Small Wars Journal

White Paper: Risk Management in Multinational Operations

Fri, 08/12/2016 - 6:53am

White Paper: Risk Management in Multinational Operations

Phillip Jenison and Scott Kubica


While maintaining strategic readiness, it is clear America has ambiguous strategy.  Consequently our Army must remain vigilant and prepared to fight future adversaries.  Due to volatility in the current world situation we must rely on our global network of allies and partners to deliver the foundation for international security and stability.  Based on our National Military Strategy (NMS), the U.S. military, its allies and partners will continue to protect and promote shared interests throughout the world. There is a necessity to strengthen our Pacific alliances and remain committed to our North America Treaty Organization (NATO) allies, Middle Eastern partners and Israel. Additionally we are working to foster stability in Africa, Central and Latin America. We will preserve our alliances, expand partnerships, and maintain a global stabilizing presence, and conduct training, exercises, security cooperation activities, and military-to-military engagement through the use of Regionally Aligned Forces.  In order to increase our readiness and that of our allies and partners while enhancing interoperability and responsiveness we must conduct combined training and exercises to hone competencies.  This develops partner military capabilities for self-defense and support to multinational operations that increase regional stability and security.

This white paper injects the Army risk mitigation processes and procedures needed to operate in a multi-national environment in order to prevent accidents and incidents and protect our most precious resource, our Soldiers and those from all alliance and partner nations.  It demonstrates a vision to examine risk management into multinational operations and create beneficial dialogue with leaders at all levels.  We encourage feedback through best practices that can be used as TTPs, as we develop a multinational risk mitigation strategy that affects current policy and for Force 2025 and beyond.  It is imperative we act now due to the increasing reliance on our allies and partners in current and future operations.   It is an enduring and complex task to ensure our multinational forces can execute throughout the Army spectrum of operations with confidence, effectiveness and minimal risk. To achieve this standard, we must now provide and implement Army risk mitigation tools to set the conditions for success in all future multinational force operations.

Jeffrey A. Farnsworth

Brigadier General, USA

Commading General,

United States Army Combat Readiness Center

The Army’s Future Forces and Shaping Risk

The velocity of instability is increasing faster than we have seen in modern day history.  This dramatic change coupled with innovative technological saturation throughout the globe creates a debilitating dilemma for today’s Army. In order to maintain the decisive edge, the Army must continue to invest in its most valuable resource, its people by reevaluating and adapting its approach to the human dimension[i].  In support of this, we must also embrace an adaptive risk management mindset which is paramount throughout our training, education, and in the execution of operations. 

This paper examines the changing risk posture and the need for risk management during multinational operations in order to prevent accidents and incidents and protect our most precious resource; our Soldiers and those from all alliance and partner nations.  The risk posture has changed, due to factors such as force reduction, restructuring, resource constraints, and global presence summons our dependence on international partners who possess the same parallel interest as our nation[ii].  Combine these with the strategically complex, uncertain, and changing world environment requires a thorough discussion on how our Army will approach future training in order to maintain readiness, deter or execute war.

This context requires the need to rapidly extract and share lessons across our Army on new risk that are generated based on operating within the Regionally Aligned Forces (RAF) construct alongside partnered nations in different environments.  More importantly, identify and ensure we have the right hazards and controls in place to mitigate risk.  The intent, is to outline the applications needed to manage all levels of risk commencing with drafting multi-national risk and safety doctrine, acquiring a multinational interoperable digital communication system and a standardized common ammunition system that can be used by all partner nations, while capturing best practices and techniques to educate the forces in a turbulent global setting.

A smaller US force structure requires a growing dependence on our multinational partners. The Army’s Operating Concept (AOC), “Win in a Complex World”, is the strategy that describes how future Army forces will prevent conflict, shape security environments, and win wars while operating as part of Joint, International, Interagency, and Multinational Forces during the span of 2020 and beyond.[iii] This requires forces to engage regionally to ensure interoperability, enhance situational awareness, assure partners, and deter adversaries. Based on this framework an emphasis must be placed on examining emerging risk and the current risk management practices within our own formations including those of our partners.  To ensure interoperability with global allies we must establish technology that allows all allied countries military systems to digitally communicate and execute missions through one common operating system for both lethal and non-lethal missions across the non-linear battlefield.

