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Remarks as Delivered by Adm. Mark Ferguson at the Atlantic Council

October 6, 2015 at 5:05 PM UTC

The following prepared remarks were delivered by Adm. Mark Ferguson, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/Commander, Allied Joint Force Command Naples, at the Atlantic Council, Washington D.C., Oct. 6, 2015.

Good morning–

At the Wales Summit, NATO identified two security challenges facing the Alliance: a revanchist Russia, and multi-dimensional threats from the Middle East to North Africa.

Following the Summit, NATO appropriately placed its immediate focus on the more dangerous threat of Russia, based on their proven willingness to apply their military force to achieve their objectives.

To build a NATO response, the Summit focused on two elements in its Readiness Action Plan (R A P). These elements were the assurance of our allies, and, adaptation. Adaptation involves the fundamental transformation of the structure and capabilities of the Alliance.

The initial actions of the RAP were focused on the East. NATO combined previously scheduled national and NATO exercises to increase the scope of activity, nations increased the rotational deployments of forces to the east and initiated joint air policing and ISR.

These military actions were highlighted in the media, with the intent of improving their visibility in the public domain. The intended effects were to reassure our allies and improve the integration of the underlying support structures in the eastern nations. There was a renewed focus on interoperability, logistics and intelligence.

The hard work now underway is the adaptation of the alliance focused on investing in military capability and capacity for a credible deterrent. To be credible, NATO’s adaptation must focus on building the range of capability, increase its capacity or depth, and improve its responsiveness.

Responsiveness is a new element, as we have seen that Russian actions have fully integrated the elements of speed and strategic surprise.

While Air and Land Forces, with Cyber, will dominate the center of NATO’s defended territory, the North Atlantic, Norwegian Sea, Baltic, Black Sea, and Mediterranean are the maritime flanks of the alliance. It is here, we are observing the manifestation of a more aggressive, more capable Russian navy.

It is a naval capability focused directly on addressing the perceived advantages of NATO navies. And they are signaling us and warning us that the maritime space is a contested domain.

This year, Russia unveiled a new maritime strategy that places greater emphasis on the seas surrounding Russia, but also talks of projection into the Atlantic and Mediterranean. In statements in the public, they have talked about establishing permanent presence in the Mediterranean and in “breaking out” from their perceived military encirclement by NATO military structures, economic sanctions and political isolation. The language coming from the Russian military reflects the mindset, policy, and actions characteristic of direct challenge and competition with NATO.

What makes this approach troubling is hybrid warfare coupled with the ever-present threat of the full application of robust conventional and nuclear forces.

This remilitarization of Russian security policy is evident by the construction of an “arc of steel” from the Arctic to the Mediterranean. Starting at their new Arctic bases, to Kaliningrad in the Baltic, and Crimea in the Black Sea, Russia has introduced advanced air defense, cruise missile systems, and new platforms.

It is also building the capability to project power into the maritime domain. Their base in Syria now gives them the opportunity to do the same in the Eastern Mediterranean.

This is a sea denial strategy focused on NATO maritime forces.   Their intent is to have the ability to hold at risk maritime forces operating in these areas and thus deter NATO operations.

They are also expanding the reach of assets to project power from this arc. Specifically, the proficiency and operational tempo of the Russian submarine force is increasing.

According to Russian Navy Chief, Admiral Chirkov, the “intensity” of Russian submarine patrols has risen by almost 50 percent over the last year. Russia has increased their operational tempo to levels not seen in over a decade. Their Arctic bases and their $2.4 billion investment in the Black Sea Fleet expansion by 2020 demonstrates their commitment to develop their military infrastructure on the flanks.

And, Russia has introduced new capabilities such as newer, and more stealthy, nuclear-powered attack and ballistic missile defense submarines. They are also expanding the reach of their conventional submarines with advanced cruise missiles. Just last month, the first KALIBR equipped Kilo class submarine transited from the North Sea to the Black Sea, the first of 6, bringing within its range the eastern half of Europe.

