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VADM Clive Johnstone: MARITIME 360 – SEIZING THE INITIATIVE

 

Clive Johnstone flotaforingi flytur ræðu sína.
Clive Johnstone flotaforingi flytur ræðu sína.

Varðberg og Alþjóðamálastofnun Háskóla Íslands efndu 23. júní 2017 til ráðstefnu í fyrirlestrarsal Þjóðminjasafnsins undir heitinu: Vaxandi vægi Atlantshafsins innan NATO.  Yfirmaður flotastjórnar NATO, Clive Johnstone, var meðal ræðumanna. Hér fer texti ræðu hans.

Flutning ræðunnar í heild má sjá hér: https://vimeo.com/223682550

Remarks to the Atlantic Council of Iceland by VADM Clive Johnstone at a conference in Reykjavik 23 June 2017.

VADM Johnstone is NATO’s principal maritime adviser and has operational Command of NATO’s Standing Naval Forces.

A recording of the remarks can be seen here: https://vimeo.com/223682550

I’m very pleased to be back at Vardberg on the eve of NATO’s most important Atlantic Theatre ASW exercise, Dynamic Mongoose.  This year we are developing capabilities and honing skills in the GIUK Gap – the Standing Forces and exercise participants – X submarines, X surface combatants, are in port Reykjavik as I speak.  Mongoose 2017 represents exactly the new emphasis on both ASW and the North Atlantic that I spoke about last September.  It sends a strong signal that we are indeed putting the North Atlantic back into NATO. It also highlights the strategic importance of Iceland and its value as an operational hub in this critical water space.

 

Over the past two years, together we have moved North Atlantic security from aspiration to limited accomplishment. We have so much further to go, but today we can see the blueprint of an effective maritime NATO that reaches out 360 degrees.

 

I would like to take this opportunity to explain the significant journey MARCOM and the Allies have taken in our path to betterment, the tangible impact of our current efforts and what I believe we need in the future to secure our defence and prosperity.  This includes the North Atlantic but goes beyond it because I firmly believe that our oceans and seas are strategically linked.

 

And I know I am joining a wide debate: Arnor and Bjorn have been the standard bearers for action on North Atlantic security for years. Norwegian officials and academics – Commodore Borresen counts as both – are a major voice in NATO of our exposed northern flank. Naval leaders and think thank researchers have been vocal on the need to restore coherence and authority in North Atlantic NATO. Many of you will be familiar with those ideas.  And over the next year NATO will make decisions on the Adaptation of the Command Structure to make it fit for purpose.

 

So this is a good time to set out MARCOMs experience and the lessons I would recommend guide the future of maritime NATO.

 

The first thing to appreciate is that almost everything about NATO at sea is new: read an article from 2015 about the Standing Forces, MARCOM or NATO’s maritime operations and it is deeply out of date.

 

2014 saw a crisis in relations with Russia and a deepening arc of instability, insurgency and terrorism across the Mediterranean and beyond.  We responded to that challenge by expanding our focus and activities across the strategic seas of the Alliance – to the Atlantic, Baltic, Mediterranean and Black Seas.

 

You probably know about NATOs response to these threats on land that came out of the Wales and Warsaw Summits – the new NATO Response Force ground elements, Force Integration Units in Eastern Europe, enhanced Forward Presence brigades, an intensive series of land exercises like Noble Jump and Sabre Strike. Let me tell you about the maritime journey.

 

That journey begins with the establishment of MARCOM as NATO’s single maritime command in the NCS back in 2012.  This was a critical improvement, possibly much more than was appreciated at the time.  The water space command seams between three maritime headquarters were abolished, opening the door to wholistic understanding and authoritative direction and advice.  But empowerment of this maritime hub was lacking.  There was a sharp divide between the activities of the few ships offered to MARCOM command and those of the allies on national business, something my predecessor Peter Hudson tied valiantly to bridge.  The challenges had not yet arisen to force change.