The AOC describes scalable and tailorable units such as a brigade combat team aligning with partners, conducting combined arms maneuvers and wide area security operations[iv].  These conditions create greater complexities and hazards that must be accounted for by both our Army and partnered forces.  Integral to this, is the increased presence of safety professionals and additional duty safety officers at the lowest levels to examine risk in various complex and new environments.

Risk Associated with Regionally Aligned Forces (RAF)

Pacific Command’s (PACOM) Pathways exercises and United States Army Europe’s (USAERUR) involvement in Atlantic Resolve operations offers a host of venues to examine how the safety culture can be tied to readiness along with insights into building capacity and capability of our partners. These exercises provide perspective into understanding nations with developing or mature risk management processes based on cultural, political, regulatory or financial limitations and constraints.  Partnered exercises provide regional focus with long-term aligned headquarters, building relationships, and reducing risk through a common understanding.[v]  More importantly, they allow Army formations to reinforce and model risk management best practices during the planning, preparation, execution, and assessment phases throughout the operations process.  The integration and collaboration into these exercises allows our Army to learn and share lessons learned across the entire force and strengthen our commitment to our partners.

Within the United States Army Europe (USAREUR) Command, a key enabler to lessons learned for integrating risk management into multinational operations is the 7th Army Joint Multinational Training Command (JMTC), headquartered in Grafenwoehr, Germany.  JMTC provides military training solutions to U.S., allied and partner nation forces in Europe, Africa and beyond to execute Unified Land Operations and contingency missions.[vi]  There are more than fifty battalion or higher partnered exercises a year under USAREUR’s Atlantic Resolve campaign.  JMTC’s unified structure ties together the full-spectrum of training capabilities in Europe.  The execution arm of JMTC resides at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center (JMRC) in Hohenfels, Germany.  JMRC serves as the Army’s premier multinational combat training center (CTC) and a laboratory that offers monthly test beds to extract insights and lesson learned into partnered training for US and other national forces.  The collection of lessons learned from JMRC are collected and analyzed by the Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL).  Best practices and other lessons are archived and accessible in the Joint Lessons Learned Information System (JLLIS), the Army’s lessons learned system of record.

Many of these observations are captured in the Commander’s Guide to Multinational Interoperability (CALL Handbook 15-17) and in a Multinational Interoperability Reference Guide (CALL Handbook 16-18), a collection of techniques, tactics, and procedures (TTP) by warfighting function, offering observations and recommendations to multinational operations. 

Routinely training together at JMRC, allow multinational partners to build trust, develop interoperability and set the conditions for creating the strong coalitions that will guarantee peace and security in the region.  JMRC’s risk management strategy is built into the first days of the rotation through situational training exercises (STX) to assess unit readiness.  This is done through a crawl, walk, and run methodology for combined training operations.  This, combined with repetitions and rehearsals, builds proficiency among partnered forces.  The effectiveness of multinational units to achieve unity of effort and unity purpose depends on the ability of the forces provided to integrate rapidly and succinctly at all levels of command.  Combined operations at any level must be prepared for, planned, and conducted in a manner that makes the best use of the relative strengths and capabilities of partnered forces.  Interoperability of formations and units of a multinational unit has three dimensions, technical (e.g., hardware, systems,) procedural (e.g. doctrines, procedures, and terminology) and human (e.g. language, training, and culture).   Breaking down risk into these three distinct dimensions allows partners to initiate discussion, work through differences, and arrive at an acceptable compromise to proactively address risk without confusing or alienating one another.

Multinational forces commit to information sharing through the lessons learned process, in particular about interoperability shortfalls. At the operational level, emphasis is placed on the integration of contributing nations’ forces and the synergy that can be attained; the success of this process will determine the ability of a combined force to achieve its commander’s objectives.[vii]  To reduce differences between countries and address risk areas, JMTC makes diversity a virtue.  It does not force multinational partners to use U.S. Doctrine, instead it fosters functional interoperability.  This includes having each participating country identify what types of equipment they use, how many networks they typically operate, and the type of information passed over them. The challenge is many partners may be working with communications systems 10 to 15 years older than U.S. Army battle command systems.  Some countries are using second grade equipment with big performance issues which directly impacts their ability to collaborate with other countries, including the United States. 