Russia is also integrating asymmetric capabilities fully into their conventional military actions. This involves the use of space, cyber, information warfare, and hybrid warfare designed to cripple the decision making cycle of the Alliance. Their capabilities are focused on the creation of ambiguity. On land, Russia exploits ethnic and religious divisions, makes use of an aggressive information campaign, and extensively uses misinformation and deception to delegitimize the forces under attack while confusing the attribution of their actions. At sea, their focus is disrupting decision cycles.

To execute swiftly, they are also centralizing their national and military decision making. We are seeing more frequent snap exercises focused on rapid mobilization and movement directed from a central headquarters, to include their naval forces, when large numbers of ships get underway on little or no notice.

So, given these developments, how should we consider adapting the NATO maritime forces for the future?

Simply put, we must invest in our navies in three areas to be a credible deterrent in the maritime domain.

Invest time in training at the high end;
Be on call to respond to real world operations;
Invest to pace Russian capabilities.

We should also begin to think differently about force generation. Today, the allies are challenged to sustain two Standing Naval Maritime Groups. Nations simply are not fully resourcing the Standing Naval Forces in the face of competing national demands and limited funds.

When properly trained and resourced, Naval Forces have the unique ability to aggregate and disaggregate quickly, and when interoperable, can quickly use common procedures and systems to generate effects.

Our force generation must support proficiency against a high end adversary. This effort should be built around demanding complex exercises. I am speaking of exercises such as BALTOPS, Joint Warrior, Bold Alligator, Trident Juncture. Rather than create new exercises, we should leverage existing ones under framework nations of the alliance to conduct high end events in Theater ASW, air defense, and electronic warfare.   Combined with the UK training provided to many of the allies, these exercises form the foundation for high end interoperability, on demand.

We have found in the maritime domain there is no substitute for proficiency at sea—you do not get better sitting in port doing synthetic exercises. The nations must invest in proficiency training at the high end of warfighting.

And the allied navies have shown they want this training. BATLOPS this year had over 49 ships and conducted training in all domains.   We will shortly hold TRIDENT Juncture, the largest amphibious exercise NATO has conducted in several years, with over 68 surface ships, 9 submarines, 8 Maritime Patrol Aircraft, and 3,000 US Marines in an allied force of 30,000, with amphibious landings in Portugal and Sardinia.

Also this month, the Maritime Theater Missile Defence (MTMD) Forum will conduct an At Sea Demonstration (ASD) at the UK Hebrides Range off the west coast of Scotland. We will exercise our ability to build common tactical pictures; share situational awareness; execute coalition-level pre-planned responses with live missiles. With 9 nations participating, this is the most significant sea based missile defense exercise we have ever conducted in Europe. As the level of participation shows, when you conduct high end training, the nations will come.

But episodic exercises are not enough. NATO Maritime Commanders must have confidence in the proficiency of the alliance to aggregate forces, such as for real world operations like theater anti- submarine warfare.   To be a viable concept, nations would necessarily declare to NATO those forces underway each day and their approximate level of readiness, with an understanding the forces would be on call to the alliance in the event of crisis. By our rough count, last week there were between 30 to 40 allied vessels underway or transiting European waters. On call, proficient forces must be our goal.

As we invest in training, we must also invest in our infrastructure to support ASW operations to demonstrate resolve across the theater. It is time to develop allied airfields to accommodate the forward deployment of the P-8 and other ASW systems to theater.

The final component of our high end training should be the introduction of asymmetric elements into our naval exercise program. We must develop the forces to understand the full weight of cyber, electronic jamming, and anti-satellite operations that will be brought to bear against them. We must invest in systems that would enable us to ‘fight through’ these effects. We are simply not as ready as we should be to counter these capabilities.

