Exercise Control at Exercise Trident Juncture 16 brief the Allied Land Command commander about the training and evaluation. The exercise is to certify the servicemen and women of the Headquarters Allied Rapid Reaction Corps as the NATO Response Force Land Component Command in 2017. Exercise Trident Juncture 16 ran October 23 – November 4, at RAF St. Mawgan, UK. (ARRC Photo by Sgt M O'Neill RLC ABIPP (UK)/ Released)
Nov 17, 2016

INNSWORTH, UK - During the last 15 years, servicemen and women of many militaries throughout Europe and the world have learned the art of war fighting in the streets, mountains, cities and deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan during Operation Iraqi Freedom and the NATO International Security Assistance Force mission, respectively. Those lessons learned in combat returned to dictate training to the next generation of war fighters and has led to some of the most battle-tested military formations in decades.

Before Iraq and Afghanistan, it was full-spectrum training and force-on-force warfare, with no significant emphasis on the counterinsurgency that would be fought in the future. Since the end of the ISAF mission, the world continues to change, threats evolve and the scope of full-spectrum military operations continues to widen. In light of this, NATO’s method of training has never ceased to adapt.

During the course of 2016, there were 12 NATO exercises scheduled, not including allied national exercises, to prepare the 28 nations of NATO for whatever threat may come next. In October, the servicemen and women of Headquarters Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, based at Imjin Barracks in the UK, trained for their role as the Land Component Command (LCC) in the NATO Response Force in 2017 during Exercise Trident Juncture 16. Juncture spanned four countries, incorporating several real and simulated units covering air, land and sea, giving the ARRC the opportunity to push themselves and their capabilities and eventually certify them as the LCC.

An exercise of this size requires an immense amount of planning, not just for logistical considerations, but also for making it as realistic as possible to truly test the units involved. Members of the ARRC and the Joint Warfare Centre in Stavanger, Norway, have been working throughout the year to ensure that the ARRC would get put through their paces and pushed to their limits.

"NATO’s long-term rotation program tells us when we’re going to be on standby for a particular task and there’s a series of NATO exercises that are prepared in order to make sure people are ready for that task,” said British Brigadier General Andrew Jackson, chief of ARRC’s G7, Training and Development branch. "Trident Juncture is the culmination of one of those exercise series, evaluating us as the NATO Response Force Land Component Command.”

"The ARRC has three missions, to be a Joint Task Force Headquarters for NATO, a land component command within the NRF construct or a corps headquarters within a wider setting,” he said. "So ideally, we have to make sure that our training hits on the core skills required for all of those roles but is adapted so it can hit the special requirements of each of those roles at different times in our training cycle.”

Their role in next year’s NRF has created some additional challenges. In addition to the ARRC fulfilling their training requirements, Juncture was designed primarily to test JFC Naples, making the ARRC the secondary training audience. 

"The exercise has been designed principally to deliver the training objectives of the NRF HQ, JFC Naples, so all through this process we’ve been engaged as a partner in the planning but as a secondary training audience,” said Jackson. "Led by G7, with a team from across the headquarters, we’ve been influencing the exercise designers at JWC so we still have a chance to achieve our objectives.”

In addition to achieving their exercise objectives, G7 and the rest of the staff have worked to ensure the scenario was challenging as well as realistic. With the collective operational experience available throughout the ARRC staff, there was no question that realism would be an integral part of any scenario. Tangible, realistic training  is critical no matter if you’re a platoon on the ground or a three-star NATO headquarters.

"Being part of an Army that’s been at war for the better part of 15 years, you understand how to create realistic training,” said US Brigadier General Ron Clark, ARRC Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, "The realism comes from operational experience and you do the best you can to replicate environments that put the kind of stress on soldiers in training that they may experience in a combat situation.”


Clark, who has commanded troops since before the fall of the Berlin Wall, has seen the effect of realistic training first hand, and knows how important it is to a successful unit. Earlier in his career, during a training scenario, Clark describes a lieutenant of his was thrown into a worst-case situation: enemy combatants everywhere, downed aircraft, casualties, and a battalion commander, Clark, asking for updates faster than he could process the situation. The lieutenant struggled, but the stress of that realism paid off shortly after.       

"Six months later, we’re in Iraq, in Ramadi, which in 2005 was arguably one of the most dangerous locations where Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines were forward deployed,” said Clark. "Again, a very similar situation: enemy on the battle field, ambiguous situation at night, civilians present, lots of chaos, same lieutenant… cool as the other side of the pillow.”

"The lessons he learned in training, I believe saved lives in combat,” he continued. "Its not just that one officer, you can multiply that by every leader and soldier in that formation that also had to deal with those same situations in their own way during realistic training that then led itself to successful operations in combat.”
With realism and challenge at the forefront, NATO and the ARRC have made sure that the training could meet expectations, bringing in a civilian company to expand the scope of the scenario, giving it even more realism and depth.

