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Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, General Lance L. Smith

As NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, US Air Force General Lance L. Smith oversees efforts to modernise NATO’s military structures, forces, capabilities and doctrines to improve the military effectiveness of the Alliance and its Partner nations.

SACT General Lance L. Smith (© ACT)

He also commands US Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM), which is co-located with Allied Command Transformation (ACT) in Norfolk, Virginia, linking US and overall NATO transformation efforts. His career included various command positions in Asia and Commandant of the NATO School in Oberammergau, Germany.

NATO Review: How do you define transformation?

Gen. Lance L. Smith: Transformation means different things to different people. There are certainly those who view it as turning an aging force into a technologically, leading-edge kind of force. And I think ultimately that will happen. But it won’t happen tomorrow; that's not how things work in our nations or in NATO. You have to build the concepts and standards, you have to decide what the Alliance wants to do, and determine the mission.

While technology is a small part of it, the concept of going from a static northern plains of Germany, force-on-force battle or war, to a deployable, sustainable, flexible, agile force that operates either on the edge or outside the borders of NATO, is a huge transformation which drives how you train people and the equipment that you have. It drives logistics. It drives everything that you do.

Interestingly, it affects all the other elements of national and international power as well because you would ultimately like to be able to conduct operations before hostilities start. And that is also transformation: tying together diplomacy, information, military and economic means to impact whatever situation you're trying to influence.

NR: The Effects-Based Approach to Operations (EBAO) also seems to mean different things to different people.

Gen. Smith: Some call it concerted planning and action, or a comprehensive approach. There's EBAO, there are lots of things in the effects-based thinking world that are difficult to define. It is an effects-based process and that's the whole idea - to get away from telling a commander ‘this is tactically exactly what we want you to achieve and then go about telling him how to do it, but rather saying this is the effect we're trying to achieve on the battlefield and letting the commander make the decisions on how to do it.

That's the tactical level of effects-based thinking. When you get up to the higher levels of grand strategy you get more confusion, but the concept is still the same. You're trying to achieve an effect in a country, region, area, and what we've clearly learned over time is that it can't be done by the military alone. It requires other elements of national power, and so you have to think like that. We, especially in the military, haven't always thought like that, but I would suggest that the other actors have not always thought like that either.

NR: What are your transformation priorities?

Gen. Smith: The most important thing, especially when you're dealing with 26 different countries, is ensuring that whatever we do, we're able to do it together, which means that the force has to be interoperable. It is extraordinarily important and every nation knows that, but it's still very, very difficult. Just being able to come together and establish standards is no small task. You'll recall from operations in the Balkans that there were many instances when we couldn't talk together over secure voice communications, for instance. Yet, before the Berlin Wall came down, we’d practiced to those levels and we could do it better. So standards and ensuring interoperability is very high on the priority list.

The other priority we have is to ensure deployability and sustainment. Unless you can get to where you need to go, and can stay there, being able to work together isn't very useful.

My top three priorities are deployability, interoperability and sustainment. That's a huge piece of transformation. What we do with Allied Command Operations, with SHAPE is work together to determine their requirements, and then we try to make sure that we develop the concepts that meet their needs so that all the nations will be on the same sheet of music as they build and transform their forces.

NR: What is ACT's role and place in the NATO command structure?

Gen. Smith: We are in the business right now of exploring exactly what the roles and missions are and whether we have defined them correctly. Under the guidance and oversight of the Military Committee, NATO is reviewing its command structure.

How we fit into the overall command structure I think is pretty good. How we define our responsibilities and execute what we're trying to do requires some refinement, and we're doing that.

With Jim Jones in Mons and me in Norfolk, I think philosophically, conceptually, and in practice there is general agreement that that's the right way to do business. Now is the right time for us to take a look at whether or not we have all the responsibilities lined up right.

For example, what is Allied Command Transformation's role in training? Are we training the people General Jones and his folks need to be able to execute the mission properly? Could we do better? Do we have the right split between Allied Command Operations training responsibilities and our training responsibilities? We will be looking at that in the future and working closely with them to ensure we're not doing things that are redundant.

NR: What kind of timeframe are we talking about for the next round of restructuring?

Gen. Smith: The work is already underway and we expect an interim report for the Riga Summit. The final report will be discussed at the Defence Ministerial in February of next year

NR: How does NATO or ACT interact with US transformation efforts?

Gen. Smith: One of the reasons for dual-hatting the person who has this job with both U.S. Joint Forces Command and Allied Command Transformation is because there are many shared efforts and visions and responsibilities. It makes sense that there should be a close relationship. It is hard to tell where the NATO role starts and the JFCOM role stops or picks up, or vice versa, because we have shared goals with each of the nations' experiments, each of the nations' concept development organisations and the like.

What is also interesting is that with my Joint Forces Command hat on, I have bilateral relationships at the experimentation labs primarily in Suffolk, with representatives from 42 nations, many of which are members of NATO. There are bilateral relationships between those countries as well as representation within Allied Command Transformation. So you have a very, very important and significant collaborative environment in which we can all trade information and develop ways to handle the future conflicts that concern us. So, it's pretty much a natural, but it isn’t strictly an ACT/USJFCOM relationship.

