Surface Warship Summit - Bucharest, Romania, 26th-28th January 2016
BUCHAREST, Romania - Evolving naval strategies and the re-emergence of Russia as a dynamic global player
by Vice Admiral Clive Johnstone CB CBE, Commander Allied Maritime Command
The change in geopolitical setting, with Russia and Ukraine locked in a stand-off over the Crimea and Donbas regions, has led to increased tensions between the Alliance and Moscow. What impact does this have on evolving naval strategies and capabilities, especially given Russia’s 2015 Maritime Doctrine which focuses on the Arctic, with a view to controlling northern sea routes and wealth of the continental shelves; and the Atlantic, to address NATO expansion, access to the Mediterranean and the Crimea?
Secretary of Defense Policy and Planning Nicut, Admiral Mirsu, Generals, Admirals, Ladies and Gentlemen. Good morning, "Buna Dimineata".
It is a huge pleasure to be in Romania and Bucharest in my first visit as Commander MARCOM. I am honoured to be speaking at this Surface Warships Conference here today and grateful to Alejandro Becerra and all from Defence IQ for putting this conference on and to Edward Lundquist for his Chairmanship (Edward it was good to see you on Friday).
I am hugely excited standing here to speak to you today - I follow my dear old friend Admiral Alexandru Mirsu (he has just said some very pertinent things) and I am looking forward to hearing from Waldemar Gluszko (a very wise voice in the maritime domain).
I have been asked to speak on NATO's Evolving Naval Strategies and Capabilities in the context of Russia's re-emergence as a strategic challenge. That I will certainly do, but I hope you don't mind if I expand on this theme a bit as I also want to speak on our evolving approach to the threats we face across the entire NATO area of interest. One of the first things I learned as Commander MARCOM is that the Alliance faces a wide spectrum of threats – wide in nature, wide in geographic scope. The new mechanisms and posture that we need to establish needs to be applicable to all of them.
I am going to start by putting the issues in context, even if I have to re-hash some existing policy speak. The combination of adventurist Russian behaviour, their lack of openness and clarity and a very aggressive new Maritime Doctrine has changed the way we are thinking and behaving. It has been a Wake Up Call that has returned the Alliance to its assurance, deterrence and collective defence roots. Whatever the root cause of this change, whether the vulnerability that sits at the heart of Russian psyche, adventurism to shore up domestic political support, or whatever, NATO has had to respond to a very different security dynamic on our door step.
But respond we have. Acting on the mandate of the heads of state and government at Wales in 2014, NATO's existing tools have been checked, and modernised. New ideas are being developed - and quickly.
Planning is fierce in its ambition and tempo.
New requirements for readiness and responsiveness are being set, and I will discuss them in greater detail in a moment. In sum, I am impressed with the change of gear but there is always need for improvement and in the context of this forum we need to think about how we deliver the naval capabilities required to support this more robust NATO; how we can sustainably glean more capability, more value.
Setting the Scene: the Current Situation
I took Command in October last year, looking at very different sorts of global security challenges to those faced by my predecessor. I won’t rehearse this in depth but we see Russia in Crimea, Ukraine, Syria, relentlessly using state power in a way that unsettles the global environment.
We see Da’esh in Iraq, Syria and now in Libya, conducting terrorist attacks in the West and possibly posing a security threat via Libya into Mediterranean sea lanes.
Immigration, driven by war, is testing European politicians and adding complexity to other issues.
There is the worsening economic picture - especially the slowdown of the Chinese economy which challenges hopes of a global economic upturn and investment.
There are the stresses across the Middle East and the Arab world with the tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia played out in Syria, Bahrain, Yemen and elsewhere.
Finally there is the natural environment itself that shapes our security world, from unconventional weather to the opening of commercial transit routes through the High North and I could add the various elections and referendums across the western world - from Poland, via UK through to the US.
My deduction is there is a lot to think about and our decision makers will need help and support to enable them to see the real security threats when they exist. And it is equally important for them to know that we can manage complexity and are looking after our military business properly. I would also add in this horribly complicated world, cooperation and common action within or with NATO appears to me to be the only solution to address this region's security concerns. NATO’s role and requirement is paramount.
