What is the Value of the Away Game?
William R. Orkins
What is Security Cooperation?
Security cooperation begins with an idea. The idea is that multiple militaries can come together on a common ground, work through a complex problem set, and execute a mutually agreed upon method to solve the problem, or eliminate a threat. Each regional U.S. combatant command produces a theater security cooperation plan that provides an approach to build partner military capability and capacity. As the militaries improve their ability to conduct operations, the next logical step is to ensure they can interoperate with U.S. and other allied nations. This challenge resonates at all levels from the small Special Forces team conducting joint combined exchange training (JCET), to massive regional exercises such as Operation ATLANTIC RESOLVE. Whether or not the training audience succeeds at achieving interoperability, or even acting as a deterrent against a potential adversary, there is interoperability at the exercise planning level. The conglomeration of multinational planners and their results are often overlooked due to the glamour of soldiers and equipment maneuvering across a stretch of training ground while keeping higher level interoperability left quietly behind the curtain.
U.S. Army Europe and Security Cooperation
Throughout Europe, the U.S. Army is fostering security cooperation through the use of “Away Games”. These are training events that lie outside of the Joint Military Training Command (JMTC) venues of Hohenfels and Grafenwöhr. Security cooperation, building partner capacity and solving interoperability issues occurs at the traditional sites, but it is the events at places like the International Peacekeeping and Security Center (IPSC) in Ukraine, or Adazi training area in Latvia where the expeditionary aspect comes into play. For instance, training with multinational partners occurs throughout Europe with USAREUR based units such as the 173rd, 2nd SCR, and the Regionally Aligned Forces (RAF). Planning support from observer, coach, trainers (O/C-T) help develop partner nation militaries and their ability to plan, resource, and conduct self-sustained training in the absence of USAREUR assistance.
Training events are just that, training an ad hoc unit consisting of multiple nations on missions below the operational level. This is of course productive, but soldiers and those commanding these units will work together regardless of the scenario to develop a tactical solution. The real benefit is the convergence of multinational planners and commanders during the development of the exercise. Take for instance Saber Guardian / Rapid Trident 15 at the IPSC. Planners from 18 different countries came together over nine months to work through the exercise plan, logistics requirements, the communication requirements, exercise control, customs, exercise manning, strategic messaging, and so on. The planners did not have a script like the exercise participants receive (i.e. NATO Skolkan scenario). They only had a real world problem of getting buy-in from every country, and creating a multinational exercise from cradle to grave.
Significantly, there is no “reset button” at these security cooperation events for the commanders and planners to “start over” when a difficulty arises. During the exercise, the exercise control group can reset the training in the event too many errors occur on the battlefield. When it comes to building and operating the exercise it is a no-fail event. It is during the planning that security cooperation and interoperability truly emerges.
Take for instance the requirements to conduct a training event in Western Ukraine—SABER GUARDIAN / RAPID TRIDENT 15. There are strategic political considerations to ensure a valid message is sent to the Russian Separatists and their supporters. The message must be non-provocative, yet stern enough to show solidarity between the U.S. and European allies. In this situation, the mission is the message. It is sent when a complex exercise is coordinated, planned, and executed on foreign soil even when every associated bureaucratic institution can easily halt the event due to incongruent policies and procedures. If the event fails due to bureaucratic inertia then deterrence has not only failed, but also gives new life to the separatists or any other element testing the fortitude of the alliance.
Planning integration between the U.S. and Europe has existed since WWI—some would argue even before that—but all previous conflicts made planning and execution integration necessary due to an existential threat (e.g. Germany during WWI and WWII, Russia during the Cold War, Saddam Hussein during Desert Storm and OIF, Taliban, etc.). In the current environment a definitive threat to the Western way of life does not clearly exist. However, if NATO and other European partners display any form of disconnect regarding military integration, it will be a targeted vulnerability. The speed of information and analysis by both state and non-state actors today makes interoperability and integration all the more important at the operational and strategic level. This is seen in Syria as more countries are conducting operations against ISIL, and the challenges associated with multiple militaries operating in a relatively small area are daunting.
Security Cooperation and Strategy
The key question at hand is what does security cooperation mean in regards to U.S. military strategy? The U.S. Army is in free fall when it comes to budgets and manpower. Does security cooperation fit the strategy for ensuring our way of life? Is it a strategy to strengthen NATO and our allies? Or, is simply maintaining relevancy in a world of smaller budgets and a public fascination for F-35s and Virginia Class submarines the best strategy the Army can hope for?
Security cooperation, and especially the away games, is the prudent way to increase combat power across NATO through learning from our partners who live on the frontier of conflict areas. Take the approach the exercise planners used in Latvia to train the multinational force. The plan was a defend and counter-attack scheme that necessitated the use of enablers like engineers, forward observers, air defense, air support, and so on. In fact, the Latvians annually conduct a training event focused solely on combat support. The U.S. could learn a lot from this approach where the focus is largely on a speedy offensive that excludes the use of most enablers. To truly do our part we should consider using some of our partners’ approaches to training to ensure we are more capable of interoperating when the time comes. Most importantly, these approaches are being learned and internalized by the planners behind the scene.
Russia is also operating behind the scenes in Eastern Ukraine, waging a hybrid war that is effective and hard to defeat. Their operational concept is to lead with propaganda, follow up with guerilla tactics, and complete the charge with conventional forces. Their approach extends into the realm of cyber and other information age technologies, nonetheless it is an effective way to achieve political objectives when time is on your side. Likewise, ISIL is dealing a heavy blow to U.S. and Middle East political goals due to their ability to recruit, mobilize, attack, and at the same time control the information environment. For the U.S. and its allies to prevail in this environment, security cooperation is part of the pathway to success. However, the emphasis must be on cooperation where training and operating is a two-way street. The sooner the U.S. Army accepts that some of our partners can, and do, have useful security approaches, the sooner the U.S. Army can internalize these TTPs.
So, do the away games help to reverse these trends? In a way they do, but they must be part of a larger, tiered approach that is not aimed at merely countering these threats, but getting ahead of the threats. The tiers must continue to consist of the existing strategic messaging put forth by the U.S. and NATO leadership. Further, the training events must immediately precede some sort of host nation action - (e.g. U.S./NATO/Host nation) plan, train, and then act. Of course, this must all be synchronized at operational and strategic levels, but it is doable. Hence, why the away games are so important, it provides the venue for the partner nation planners and commanders to recognize the bigger picture of support and facilitate their own preemptive information operations to set the stage for military intervention in pursuit of political goals.