The other part worth mentioning about the relationship is that the US spends considerably more money in some of these areas than the Alliance does, or other individual nations might. It's a huge plus that we're able to tap into some of that and move it into the Alliance. I would use countering improvised explosive devices (IEDs), as an example. The US will spend more than $3 billion in efforts on counter-IEDs this year and as much as we possibly can, or as much as NATO wants, we will transfer that information and those capabilities. And that will be in concert with all the things that the other nations are doing in that area as well. So it's very collaborative, very good and certainly not one way.

NR: So the US benefits, too?

Gen. Smith: The US benefits hugely from the work that each of the individual nations is doing on efforts that are of mutual interest. The Alliance also benefits, because it invests through NC3A and other organisations within the Alliance on areas of mutual interest. So when it's well-coordinated and done right, you have the opportunity to take the best practices and the best efforts of both the Alliance and the individual nations and build something even better than you could by yourself.

NR: What is ACT's role in the development of the NRF?

Gen. Smith: We look at the NRF more in the near-term and mid-term, helping to develop the concepts in concert with the requirements Allied Command Operations has for their ability to go out and execute. Allied Command Operations will in turn take a look and see what they want each of the NRF rotations to have as far as capabilities. We then work to make sure there are concepts and doctrine in place, and that the nations are fully aware of what's expected and how to get there in terms of capabilities they would be expected to bring to the table for the NRF.

At the same time, through the defence planning process, which is part of Allied Command Transformation and NATO's level of ambition, we try to help the Alliance determine what kind of force it needs to be able to do the things that the level of ambition requires, part of which of course is the NRF. At the same time, we try to ensure that those forces, when they come together, are interoperable, again with ACO helping to establish the right standards.

And then we train the senior leadership as well as the component commands, once the leadership has been identified. They go through various training venues, generally run by the Joint Warfare Centre in Stavanger, Norway and the Joint Force Training Centre in Bydgoszcz, Poland.

We have training and concept development responsibilities, and then once the NRF really takes off and we're able to generate the force through long-term force generation, so that a nation knows how it’s going to, for instance, participate in NRF 10 or 11 or 12 or however far we determine we're going to look out, that allows Allied Command Transformation to work with those specific nations and experiment. That is the secondary task of the NATO Response Force, to be the vehicle for transformation.

We have a supporting role in the NRF, but nonetheless a very important role in order to make sure that it is able and ready to execute should it be needed.

NR: One of the roles of ACT is evaluating lessons learned. What lessons were learned from the NRF’s first live exercise, Steadfast Jaguar in Cape Verde in June?

Gen. Smith: Some of the clear and early lessons that came out of it — and we have to determine whether they were artificialities of the live exercise or whether they're real — are the processes that involve reporting where forces are and being able to have a common operating picture that is timely. The common operating picture in Steadfast Jaguar existed, but in some cases the information was stale or older than you would want it if you're trying to operate in near real time. So we're going back to look at that to see if it was the result of processes, bandwidth or other technologies. If we determine, together with the operators, that there needs to be some further look at or work on the command and control systems, then we will go do that.

Integrated logistics concepts were evaluated during the exercise. We think we can successfully continue to work with the logistics folks to make sure that everything comes together — and this is very difficult — in an environment where nations have national responsibilities for logistics. You can imagine the footprint if all 26 nations or, for example, the many nations participating in Steadfast Jaguar, had their own logistics tail and their own logistics depots on the ground, etc., etc. So one of the biggest lessons learned is that integrated logistics concepts work and that we need to continue to pursue them. And we will.

NR: You referred to ACT's role in training. How is the NATO Training Mission – Iraq (NTM-I) doing?

Gen. Smith: Good. The level of understanding, comprehension and experience of the attendees has improved considerably, requiring us to change the level of our courses, which is very positive. In the early days, it was fairly basic. As we get more experienced attendees — and they're getting quite a bit of experience, obviously, in Iraq — we are changing the course to meet their needs. So that's going well. It’s all positive, and we will continue to improve and try to meet the needs that have been laid out for us.

We assist with the NTM-I mission in Ar-Rustamiyah and we support Allied Command Operations and their role as the supported commander. I was there recently and I left feeling pretty good about the direction they were going. The facilities that are being built look appropriate and the staff, schools, agendas and syllabuses are at the right level based on my experience.

I think it's all going in a positive direction, and ACT is supporting where the need arises in that regard. As far as out-of-country training is concerned, we coordinate it for NATO and we use our own NATO facilities, as well as national facilities. We're the facilitator for getting the Iraqis the courses their leadership says they need.

At the same time, through the NATO Training and Equipment Coordination Group, we coordinate many of the equipment donations that come from the various NATO nations. We're integrally involved in this and expect to continue to be. The positive part is that the levels of complexity in regard to the types of things we’re talking about and the types of things the Iraqis are asking for is all increasing in the higher levels of strategy, logistics and operations.

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