will be some time before they can be translated into concrete capabilities. As armies professionalize, more money will presumably be freed up for defence acquisitions. However, this is also a longterm proposition. France, for example, has found that the professionalization of its army is costing a lot more than originally expected.
A pragmatic examination of the deployability and mobility of NATO forces reveals a mixed picture. In some countries, significant progress has been made in the professionalization and restructuring of national forces, while transformation has been much slower in others. This is true, too, of NATO's force structure. Armies are being made lighter and more mobile, but there continues to be a strong emphasis on preparing for heavy armoured warfare. Generally speaking, the EU initiative can be expected to boost the deployability and mobility of NATO forces. Moreover, there are several important projects on the books. But the fact remains that, to date, Canada and European members of NATO have made little progress towards equipping their militaries with the means of moving their armies swiftly into place by air and sea. It will be some time before planned defence budget increases can be translated into concrete capabilities. Even the United States, hampered by the costs of current operations and readiness, could be constrained in its army transformation efforts. The revolution, while underway, is still many years from fruition.