Bgen J.R. Swillens; lessons identified
Basis voor het NOV-symposium

Van de redactie: Op 9 oktober 2018 vond inmiddels voor de derde keer het NOV-symposium plaats op de KMA in Breda. Onder de titel ‘Het militair discours’ is een verslag gepubliceerd van het symposium, dat was toegespitst op de lessons identified van Deep Strike, een in juli gehouden computer assisted exercise van de 43e Gemechaniseerde Brigade (43 Mechbrig). Gelet op het unieke karakter van de oefening, is door de commandant van 43 Mechbrig, bgen J.R. Swillens, het initiatief genomen om de opgedane ervaringen te bundelen en in de vorm van een boekje uit te geven. Het (Engelstalige) voorwoord hierop vormt een goede samenvatting van zijn observaties en is daarom hieronder in z’n geheel afgedrukt. Een must read voor iedereen die wil weten hoe onze krijgsmacht relevant kan blijven!

Si Vis Pacem Para Bellum is an old Roman truth meaning that if you want peace, you have to prepare for war. And that is exactly what the Royal Netherlands Army with 43 Mechanised Brigade in the lead, did during exercise Deep Strike in July 2018.

The purpose of the exercise was to find answers to the question ‘how to fight a high intensity conflict on a realistic future battlefield against a highly capable opponent?’. Based on military lessons from conflicts in the past decade, two battles were fought by our brigade against an aggressive, strong and capable enemy.

The first battle was executed with the current task organization, equipment and doctrine. The results were clear: outnumbered, outranged, outgunned. The second battle was executed with an enhanced mechanised brigade in which several identified shortcomings were resolved. The results showed that, this time, the brigade stood a chance of winning.

Although this was just one computer assisted exercise in a specific scenario, several important lessons can and must be drawn. Firstly, we have to think through what future conflict and what future battlefields look like. Also, we must rethink warfare, visualize and develop new concepts. We must not just buy new equipment or technology, we must also develop new doctrine and tactics. If not, we are just preparing ourselves for fighting battles of the past with modernized means. The new concepts must be developed in conjunction with our international partners and our sister services, the Navy and the Air Force. Furthermore, we need to incorporate our cyber community. Future warfare will be complex and fought simultaneously in all domains (land, air, maritime, space and cyber). A multi-domain approach is the only way forward.

Secondly, it became clear that we have to win the Command & Control battle in the electromagnetic spectrum: no comms, no bombs. A robust C2-system enables another prerequisite on the future battlefield: an effective sensor-to-shooter system. Lots of sensors will be deployed in the battlespace, such as radars, acoustic sensors, unmanned aerial vehicles, human sensors and electronic surveillance systems. These sensors must be able to connect with a wide array of shooters, such as fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft, naval gunfire, direct firing platforms and rocket artillery.

A third conclusion is that the brigade area of operations on the future battlefield might be ten times larger than in the past and the operational tempo might be ten times quicker. We must be able to fight dispersed and decentralized to be able to deal with this tempo or with a temporary loss/degradation of communications. Therefore, we must push power and responsibilities down and train our leadership to conduct true mission command based on a clear and concise intent. This means telling commanders what to achieve, but not how.

Last but not least it became clear in both battles that logistical and medical chains must be robust. All systems on the battlefield must be mobile, connected, self-protected and as unmanned as possible.

Exercise Deep Strike provided useful insights. The nature of war might not change, the characteristics certainly will. If we want to succeed on the future battlefield, we have to understand these (changing) characteristics. Exercises such as Deep Strike 2018 are instrumental in doing that.

Brigadier general drs. J.R. Swillens
Commander 43 Mechanised Brigade
Royal Netherlands Army