The inability to communicate degrades any approach to a common operational picture, increasing overall risk to mission. An example vignette played out executing centralized fires during an Allied Spirit exercise. The exercise prepared forces to operate together by exercising tactical interoperability at the brigade and battalion levels, and testing secure communications within NATO Alliance members.  The regiment was challenged when operating with British radars, Dutch howitzers and their Regimental Fire Support Element (FSE).  As counter-fire missions were acquired, neither British radars nor Dutch howitzer could talk digitally to the regiment FSE via the Army Field Artillery Tactical Data System (AFATDS), so radar acquisitions were sent voice.  The regimental FSE processed the missions in voice and entered the data into the AFATDS.   This multiple translation incurred delays and challenges resulting in a number of notional fratricides during training.  The Army’s solution was incorporation of The Artillery Systems Cooperation Activity (ASCA), a cost effective interface that digitally links weapons systems of partnering nations for seamless execution.   Without ASCA, each country would need to radio in orders for tactical call-for-fire directions and commands.  ASCA, a software solution and interface, removes language barriers and human error, allowing each country's individual fire support systems to "talk" to each other and relay information digitally to determine the right weapon, firing the right munitions, at the right time.

This example amplifies that the technology is there in the Fire Support community to talk digitally amongst multinational units, however there needs to be that capability for joint command and control by way of a joint interoperable digital communication system that sends commands across a network that can be understood by all forces. An example of the system is one that can send a command from a US force in English and be received/translated in a transparent manner the exact command to a Polish unit into Polish for execution. 

Range standards and execution across nations participating in Atlantic Resolve vary widely, mitigating risk and ensuring that proper range safety procedures are followed is critical for success.  To do this, terrain features at ranges were used as left and right limits on ranges where no limiting markers were present.  Additionally, detailed safety briefings ensured Soldiers are able to successfully execute the range and be familiar with the proper handling and firing procedures for the Slovak weapons.  Ultimately, the lessons learned from the ranges during Exercise Slovak Shield are now helping 4/2 CR conduct combined ranges with their Hungarian counter parts for Exercise Brave Warrior.  While NATO has Standard NATO Agreements (STANAGS) and these agreements allow adherence to commonality, interchangeability, and compatibility for planning, preparation and the conduct of operations. Multinational units operating in the PACOM Theater do not have the advantage of a unifying doctrine and must work to establish common operating practices. 

The need for a standardized common ammunition system that can be used by all partner nations in order to reduce risk and promote safe operations was evident during the PACOM Pathways exercise specifically during interaction with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). During mortar lives fire a problem arose based on the AFP ammunition originating from three different sources: Pakistan, Republic of Korea, and Serbia. Each type of round has different ballistic characteristics that change the required elevation reading when firing on targets.  However, several of the US Army NCO’s were able to decipher the charge data provided in a box of Serbian 81mm mortar ammunition. They applied their expert knowledge and adapted the given charge data to U.S. firing techniques. The result was a AFP mortar squad, comprised of artilleryman that had never fired a mortar round in their lives, firing and adjusting 81mm mortar rounds on target. The NCO’s in this case were able to take a high risk situation and turn it into an executable plan but this could have all been avoided with a common munition system.

Risk Management Foundation

Risk as a science was born in the sixteenth century Renaissance, a time of discovery.  Up until that time there were great achievements in science and engineering but few thinkers ventured into forecasting the future.  The word risk derives from the early Italian risicare which means to dare.[viii]  Today’s meaning of risk varies widely and takes on various context depending on the nature it is used in.  Current Army risk management doctrine explains that no mission comes without risk.  RAF missions by their very nature expose Soldiers to a host of risks where some are both unfamiliar and difficult to mitigate.[ix] As RAF units are exposed to new risk postures it is imperative the proper application of risk management principles are applied.  Equally important, is the art of mission command as it is the framework for the Army’s execution of military operations in support of Unified Land Operations (ULO).[x]

