Defense Daily Open Stories Oct 9 2012 final story

October 5, 2012

Interoperability, Adaptability, Enduring NATO ACT Efforts, Outgoing Commander Says

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French Air Force Gen. Stephane Abrial recently relinquished his position as Supreme Allied Commander Transformation (SACT) leading one of two NATO strategic commands and the first non-American to hold the position.

NATO’s future will depend on interoperability and adaptability, issues NATO ACT will continuously work to refine and improve, Abrial said in an interview recently.

As he did in 2009 when Abrial took command, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen will lead ceremonies as French Air Force Gen. Jean-Paul Palomeros takes over as the new SACT. Previously, Palomeros followed Abrial as chief of the French Air Force, and now as SACT.

ACT is NATO’s leading agent for change, driving, facilitating, and advocating continuous improvement of alliance capabilities to maintain and enhance its relevance and effectiveness.

Reflecting on his tenure, Abrial said he accomplished his goals.

“My main objective of what do here, is to be useful to NATO, identify those topics nations were willing to work on so results could be focused,” he said in an interview.

For example, NATO ACT supports projects under the Smart Defense initiative, encouraging alliance nations to cooperate in developing, acquiring and maintaining military capability.

Smart Defense complements the Connected Forces Initiative, which aims to ensure alliance forces have the education, training, and technology to work together to execute missions–in other words, interoperability. “This is an important part of the glue of the alliance,” Abrial said.

Other focus areas are on counter-IED efforts, doctrine and concepts.

As well, NATO ACT works to improve relations between the alliance and the European Union (EU). In fact, he said, it might have helped that he was an EU commander in his previous job as French Air Force Chief of Staff.

Many of today’s issues will continue into the future, he said. “We have not closed the doors on any topic.” The work that became the new NATO Strategic Concept is now the foundation for other concepts.

The intellectual work is continuous to adapt topics for the future environment, countering IEDs for example. They have been around for a long time and will be here for years to come. “We need to continuously adapt, be well prepared and protected,” he said.

Abrial said, “We are continuously feeding our work with lessons learned, for all of our engagements.” NATO ACT has a dedicated Joint Analysis and Lessons Learned Center in Lisbon, Portugal and uses it “to inform every bit of work here.” The Libyan campaign, for example, looked at all possible issues, and informed doctrine, organizations, capability development and training. Additionally when training headquarters that will deploy to Afghanistan, NATO ACT incorporates events sent in by the staff in theater.

Transformation initiatives can be expensive, he said. Despite continually decreasing budgets for nearly all NATO nations, most of them recognize the need to transform with less money and are committed to find solutions to continue to maintain and develop the capabilities needed for today and tomorrow.

“The only way to do it is together,” Abrial said. "That’s Smart Defense. The Connected Forces Initiative recognizes that working together is the way to confront problems. Transformation is high on (these nations’] agenda. If you have less money for today and for tomorrow you need a better way to use the money.”

Going forward, a key NATO attribute would be “doing things together,” in a word, interoperability.

“We look not only for technology but for the human dimension…It’s absolutely critical,” Abrial said. “We need the intellectual and technical flexibility to adapt to any conflict in future. It will be a surprise, when, what, what kind and where, no one knows, but we need to be able to adapt to face it, to overcome it and always keep the upper hand in the future challenging environment.”

Mere months before Abrial became SACT, the French government decided to integrate back into the military side of NATO. That integration has gone “extremely smoothly,” he said, thanking the United States for its open doors and support for him over the past three years.

“The decision made by my country three years ago has been beneficial for my nation and for the alliance,” Abrial said. “I’m optimistic for the future.”

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