It is therefore time to invest in systems to pace Russia. In this era of fiscal limits, Allies should pool resources and form consortiums to purchase or lease the capabilities the US may possess.   The advanced ASW, air defense systems, and BMD capabilities are examples where this approach can leverage US capability to improve the capacity within the Alliance.

In operating our force, we must not cede maritime battle space. We must continue to operate in the Black Sea and Baltic Sea, and sustain our own familiarity with the environment.

NATO has demonstrated the ability to respond in land and air domain, such as through the creation of the VJTF. It is now time to focus our investments, training and commitment to creating and sustaining credible deterrence in the maritime domain.

But the threat to NATO in the maritime domain does not only come from Russia.

During the Wales Summit, in addition to addressing the challenges of Russia from the East, the Alliance also began to consider the security challenges of the South. When compared to the East, the environment of the south is a challenge of alternative structures and strategies. The threat networks of the Al Qa’ida (AQ) franchise and the jihadist networks in Africa remain serious threats to the West, and the lethality and capability of these organized non-state groups is increasing. DAESH, for example, now controls approximately 200Km of the Libyan coast. What makes this threat particularly challenging is that no state structure exists for negotiation with these groups as it does with Russia. Their nature, composition, and hierarchy are fluid, difficult to analyze, and offer no mechanism for arbitration or dialogue.

In the maritime domain, the Mediterranean may be a boundary or a highway, as we have seen in the last year, but it also contains energy infrastructure offshore that may be at risk.

Further complicating this scenario is the incentive for potential adversary states to exploit the maneuver space within these conflict zones.

The immediate challenge for NATO military commands is to improve our understanding of the networks and begin to provide our political leadership better situational awareness, and consequently well-reasoned options for action.

Unlike a unitary adversary, the range of actors and the social and governance challenges invite more than a military response.

In fact, the military instrument is often not an appropriate response – perhaps the challenges may be better addressed by national or EU mechanisms. Regardless of your view on this question, it is apparent the criminal, violent extremist, and paramilitary threat networks are adept at exploiting the seams between the national and international institutional lines of effort…cooperation is therefore paramount.

So let me offer several recommendations for adaptation in the South:

First, NATO must address these seams through policies that allow collective response of a range of organizations…NATIONS-PARTNERS or COALITIONS-INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTIONS, SUCH AS EU, AND -NATO… and enable this continuum to collaborate, coordinate, integrate, and deconflict action.

We should consider reaching agreements that allow more information sharing, and strengthen existing authorities and agreements to find, fix, and process threats. While we must draw on the strengths of different organizations to address these challenges, we must be ever mindful of their authorities, mandates, and missions.

This is the necessary political first step before our military planners can create an appropriate set of assurance and adaptation measures for the South.

Second, we must consider the mechanism to provide this cooperation. As military planners, understanding the networks we are facing is a daily task.

Having the mechanism to fuse information from military intelligence, academia, NGOs, and law enforcement will provide us better insight into the threat network.

Additionally, a forum similar to what we assembled to fight piracy for Shared Awareness and deconfliction in the Mediterranean would assist this effort. This would be a voluntary forum for industry, EU, NATO, and others.

Third, we should contemplate the development of a NATO exercise regime with southern-focused scenarios that tests our ability to understand and respond to these asymmetric threats.

Fourth, we should develop Graduated Response Plans focused on the South. This theater is particularly suited for Special Forces actions in the maritime environment—so increasing capability and capacity in this area would provide greater response options to NATO.

The inclusion of these initiatives in the next series of adaptation measures would allow NATO to improve its responsiveness and awareness in partnership with other international, national and regional organizations.

They would allow us to focus our capacity building efforts in countries where local governments can assist NATO meet the challenges we both face in the South. It will be a key task of the Warsaw Summit to consider and approve the specific framework for the South to enable our planners to move forward.

Again, thank you for this opportunity to share my thoughts and perspectives, and I look forward to your questions


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