Rapid Reaction Corps France gears up for new tasks

  • 25 Oct. 2013 -
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  • Last updated: 30 Oct. 2013 11:24

Next year’s rotation of the command of the land component of the NATO Response Force (NRF) will be assumed by Headquarters Rapid Reaction Corps - France. It just completed a series of demanding training exercises to prepare for final certification, which will take place in Poland in November during Exercise Steadfast Jazz. Once certified, the headquarters will be able to command up to 30,000 personnel.

“I am proud of the team spirit and the positive approach shown throughout the preparation for NRF certification,” says General Philip Van Impe, who runs the Training Division and is coordinating preparations. “That was truly the spirit of the musketeers, as we say in France: all for one and one for all.”


Before being placed on standby and potentially being activated in a crisis, the NRF components must undergo a compulsory 12-month training and certification period, including six months of national preparation. This is immediately followed by a joint preparation phase led by NATO.

The headquarters, based in the historic Citadel of Lille, began preparations in September 2012, with a detailed plan that defined individual and collective training needs,  along with concepts and operating procedures.

This training programme was dubbed Citadel Pegasus, and involved intense physical preparation with shooting exercises, first aid and protection against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) agents. Exercises were also organised to test the whole process of command post deployment and the expertise required to plan and conduct high-intensity operations.

Ready for Steadfast Jazz

“Allied Land Command in Izmir, Turkey, assessed the training carried out by the Lille Headquarters, and the results are positive,” says General Van Impe. “This is encouraging for the personnel and for all of us. We are ready for Exercise Steadfast Jazz!”

During November’s Steadfast Jazz exercise, the headquarters will face the challenge of training and planning for an operation involving land, air and maritime forces from multiple nations in a complex environment.

“The scenario takes into account the reality of modern operations with the need to act in a joint framework and alongside civilian players such as government and international bodies and non-governmental organisations active in these operational theatres,” says General Van Impe.

“Moreover, Headquarters Rapid Reaction Corps - France will have to address threats linked to cyber attacks and the risk of the use of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons,” he adds.

France will deploy the CRBN battalion, the 2nd Dragoons Regiment, to the exercise. Its role will be to give the alert, detect and identify chemical agents and implement decontamination measures.

High readiness

Within 14 days of a decision to commit the NRF, Headquarters Rapid Reaction Force - France must be capable of deploying a command post to the theatre of operations.

“For Exercise Steadfast Jazz, this period must allow for the peacetime constraints of air and rail transport availability,” explains General Van Impe. In this case, the full deployment of the command post, its associated command and information systems and equipment will in fact take about a month.

The first elements have already been deployed, including the teams responsible for transforming the Drawsko camp into a command post. Liaison with the host country, Poland, has been established. The headquarters will therefore be fully autonomous upon arrival. The rest of the personnel, consisting of 350 personnel from 12 different countries, will deploy to Poland by military aircraft along with 5 tonnes of freight.

At the same time, an operations centre has been set up within the Citadel to monitor the deployment.

Planning a concept of operations

Before any deployment to theatre, a concept of operations must be drawn up. Planners play an essential role at this stage.

Captain Virginie Meynard is planning officer for the headquarters’ communications service. Posted to the Citadel in August 2012, she has followed the national preparations for Steadfast Jazz and will deploy to Poland with the rest of the headquarters’ contingent to finalise exercise planning for communication during the manoeuvre.

“In the framework of the Steadfast Jazz exercise scenario, I analyse the media context in theatre and make recommendations to command, taking into account the media risks and opportunities that may arise in field operations,” says Captain Meynard.

Like the other planners in their own specialised fields, she began work on this in May 2013. This is when Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum activated its Joint Operational Planning Group to draw up a concept of operations to address the emerging crisis described by the exercise scenario.

In 2014, she will be on NRF standby and ready to leave whenever and wherever needed. “My family is aware and my bags are ready,” says the Captain. She is no stranger to multinational deployments having previously served in the NATO-led operations in Kosovo in 2006 and in Afghanistan in 2011 and 2012.

A certified multinational headquarters

Headquarters Rapid Reaction Corps - France was created on 1 July 2005. The prestigious Citadel of Lille is listed as a historic monument and was built by Vauban, King Louis XIV’s engineer.

Under French command, the headquarters includes some 425 military personnel – at the time of writing, 18 per cent of staff are from 11 NATO member countries.

The headquarters can receive French and Allied operational reinforcements to allow it to conduct sustained high-intensity operations, raising its crisis establishment to approximately 750 personnel.