Center for Strategic Decision Research



Creating a More Agile and Integrated NATO Force
To Respond to 21st Century Threats

General Richard Wolsztynski
Chief of Staff, French Air Force

What are the new operational challenges for NATO and how can we improve the employment of NATO military forces to provide a rapid, combined, joint, and tailored response to the threats and dangers of the 21st century: terrorism, humanitarian crises, and threats to civilian noncombatants?


We always wonder how NATO will be able to generate forces and funds to address the threats of the 21st century. Most important is to increase the integration and effectiveness of both the different military capabilities and the varied operational concepts provided by the different NATO nations. NATO’s recent operations demonstrate that this must occur if we wish to have global operational consistency in future military operations. French Air Forces primarily use NATO procedures within ad hoc coalitions, as we did in the first Gulf War. During the past years, our forces have been engaged in several different operations: in the Balkans, fighting against international terrorism in Afghanistan, and in the two recent crises in Africa, Ivory Coast, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

In my view, two essential capabilities are necessary for global operational consistency: 1) the ability to project and sustain an air base in theatre for both air power and to protect land forces and support operational units and 2) C2 capability for leading air campaigns within the framework of multinational coalitions. We have now tested our C2 structure within the NRF 5 framework and are able to use our tactics and procedures within very different coalitions. We are able to field deploy HQs capable of lead nation status in multinational operations up to medium scale. We are also able to deploy an air base whatever the nature of the engagement.

However, we still need to more efficiently coordinate our efforts to promote the involvement of regional actors in future crises and to enhance the partnership between NATO and these regional actors. NATO must formalize these relationships and they must be coordinated at the regional level in order to achieve a specific footprint that will enable air action. Even though NATO made great progress during the last military operations the Alliance must become more agile in order to deal with all the new challenges we will face.


I would like to point out some of the lessons learned from the most recent French military operations within the NATO framework:

  • NATO forces meet the demands of expeditionary warfare. We are now able to deploy very quickly an agile and autonomous detachment anywhere in the world. The reactivity and adaptability of our last detachment in Afghanistan were keys to its tasks. We must be ready to redeploy in theatre with very short notice.
  • The excellent cooperation achieved between both French and U.S. Army and Special Forces on the ground must still be enhanced.
We are constantly improving our ability to deal with time-sensitive targeting (targeting of situations that require an immediate response because they pose or will pose a danger to friendly forces) and reducing the time necessary to move from decision to action. In that area, information capabilities are key to enabling joint force components to respond with remarkable speed and agility to time-sensitive targets, as we saw during recent operations. These capabilities are as critical to conflict as controlling airspace is to conducting air operations.

The NATO Response Force has been our main priority during the last 16 months. When French authorities decided in 2002 to fully support and participate in the NRF concept, the decision had direct consequences for our forces:

a) We had to go through the NATO and NRF certification process. This took the form of a training and preparation phase that ultimately led us to be certified for 200 NRF sorties per day.

b) We had to invest in areas such as CIS, logistics, force protection, and deployability (DOB) and adapt some of our capabilities. It is worth pointing out that the French Air Force and the RAF decided to join their support efforts for NRF 5 and 6. We began in June 2005 with NRF 5 and recently handed over command of the NRF 6 Air Component to our British colleagues.

The Katrina support operation gave us the opportunity to put into practice the generic structure of our JFACC while operating from France and coordinating with SHAPE.

The Pakistan relief mission has been a true test. NRF was deployed to Pakistan under the command of the NATO JC Lisbon and initially met with opposition to NATO’s involvement in this humanitarian action.


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