NATO's Response: from Wales to Warsaw
Allow me now to turn to those specifics of our new NATO posture. At Wales the Alliance decided to adapt NATO to counter threats on its borders. The 2% defence spending pledge will give the Alliance to basic tools it needs to function and shores up mutual trust through an equitable burden sharing.
The Response Action Plan called for a new and more robust NATO Response Force with the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force as the tip of the spear – a flexible, effective deterrent with rapid response times. Hours and Days, not weeks and months. This would be supported by Immediate Follow on Forces and Follow on Forces. A series of NATO Force Integration Units have been established including one here in Romania that was inaugurated on 3 September 2015. And new command and control assets are being developed – Multinational Division South-East here in Bucharest and North-East in Poland are examples.
We have conducted a substantial programme of Assurance Measures to keep our presence in the Baltic and Black Sea, to ensure awareness through our AWACs early warning aircraft and our training programme through numerous exercises.
Finally there is a new focus on operational planning. I would just like to pause here and to note - with such an impressive Romanian Military attendance in the audience - that this planning is happening with countries like Romania right at the heart. I took a major decision brief on Friday and one of the presenters and the lead for much of the planning was a very high quality Romanian Naval Commander. He sat with Turkish and Bulgarian counterparts offering huge insight and value. For him and the rest of my extremely impressive Romanian Officers —I thank you.
All of this RAP architecture will be presented to the Warsaw Summit in July. It will be the new basic framework for how NATO goes about its core business. My headquarters and all of NATO's Commands are working to deliver the Wales commitments and to prepare for Warsaw in July. This goes beyond staff work – we are engaged in some hard thinking and hard planning - It is difficult to describe the energy we are producing and the impact it is having.
The Maritime Dimension
With all of that as a rather extensive prologue, I would now like to turn to NATO's maritime dimension and what we are trying to achieve at MARCOM. The maritime is at the forefront of NATO thinking about the future. In particular, there are four conceptual or planning areas that are really occupying our time - they dominate my day and that of SACEUR’s Command Group:
First, raising our operational posture in the maritime to match the RAP mandate as well as whatever follows the Warsaw Summit. This involves how to further operationalise Allied Maritime Command; how to ensure the right mix of available Forces; and how to engage and integrate the readiness of Nations’ and NATO's wider fleets. The key point is that all of these objectives are linked, with MARCOM HQ sitting as a central hub at the centre of NATO's wider maritime community.
The Alliance Maritime Strategy remains sound but it requires a new focus in changed times. We call this its operationalization. In my headquarters, I am developing with Striking Force NATO and the other Maritime Force Headquarters a framework document that will describe how the maritime community will function. It is the "maritime I-Phone Start Up Guide” and will be published in March / April.
The basic maritime posture of the Alliance is strong. The four Standing Groups, the on-call structures developed within the RAP, the many national task groups with Ballistic Missile Defence in which Romania is making a valued contribution, Nuclear Deterrence all speaking to our strengths. But there is also recognition that change is needed to keep pace with new developments and a need to improve some of our fighting capabilities.
Anti-Access and Area Denial presents a new challenge to the Alliance. We need to refine our capabilities and our doctrine to address this. A second area is Anti-Submarine Warfare. In two decades of land campaigns and constabulary missions ASW has not been been the focus that it once was. We need to be better, and here Romania's leadership in establishing the SEA SHIELD exercise is a valued contribution to our collective readiness.
Carrier Strike and Amphibious Power Projection remain critical enablers of NATO Maritime Power. I rely on the striking power of Striking Force NATO, as well as the capabilities and experience of the French Carrier Strike Group. These will, before long, be joined by one then two British carriers of the Queen Elizabeth Class. In addition, several Allies offer excellent amphibious capabilities to the Alliance.
There are other areas such as air defence and reconnaissance from Maritime Patrol Aircraft. But for all of these, having the assets is not enough – our crews and staffs need the expertise to use them well. And there is a final attribute that is absolutely essential to NATO and the navies of the future – affordable sustainment. While Allies are investing more in defence – (in Britain our government has committed to the replacement of Trident, two operational modern aircraft carriers and the restoration of maritime patrol aircraft for ASW) – there won’t be an endless pot of gold to pay for a massive expansion of our Navies. Therefore we must endeavour to deliver capabilities while fighting costs down with as much energy as we fight the enemy. That will allow us to increase the fleet and its capability. We look to our partners in industry for advice on this. This is why we are here today.