"Looking at the scenario JWC have presented, we’ve created a theme, and characters within those themes, trying to get a pattern that the headquarters can start to follow and understand about key personalities in different entities in Estonia,” said James Cassidy, managing director for OAKAS Ltd., a company that has worked throughout the NATO force structure to supplement their training events.  "We’ve got the white cell representing international organizations, non-government organizations, the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Defence, and we’ve got the Estonian Red Cross.”

"For me the white cell is the opportunity to discuss the real granularity of the ‘what ifs’ within that wider civilian environment that we operate in, so the advantage we have is that we can bring in people like this who you’re going to be operating with on a daily and intimate basis in an operational environment,” he added.
That depth, the presence of civilians, government and non-government organizations, requires the ARRC to think outside their military knowledge and look further than kinetic action or solely military solutions to solve problems.

"In the case of this exercise, because its so well resourced as an NRF combat readiness evaluation, it gives you the depth to have realistic training and realistic events and injects that stretch the staff and makes us think,” said Clark. "It really puts us through the paces of trying to understand our adversary and to take action so that we really drive our adversary into the space where military solutions are not the answer.”

"In this particular scenario, and with the adversaries we face in the real world, the last option is war,” he continued. "That is always the most costly option, because literally lives are at stake and we want to help our coalition leaders find peaceable solutions and use military means to deter, to reassure, to prevent someone who potentially wants to use force in a way that’s not congruent with peace and stability.”

This year, having a live higher headquarters in JFC Naples, as opposed to the ARRC playing the role as their own headquarters, has also given Trident Juncture 16 a more accurate assessment for both units. 

"Normally we are the single training audience, we act as our higher headquarters, we bring in our lower controllers and we also produce the exercise scenario and then manage the scenario dynamically as we’re going through it,” said Jackson.

"This makes it more real because we’re not able to control our higher headquarters, we have to understand where we sit in relation to their planning cycle and their direction, and their direction may not always coincide exactly with what we would wish to do,” said Jackson. "Because we’re part of a bigger joint operation, we have to adjust our planning and our execution accordingly.”

"Our planning has moved at a fast place because as a land component command headquarters, our cycle is moving faster and has benefitted the planners at Naples who haven’t necessarily been thinking in the same space as us,” he continued. "Because we’re closer to the problem, we have a more refined view of what’s happening on the ground.”

"It’s what the commander calls ‘joint aware’,” he added. "We’re not a joint headquarters but we understand some of the demands of operating in the joint space so therefore we can be proactive in offering our thinking but we’ve got to understand, and have the humility to accept we may not always be producing what they need.”

Training in such a scenario, with its wide focus and resources, the ARRC has seen the benefits of being a multinational headquarters, and has already identified both ways to improve and capabilities to test on their next exercise.

"We work as a 3 star headquarters and use pan-staff approaches to problems, boards, cells, and working groups, to try to solve tactical military problems as an LCC,” said Clark. Even though it’s a three-star headquarters, it’s still a tactical headquarters and being able to build relationships, horizontally and vertically is really what makes you successful as an organization.”

"Here, you only work with the best of the best,” he said. "The NATO [and] partner nations that comprise the ARRC put their best foot forward, they send excellent representatives to be a part of our staff and really that’s one of the strengths of the ARRC, its multi-nationality.”

Since beginning the exercise, Cassidy has been able to watch first-hand as the ARRC staff try to push what is possible, and the time and effort that goes into scenario building has a lot to do with it.

"I think the ARRC is the most forward-thinking and fast-moving headquarters,” he said. "They are innovative and they are trying to push the boundaries of what is feasible and what is not feasible at all times.”

As Trident Juncture 16 concluded, the servicemen and women of the ARRC did push themselves, the scenario and their higher headquarters as far as they could, in the interest of maintaining their edge. As they look toward their role in NRF 17, the ARRC will continue to take advantage of its wealth of experience, remembering the lessons of the past while preparing for the changes and challenges of the future.

"Fifteen years of being in Afghanistan and Iraq is probably, for some officers and soldiers in the headquarters, the only experience they’ve had and that wasn’t an Article 5 operation,” said Jackson. "If we’re thinking about core war fighting in an Article 5 setting, we’ve got to make sure were thinking ahead into that space.”

"The only thing that replicates reality is reality and we have to make sure the scenarios and the simulation that supports our training is as realistic as possible,” he added. "It’s never going to be the real thing, but we’ve got to try and get it as close as it can be.”

Story by HQ ARRC Public Affairs Office


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