 

That really occurred in Autumn 2015 when the Russian Navy returned to the high seas in a major way, and they have not stopped since. A steady stream of Kilo submarines and Grigirovich Class destroyers sailed out of Murmansk for the Black Sea and the Baltic. The Kuznetsov carrier battle group deployed to the Mediterranean. Their submarine activity is the highest since the Cold War and impacts every strategic sea in NATO. Bastion air denial systems have been built in the High North, Mediterranean and Black Sea.

 

And this is a different Russian Navy from the one we knew before even 2012. Some legacy assets from Soviet days remain and they have been modernised to a degree.  Capable Oscar SSGNs have recently made major deployments in the Atlantic and Mediterranean.

 

But more interesting are the new arrivals to their Order of Battle.  The Severodmorsk SSNs are reputedly very quiet. Possibly a game changer in the North Atlantic.  In parallel, a range of new, lighter platforms are being developed for littoral sea control – frigates, corvettes, PGGs and new Kilo diesel-electric submarines – all equipped with Kalibr land attack cruise missiles.  These are significant power projection assets.  And they use these capabilities very cleverly, maximising their political impact.

 

This change in Russia’s posture and behaviour at sea was the primary catalyst for a renaissance in maritime NATO.  We have been maintaining oversight of Russian Navy ship and submarine deployments in the North Atlantic and Mediterranean as never before, most visibly illustrated by our intensive surveillance of Kuznetsov Battle Group in 2016.

 

This is more than mere monitoring; it is a deterrent posture designed to signal resolve and prevent misadventure.  It allows the Allies to have escalation control.  Our past history with the Russian Navy tells us that this approach works well to maintain stability and keep the peace.

 

How we did this was one of the big under-reported stories of the past year: NATO approved a concept of Alliance Maritime Governance and the Russian challenge allowed us to put it into practice.  Many navies coordinated their national efforts to monitor Russian naval activity in the Atlantic and Mediterranean through MARCOM.  We became the honest broker and the water space manager for these collective surface efforts, as we have done in the submarine and maritime air world for many years.

 

This was achieved because we focused all of MARCOM’s efforts on operations and operational behaviour.  And by offering Allies real value for money in the way MARCOM can support their efforts.

 

The Standing Naval Forces played a role in this, of course.  And that is a significant force – it would take a navy of 33 frigates and 24 mine counter-measures vessels to deploy the force I have under my command today.  The RNCS ST JOHN’S is currently doing superb work for NATO as part of SNMG2 in the Mediterranean.

 

But the real story was MARCOM’s ability to authoritatively coordinate more than 30 deployed allied assets during the Kuznetsov deployment, and indeed in lesser numbers against all of the Russian Navy deployments.  This was a primary role of SACLANT in the Cold War and it is function MARCOM assumed in 2016 with the support of all the maritime Allies.

 

This new role is important in the maritime support to Enhanced Forward Presence.  The Atlantic is the back door to the Baltic and the Mediterranean.  So keeping Sea Lines of Communication open between North America and Europe is once again a significant concern. I am working very closely with US Fleet Forces Command, US Sixth Fleet, the French Navy and others on how the Atlantic bridge can be kept secure.

 

These responsibilities place a huge burden on my Headquarters and in particular my Maritime Operations Centre.  We worked hard over many months to build strong connectivity between the MARCOM MOC and Allied and Partner MOCs in dealing with Aegean migrant trafficking surveillance, Operation Sea Guardian and shadowing of the Russian Navy.  This year I am widening our scope with new efforts to exercise the Allied MOCs with MARCOM and to connect their Directors.

 

ASW

 

At the heart of this Atlantic challenge is the submarine threat.  Russia’s submarine capability and presence in all seas – 360 degrees – is my first concern as MARCOM in deterring Russian aggression and adventurism

 

Anti-Submarine Warfare has not been a priority in NATO or National planning for many years and we are pushing hard to rebuild our capabilities.  A series of ASW exercises over the past year off Norway, Scotland and Italy will be capped with Dynamic Mongoose 2017 (I know, silly name – great exercise) which kicks off this weekend in Reykjavik.

 

It is the first time we will have practiced Tactical ASW in the heart of the GUIK gap in many years.   There are two key reasons that we should: first, Anti-Submarine Warfare is different in almost every sea area.  Our forces need to understand how to be effective in the particular environment of the waters of the Gap.  But second, NATO needs to message that it is not deterred from operating in any part of the high seas.