That leads to my second area – Value. How we put NATO at the heart of national maritime thinking and give back value to the Allied Navies that support us? This value issue is critical - NATO doesn't exist for itself and we must now make my maritime command the solution for your problems - not just another factor that you will have to prioritize against.
Of course, the enablers here are the Standing Naval Forces themselves, offering training, showcasing interoperability and the commitment of Alliance members to pool resources. The SNF Groups excel at conducting a demanding schedule of exercises, missions and port visits; practicing group navigation, the conduct of ISR, honing of sea control, air defence, mine counter measures and ASW skills.
We are promoting a programme to re-focus their schedule and training in a much more effective form. A few years ago the SNMGs were focused on constabulary duties and driven by a schedule that was very difficult to alter if needed. Today that has really changed – the SNF is focused on core mandates, on effective and robust training, strategic signaling of Alliance resolve, important partnership engagement and activities that add value to central Alliance concerns of assurance and deterrence. NATO is being very agile in supporting changes to the operational scheme when needed.
The second focus on value is our current effort to drive a new Operational awareness of the Alliance's collective 'fleet' from the Arctic to Atlantic to Black Sea. It you consider the potential for a concurrent NATO response in the Baltic, Atlantic, Mediterranean or Black Sea, NATO needs a better awareness of what naval units are out there; who is deployed and who is ready to deploy. MARCOM needs to provide a better co-ordinating function for SACEUR so that SACEUR can make informed requests for force packages when needed, and indeed so that national decision makers can understand where their forces can add value in turn.
o achieve this NATO and MARCOM are expanding our efforts to monitor maritime activity and readiness with all Allied maritime nations to build an Alliance-wide shared Maritime Situational Awareness. It supports the SNF, the VJTF, Follow-On Forces and indeed whatever else NATO may need, either through a form of Associated Support to NATO or through another mechanism. I consider it once of my most important tasks over the coming year.
Third, the benefits of NATO Training. As with new capability challenges, building the training, exercising and experimentation programme NATO needs is now more challenging as we focus upon high-end warfighting not maritime policing. Exercise Trident Juncture 15 was an extraordinary success and I am very excited by the exercises we are planning for 2016, 2017 and 2018. As we move forward, I am committed to pushing the realism of training to truly test our capabilities.
I would highlight MARCOM’s Dynamic Mongoose and Mantra ASW Exercises which will be as testing as we have ever planned and again am thankful for Exercise SEA SHIELD here off Romania, an exemplar of National training being opened up with great benefit to NATO.
Training, awareness and flexibility come together in an new idea we are exploring – the flexible stand up of effects-based Task Groups that might come together for a specific exercise or activity; conduct force integration training, conduct their event, steam together for a few weeks and then disperse. I believe the time has come to tap resources that might not be available for a long commitment but would be eager to support an activity that had both national and NATO interest. Not an alternative to the SNF, rather a flexible augmentation to our options.
The third area is how maritime NATO addresses deterrence in 21st century conditions - a new deterrence that needs to cope with cyber, hybrid, different factors in different regions and now needs to embrace elements of presence, containment and prevention in its arsenal. The goal of deterrence hasn’t changed: it’s about convincing potential adversaries that the costs of any form of attack would be disproportionately high, and that such action would be a serious mistake.
At the Snow Conference in Vilnius recently, Deputy Secretary General Vershbow set out a vision of 21st century deterrence based on mobility and rapid reinforcement, balanced with a significant degree of forward presence on a rotational basis, and the possibility of dialogue.
NATO's maritime forces have a great deal of utility to support such a strategy. The ability to react with great speed and great power wherever a threat may arise, to reinforce a local baseline force. Our Standing Naval Forces in theatre are forward presence. But they also offer a strategic reserve for reinforcement as well as a grand-strategic ability to shape maritime sea lines of communication to our advantage in times of conflict. We must think how we will harness the required capacity and capability – and at a readiness that is meaningful. We must keep that balance of Standing Forces and heavy end of capability required by the VJTF and the Immediate Follow On Forces.
