A guest post from Mike W…
Last Thursday, the 5th February, NATO declared plans to enhance its The Readiness Action Plan, the purpose of which is to strengthen NATO’s ability to respond quickly in times of crisis. A series of measures was taken to increase the readiness and responsiveness of the Alliance’s forces.
It was announced that the NATO Response Force will be developed into a division-sized formation, consisting of what are described by the Alliances’ Defence Ministers as “highly capable and flexible multinational forces”. The force will be “trained and organized to rapidly respond to a variety of contingencies.” It will be supported by air and maritime elements and Special Operations Forces.
Its centrepiece will be the new Spearhead Force, which has been named the “Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF).
This will be a multinational land brigade and will include up to five manoeuvre battalions. The lead element of this land brigade will apparently be ready to move within two or three days, with the rest being able to follow within a week, much faster than current NATO response times. It was also announced that France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain and the UK will act as “framework” nations, taking turns to command the Spearhead Force. The VJTF will be supported by two more brigades, which will form a rapid reinforcement capability in case of a major contingency. In total, the enhanced NATO Response Force will number approximately 30,000 troops, a considerable increase on the current size of around 13,000.
Moreover, it was decided to establish six NATO Force Integration Units (NFIUs), which will be multinational command and control centres, in Bulgaria, Poland, Romania and the Baltic states. These elements will assist in the rapid deployment of Allied forces to the region and support the organization of multinational exercises.
On the surface this seems to be an admirable series of moves. However, there are one or two questions that deeply trouble me.
Firstly, I am very much concerned about precisely what kind of formation the Spearhead Force is likely to be. The NATO decisions have obviously been taken in response to the situation in the Ukraine, where in some respects the crisis appears to be deepening. I might be wrong about this but in the case of potentially substantial conflicts, I would imagine that the Spearhead Force is probably intended to be a “holding” force, until heavier forces from the Response Force arrive. Now, I know that towards the end of last year David Cameron was reported as saying that Britain would provide a battlegroup and a brigade headquarters for the new Rapid Reaction Force but those components will be part of the overall Response Force and, as far as I remember, little was said about the formation of the new Spearhead force. If the overall Response Force is to have a “battlegroup and a brigade headquarters”, then presumably that would include some heavy armour units. Moreover, it is expected that NATO leaders will agree to pre-position equipment and supplies, in eastern European countries with bases ready to receive the NATO Rapid Reaction force if needed. Such an arrangement will enable the new force to “travel light, but strike hard if needed” (in the words of former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen)
It is, however, the composition of the Spearhead Force that troubles me. If it is to be able to deploy “within days”, then it is more likely to be constructed around very rapidly deployable forces such as air mobile or air assault units, such as our own 16 Air Assault Bde. Would there not be a danger of an Arnhem-type situation arising, where lightly armed and equipped forces are over-run by more powerfully armed ones before the main force arrives or have I got NATO’s intentions all wrong? Does such a force need Armour, for instance?
Secondly, the question arises as to how easy it will be to get agreement from NATO member states to actually deploy these forces. The political will is not always evident in many countries and, if a crisis arose and the force were to be deployed ,there is always the danger of partners viewing such a move as inflammatory rather than restoring confidence in allies. Such a question is very relevant, as there have been warnings about a possible split between northern and southern NATO states, which seem to be concerned about different matters, one troubled more about Russia, the other more about the Middle East.
So what do people think about
a) what the composition of the Spearhead Force should be. Which elements would it need and should it include, for instance Armour ? and
b) whether the whole concept of the Rapid Response Force will work, given the nature of the differing views among NATO states.