Within the mission command philosophy are six guiding principles commanders balance when planning and executing operations.  The principle of accepting prudent risk is applied when commanders accept risk because of uncertainty.   Prudent risk is “a deliberate exposure to potential injury or loss when the commander judges the outcome in terms of mission accomplishment as worth the cost.”[xi] Ironically, our doctrine may be viewed as controversial because the principle of accepting prudent risk and the procedures established in the Army’s doctrine for risk management are divergent.[xii]  When assembling the multinational team of teams to conduct operations, the commander must account for risk inherent in the assigned mission or activity. The fundamental objective of risk management doctrine is to reduce exposure to risk during mission execution.  In contrast, mission command uses exposure to risk as a means to create options for the commander to either put them in a position of advantage over the enemy in combat or to gain a desired effect during training.[xiii]

A different perspective in examining risk within multinational operations, is to think three dimensional balancing mission command, risk management and COA planning.  Often leaders and individuals focus internally on protecting habitually assigned forces.  However there exist dynamic changes when working as part of a multinational force. In this construct, leaders still assess risk based on probability and severity, account for their mission variables and examine multiple courses of actions (COA), but now must consider the entire range of planning, preparation and execution factors for partnered units.  Regardless of the mission or activity, the ability to make appropriate risk decision is never an easy solution and comes with experience and exposure to different situations.  Ultimately a leader’s experience and judgement helps determine the optimal cost benefit of the best COA to accomplish the mission.  During multinational operations, it is important for commanders to remain flexible in adapting their authoritative command style to the requirements of the multinational force.  This may result in commanding by persuasion rather than to dictate, and on occasion be prepared to compromise to achieve consensus in the interest of operational success[xiv]

Army Techniques Publication (ATP) 5-19 focuses on the application of risk management to troop leading procedures and the military decision making process[xv], however it may lack appropriate considerations for multinational operations, therefore it is necessary to establish Multi-National risk doctrine based on today’s uncertain changing environment and associated risk posture.  Regardless of the environment, mistakes will occur with or without supervision in a unilateral or multinational environment.  Leaders and Soldiers at all levels must use doctrine and their experience to apply good judgement and respect to host nation’s laws, customs, and practices. This will ultimately minimize the potential for injury, illness, or damage to partnered relationships.

Detailed risk management identifies risk acceptance levels based on a cross examination of severity and probability factors.  As leaders operationalize risk management and incorporate partner dialogue, consider these planning questions in conjunction with risk management principles:          

  • How do our partners view risk management
  • What are our partner’s limitations / constraints
  • What are the host nation concerns (doctrine, legal, policy)
  • How do we model risk management for our partners
  • What host nation programs and process already exist
  • How do command and support relationships effect risk management with partners and host nations
  • What are the cultural implications of a partnership
  • What are our partner’s training level proficiency
  • What is the complexity of the partnered operation
  • What other stakeholders are influencing our partners

Is our risk management doctrine sufficient?

DOTMLPF-P Considerations

Many see interoperability as the single greatest risk to multinational operations, as these challenges are expanded beyond the technical, procedural and human dimensions with an examination on the differences in doctrine, organizational designs, training, materiel, leader development, personnel management, facilities design, and policy (DOTLMPF-P).  Variances here can affect force cohesion and capability which could ultimately impact the overall risk mission and risk to combined forces.  Contributing to this is risk management practices and procedures which can vary significantly throughout multinational forces. Many countries have established regulations and most actively practice risk management to some level. Some countries are concerned with accidental and tactical risk; some countries are actively concerned with tactical risk only. Compliance with existing respective national safety regulations varies from unit to unit. Standard safety practices, such as seatbelt usage and traffic regulations, vary from country to country. Several countries do not possess night vision devices and are not well-practiced at operating during limited visibility conditions. Several countries also do not have heavily armored vehicles and lack understanding the use of gunner’s restraints systems, or are not practiced at operating in the vicinity of tanks and infantry fighting vehicles.[xvi]  The implementation of rest cycles for drivers and managing leader fatigue vary widely based on culture pressures and the desire to accomplish the mission.  The differences in battle rhythms may result in coordination challenges.  Some countries only work six to eight hour days which could create constraints to mission planning.