 

This exercise is robust.  I can’t really get into specifics here, but we are very grateful for the Allied support in frigates, submarines and maritime patrol aircraft.  I am also personally very grateful to Iceland for their support of the exercise and for hosting the Pre-Sail conference here in Reykjavik.

 

BEYOND THE ATLANTIC – THE CALL FOR MARTIME 360

 

But I said at the beginning, the critical demand is for a maritime NATO, effective in 360 degrees, and that includes but goes beyond the North Atlantic.  Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Scaparrotti, describes our emerging challenges as his ‘Four R’s’ – Russia, Refugees, Radicals and Relevance – and we are responding to these across all of NATO’s strategic seas.

 

Today NATO warships are operating in the inner leads of Aegean islands to help stop illegal migrant trafficking.  We have regular engagement with EU security actors like FRONTEX and Operation Sofia.  And we are tracking and posturing against Russian naval power in the Mediterranean, the Baltic and the Black Sea.

 

We are also conducting our new Maritime Security Operation Sea Guardian in the Mediterranean, an MSO with real teeth this time.

 

It is a very different operation from operation Active Endeavour which preceded it.  Sea Guardian has more far robust Rules of Engagement.  Its mandate includes Counter-Terrorism but also a much wider set of maritime security challenges like energy security, critical infrastructure protection and embargo operations.  Sea Guardian uses separately resourced forces so that the Standing Naval Forces can remain focused on high-end training and Article V rapid response.

 

We also have a much more concrete focus: the trade flows of arms and terrorists between the Eastern Mediterranean, North Africa and Southern Europe. And the safety of commercial shipping from terror attacks or being caught up in regional conflicts.  We are working to understand these dynamics and to be ready to act against it where we can.

 

I just completed a meeting with CEOs and security directors of some of the largest shipping firms in the world.  They are concerned about the safety of their ships in the Mediterranean and the Bab el Mandeb straits and are looking to MARCOM’s NATO Shipping Centre as the future hub for maritime security cooperation with the shipping industry.  The NSC  can only succeed in that effort if their scope extends in all directions.

 

Moving to the Aegean, since Spring 2016 MARCOM has commanded SNMG2 in conducting a maritime surveillance mission to help counter illegal migrant trafficking. Soon after the NATO effort was launched migration rates across the Aegean collapsed, driven also by the EU-Turkey agreement and the closing of borders in South East Europe. But I think the SNMG2 deployment played its part as an element in the complex chemistry that ended the massive flows to the islands.

 

We also have challenges in the Black Sea with Russian aggression in Ukraine and the build-up of their military forces.  I believe that the risk of misadventure is greatest there and am grateful for the efforts Jim Townsend made to promote Black Sea security when he was in the US government.  As a result, NATO has increased the Black Sea presence of the Standing Naval Forces.  I have established a Black Sea functional team within MARCOM, who will be the experts and maintain close linkages with the regional navies.

 

So as you can see, since 2015 maritime NATO has been transformed and we are operating across 360 degrees of arc.  MARCOM’s seamless role has been of great benefit in trying to understand the whole picture, to allocate resources and advise SACEUR.  Our MOC is far better than it was and the Allies have allowed our Standing Forces much greater flexibility.  The North Atlantic is back in NATO thinking.

 

AN ADAPTED MARITIME NATO STRUCTURE

 

So is this ‘mission accomplished’?  Far from it.  We may be operating at 360 degrees but not very well and at full stretch.  Allied navies still need better coordination, communications and agility in responding to emerging challenges.  My headquarters as currently configured is good as an international MOC in peacetime but not to command sustained high-end operations 24/7. And certainly not in multiple theatres of conflict.

 

The NATO Response Force was conceived in 2003 as a small force to combat one crisis in one place at one time.  We now appreciate that to credibly deter aggression against a peer competitor, NATO must demonstrate its ability to respond simultaneously across multiple domains of conflict.  That means not only concurrent geographic challenges – in the Baltic, North Atlantic, Mediterranean and Black Sea – but also in the domains of cyber warfare, disinformation and fake news.

