A Roundtable With General Mercier – As he embarked the Allied Command Transformation’s “fast train”, as he describes it, barely two weeks ago, General Denis Mercier just got back from attending his first North Alliance Council’s military committee (NAC) meeting as Supreme Allied Commander Transformation (SACT) and is getting ready for the upcoming NATO Industry forum which, this year, will take place in Portugal. In the meantime, he is currently attending the launching in Europe [1] of the live part (LIVEX) of a major ongoing NATO exercise, called Trident Juncture 2015 (TJ15), which started October 3rd and will end November 6th.

TJ15: What’s New

This exercise, the largest since 2002 Strong resolve, should not be read as a reaction to Russia’s recent behavior, since it has been in the making for the past two years, but as a demonstration of the Alliance’s readiness. “Trident Juncture 2015 is to show NATO’s deterrence posture and its ability to adapt to any development or threat reflecting the Wales Summit’s objectives”, General Mercier explained a few days ago at a roundtable in Washington, D.C.. Meant to assess the Alliance’s capacities, readiness, speed and interoperability, TJ15 is to be considered a testbed for the Readiness Action Plan (RAP) and the recently implemented Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VHRJTF), but for General Mercier, it is “much more than a training exercise”, as it also addresses three major goals:

  1. Flagship activity for NATO’s Connecting Forces Initiative (CFI) launched in the wake of the 2012 Chicago Summit, TJ15 will bring together 17 national exercises: “this is the key change compared to the 2002 exercise which I was part of”, stressed the General : “many national exercises are going to be held under the same scenario, which makes it very interesting and realistic, since the same crisis can affect both sides of the Atlantic. Trident Juncture brings a strong value added to them.
  2. The task of preparing to connect these exercises and a large number of forces and capacities has just ended and was done via a Command Post Exercise; this CPX lasted from October 3rd till October 16th and involved Allied Joint Force Command Headquarters Brunssum and several other headquarters. A certification process of these headquarters, as well as of the Visegrad European Battle Group [2], is to be completed during this period. For General Mercier, “the connection and the coordination which took place between Canada and the European countries participating in the exercise worked even better than expected and is something we cab build on for the future”.
  3. But mostly, TJ15 has to be considered as a “laboratory for NATO’s new ideas and new concepts”, says SACT. For the very first time, industries will be involved in the course of the exercise as observers, in order to better comprehend the battlefield requirements expressed by the armed forces. As many as 35 firms will be monitoring the exercise and such participation will be addressed at the previously-mentioned Industry Forum.


The challenges

Of course one of the key challenges for NATO exercise schedulers based in Norfolk, Virginia, is to integrate real world events into the flow of exercises and inject lessons learned as they come along. “NATO’s process actually allows that pretty easily, not only in terms of process, but also because the planning structures – in this case the Joint Warfare Center based in Stavenger, Norway – are well rounded, while the baseline generic scenario called SOROTAN is flexible enough”, notes General Mercier. “We shall assess if we need new scenarios in the aftermath of the exercise, but, as you know, it takes time and money to create new scenarios”, he says. Compared to 2002, the scope of warfare types to integrate and the new kinds of threats and elements of surprise to insert and inject in scenarios have however increased exponentially.  A crisis response scenario (not Article V), TJ15 will therefore mix the old and the new, conventional and non-conventional threats, i.e. hybrid warfare, high intensity warfare with armored vehicles, BMD threat, cyber threat, access denial to SLOC (Sea Lanes of Communication), and so on… The location of the exercise is the Southern Flank (Spain, Italy and Portugal) with a “360 degree” aperture to the threat, said General Mercier. The next LIVEX will take place in 2018 in the North.

 “How do we build a deterrence posture strong enough to face all current threats – State and non-State – and anticipate emerging ones ?” is therefore the second key challenge identified by SACT.

One of the answers comes along with the CFI, as having some 35 000 personnel, 4 brigade-size units, 140 aircrafts and 60 ships from 30 different countries [3] able to operate together and communicate together is already a success in itself. TJ15 will test that ability inherited from the Afghan years with ACCS enabling all coalition national communication system to work together. “The lessons from Afghanistan gave birth to what we refer to as the Federated Mission Network, which aims at allowing us to enhance our interoperability today between national and NATO systems”, stressed the Supreme Allied Commander for Transformation.

 Just the mere existence of a “Trident Juncture 2015” and the increasing number of national military exercises involved are a deterrent on their own, as they show NATO’s determination to get ready and stand for collective defense and security against any threat wherever it is coming from. TJ15 is furthermore not the only NATO exercise: “about 1,000 exercises were organized this year under NATO’s umbrella, while 170 national exercises were integrated”, SACT pointed out. Besides communication, the mere organization of an exercise of that scope and designation of specific Air, Sea and Land ranges require a lot of preparation ; indeed, one of the first lessons learned so far is that getting the appropriate agreements to do cross-borders LIVEX takes time, as it would in a real-life crisis. “Reality is in the details”, SACT noted, “and we need to keep investing in LIVEX to work these out.

The main concern in the mid to long-term, for General Mercier, is however to watch out that “the right balance between pre-positioned and deployed forces is constantly preserved. We need to enhance our flexibility in order to show that we are able to rapidly adapt to any contingency”.

 For NATO to keep a credible posture of readiness, the new SACT concludes therefore that two ingredients are crucial:

First, we need to demonstrate these capabilities (via LIVEX); and secondly, we need to integrate industries so they better understand our requirements, and so that, when a crisis occurs, we can quickly tap into technological research centers to find part of the solutions”.

 If Strong Resolve 2002 was solely about training a combat joint task force, Trident Juncture 2015 thus encompasses a much wider scope. Anticipating the best way to apply innovation to warfare concepts in order to cope with increasingly high tech risks and threats is indeed part of ACT’s main missions.


[1] The Opening Ceremony took place today in Italy (See >>> http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news_123995.htm)

[2] The Visegrad countries are the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia (see for instance >>> http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/natosource/visegrad-countries-may-turn-eu-battlegroup-into-permanent-v4-rapid-reaction-force)

[3] In terms of number of troops committed to TJ15,  the United States (with 6468 personnel), Spain (with 6318), Italy (with 4107), Germany (with 2978), Portugal (with 1696).  and the Netherlands (with 1680) are the largest contributors to this specific exercise (France provides 1189 participants). To be noted, the participation of four Partner nations: Finland (with 441), Georgia (with 138), Sweden (with 120) and Ukraine (with 40 personnel).

PHOTO© TJ15 Opening Ceremony in Trapani, Italy >>> http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news_123995.htm

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