But deterrence is more than force posture, it is also about how our forces are deployed and the activities they undertake. Attitude as well as architecture; chemistry as well as physics. We have to make it clear in our presence, our posture, our statements and our actions that crossing NATO’s borders or removing freedom of innocent passage from the Black Sea or elsewhere is not an option, whether one uses Submarines, Missile Systems, tanks or "little green men” without insignia.
There should be no doubt that any such action will be met with a NATO response by 28 nations. And we have to remain resolute in our values of openness and honesty. In the maritime domain this means that we must enforce the freedom of the seas. We must not be cowed by area denial wherever that may be.
My final major area of concern is how to enhance NATO operational partnership in the maritime domain. How to break down barriers and remove or work alongside of complexity so that cooperation and dialogue can be enhanced and uncertainty and vulnerability can be removed. We will continue to deepen our military and political cooperation with key partners, who share our values and our security interests.
Working with the SHAPE Military Preparation Directorate and our Partner navies, MARCOM has recently advised the Ukrainian Navy on their rebuilding of the force; conducted a major security conference in Montenegro backed by the visit of a Mine Counter Measures Group to the same city; and conducted special forces cross-deck training with the Algerian Navy. We maintain close links with the navies of Georgia, Sweden, Finland, Australia and New Zealand as well as many others.
These activities are good and of course we only pursue partnership objectives of the partners themselves. But the same sea change in European security that triggered NATO adaptation also begins to make the constabulary and maritime security focus of our Partnership model look a little dated. There are new challenges out there – Russian adventurism, Da'esh contagion and the next crisis of which we know not, in which NATO and Partners share interests, possibly vital interests. Personally, I would welcome a new dialogue on operational cooperation within a Partnership construct that addresses some of these more weighty concerns.
I do joke that NATO sometimes feels like one of those presents you ask of an Aunt or Grandparents – expensive and good to sit on the shelf. It doesn’t feel sometimes like a well worn reference book or a much loved and rather scuffed football. This is because NATO can sometimes be seen as something to prioritise against - rather something to use at the heart of national business. We are changing that.
My exam question here today was what impact does Russian, and other’s behaviour have on evolving NATO naval strategies and capabilities. Value - or perhaps ownership - is the central component of the issue and where things are changing fastest.
My intent is to build Alliance maritime capability and activity into the heart of our National business. To build information networks, reference data and tasking so that every nation and every Navy is at the heart of a wide web of activity and support. To mould current standing groups and operations in a way that forms a framework for national maritime development and to offer our Centers of Excellence to Nations in a way that offers more capability - and doesn't require nations to prioritise between national or NATO investment.
And so let me conclude by summing up and put things into context - to guide you in your next two, very valuable days of discussion.
As a surface warfare professional myself, I hope I have reinforced the need for surface warfare combatants, capable of high-end war fighting but produced at a cost that permits nations to increase their numbers and generate them. This is a huge subject in itself - people, training, material support and running costs - as we all know looking at the height of our In Trays!
You will be discussing capability - ships - hulls, refits, modernisations future plans. There is an incredible richness in what you will hear and debate. As you do this please remember:
The world is complex and complicated. Competition is in our backyard today. So please recognise that I, as a maritime commander, need capability now. Future sexy plans are fine but please don't hostage the present - we need a balance between current capability and constant evolution.
Secondly the maritime domain is different from other domains as we have freedoms to move and influence. This freedom needs forward presence and this in turn requires numbers and resolve. Despite our many advantages, I judge that the Alliance has only just enough surface platforms for its needs given the multitude of potential threats. Please consider numbers and capacity as an essential value in your discussions.
Thirdly - many budgeteers would have us choose between numbers and capability. The common argument is that there is a choice to be made here. My warning is that the spread of high end weapon systems to hostile state and non-state actors makes even the most benign area now potentially hostile. Low-end corvettes can deliver presence - that’s true. But can they survive a terrorist missile strike or mine? I wonder.
Finally please think about information and information management when you have your discussions. We, whether we like it or not, are in a networked environment and the understanding of, the management of and the use of information - and all in a contested environment where secure communications are essential - is one of the major and most intriguing challenges of our time.
Thank you again for inviting me to speak here today. I wish you well in your discussions and look forward to learning of the outcomes of the conference.