 

Equally, NATO and Europe face the daunting terrorist threat and arc of instability across its Southern Flank in Syria, Yemen and Libya.

 

NATO political leaders recognise that the comprehensive nature of our challenges demands more than modest institutional reform.  The slimmed down Command Structure that emerged from the Lisbon Summit of 2011 was designed to support NATO’s calling in the Post-Cold War Era, as an out-of-area crisis management organisation.

 

Since 2014, we have been turning that around.  There has been a gradual strengthening of NATO’s command and control capabilities on land.  Multinational Corps North East in Szczecin and MNC South East in Bucharest now provide Corps-level headquarters that NATO badly needed.

 

The greatest pressure for NCS Adaptation in 2017 is in the maritime and that is mostly focused on the North Atlantic although I suggest the need is broader.

 

There are a lot of ideas being bandied about – a revival of SACLANT, a greater role for MARCOM as a Super MCC or maritime-heavy Joint Force Headquarters, greater weight placed on NATO Force Structure assets as well as new roles for national fleet headquarters.  Options range from a reinforced single hub to regional C2, to federated approaches.

 

The final decisions are for nations to make, not me.  But I would like to conclude by offering my personal sense of the lessons and principles that can deliver a NATO maritime command and control capability fit for purpose:

 

  1. The first of these is unity of command in the maritime. It is essential that there is no confusion over roles or tasks between maritime forces in a given operating area.  The fog of war is thick enough on its own.   War at sea, in three dimensions is the most complex of all environments.

 

  1. Second, I believe that the unified and seamless NATO maritime AOR must be maintained at the level of the NATO Command Structure. I am uncomfortable when people try to separate the Atlantic and the Mediterranean – for they are linked by threat and by Allies.  The same can be said for the Mediterranean and The Black Sea, and the Mediterranean and the Baltic.  We must build the institutional capacity to maintain this 360 degree command perspective – in particular when a peer competitor might challenge us in several places at once.  That means a command capable of higher-level operational command of multiple task forces in several maritime regions.

 

  1. The third priority is a truly effective situational awareness and information management function that can transition with authority from MSA to warfighting. That will require a 24/7 watch floor capacity of about 50 expert, full time staff around the clock for sustained operations, so about 100-150 MOC staff in total.  They will need to have continuity as a team and understanding of the NATO maritime and joint picture.  This is not a task that can be delegated or provided by substantial augmentation (- I do not see augmentation happening -) or to an on-call headquarters or one activated in an emergency.

 

  1. Fourth, staff numbers and command responsibilities are only half the battle for betterment. Any solution needs to allow for greater managerial freedoms over peacetime manpower in the headquarters, our partnership efforts, greater control over the Schedule of Operations of the Standing Naval Forces, the ability to exercise at short notice, and a larger role in capability developments and experimentation.  The agility of an HQ is as important as its size and its formal mandate.

 

To my mind, then, the maritime answer therefore lies in a fully resourced, resilient, Maritime Command, capable of 24/7 Maritime Situational Awareness and multi-theatre command and control of several task forces.  This MARCOM – with potent strike, amphibious and joint expertise  –  and the availability of deployable NFS task forces like STRIKFORNATO or UK or French MARFOR, can meet the needs of North Atlantic Defence and Security.  It could also provide for wider NATO maritime security working through regional maritime force commands.  And could do it without recreating the boundary seams in the water.

 

A last consideration relates more to chemistry than command architectures.  MARCOM is Northwood has been on path to betterment for 5 years.  Huge investments of time and effort have been made in building staff expertise, command capacity and a wide-ranging set of networks across all maritime stakeholders.  As a result, we benefit from high levels of trust by the Allied naval leaders that made Allied Maritime Governance a reality with MARCOM at its centre.  These qualities are not fungible; anyone else, anywhere else, will be starting from scratch.  The transaction costs and operational risk of squandering that collective investment in Northwood strike me as very high indeed.

 

Once again, please accept my thanks for being here and for the chance to share our NATO maritime journey with you.  I think that the next chapter will be a very exciting and positive one.  Thank you.

 

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