Army doctrine and policy provide forces with a structure and guidance for the conduct of operations.  Policy provides a strategic framework to allow mil to mil relationships and execution of government orders and regulations.  Doctrine is dynamic and changing based on lessons learned in current operations.  It expresses a common body of knowledge which military forces guide their actions in support of objectives.  Doctrine is authoritative, but requires judgement in application.  It captures that which is enduring best practices and constantly reviewed for relevance.[xvii]  The Army’s Risk management doctrine is codified in ADP 5-19 and integrated throughout a host of other doctrinal publications.  While NATO has the STANAGs, there is no Multinational Risk doctrine for our Pacific partners so it is imperative we lead the charge and develop Joint Multinational Risk doctrine to be used by all Regionally Aligned Forces.

Differences in organizational designs are evident in all multinational operations.  Partnered units may not have the robust organizational structure that US Army units have.    Gaps in organizational design can be mitigated with examining appropriate task organizational designs.  Here, it is important for commanders to understand the history and relevant experiences of their allied partner formations.  American units, in particular, struggle with cultural understanding because the United States is a melting pot of history and culture.  On the other hand some NATO and Pacific Rim countries have fought one another in the past 20 years, so the mistrust remains strong and some grievances are unresolved. Understanding and taking steps to mitigate friction caused by the historical experiences, culture, and politics of each task force member and how they interact with each other are critical when establishing a multinational joint task force.[xviii] Leader professional development classes such as history, cultural differences/similarities, military doctrine/structure, economy and geopolitical ties/views of each of the countries will increase common understanding and informed approached for task organizations.  

Multinational partners vary with significant differences in terms of operational capability or training readiness.  These differences stem from limitations in training, resourcing constraints, and traditional means of employment.  Training to one standard is a must in all approaches to multinational operations.  Who establishes the standard?  We may not share the same standard but there is a standard that must be established. 

Rehearsals are critical.  Building in multiple repetitions into combine training is the key to building proficiency and establishing a baseline standards.  Also leaders must understand the value of tactical patience as this helps temper expectation management and places feasible and acceptable goals in accomplishing the mission. Leaders should apply caution, as sometime partnered training may cause Army forces to take on practices that are not part of Army standards.  This is where accepting prudent risk comes in and dialogues on risk management must take place early on and often with partnered units at all levels.  Leaders and Soldiers should maintain an open mind.  Sometimes partners are parallel if not better in proficiency than US Forces.  More than often partners lack the technical and training proficiency at the collective level. Contributing to this may be the result of equipment readiness.  Standards in preventive maintenance and upkeep of equipment has a wide level of variance that may restrict our partners training potential.  Many partners don't have funding to resource and sustain their equipment like US Army forces have.  Organizations conducting partnered training should plan on accounting for differences to identify risk areas and mitigate hazards. The complexity of an operation and of the force assigned to it will determine the appropriate level of interoperability planning considerations.

The greatest asset in confronting and mitigating risk to mission and force in multinational operations is first line leaders who are trained to operate in complex and changing environments and have understanding of adaptive risk management.  Pushing leaders outside their comfort zone in a complex training environment should be part of every readiness training plan.  Proactive and adaptive risk management is the answer to preserving readiness and optimizing our combined forces capabilities. Ultimately, multinational operations enhance the diplomatic, economic and military capabilities and will continue to grow in interdependence as the US Army moves into the 2025 and beyond.             

Leaders are the reason we are able to manage risk effectively, however we must give them the capability to reduce risk as much as possible especially in the multinational joint environment that we find ourselves currently and more pronounced in the future training and combat environment. To lessen the risk in this complex environment we need to give leaders the tools to mitigate risk as much as possible and those tools are Joint Multinational Risk and Safety Doctrine, an interoperable digital communication and a standardized common ammunition system to be used by all partner nations.


ADP 1-01 Doctrine Primer. (2014, September).

ADP 6-0 (Mission Command). (2014).

Allied Joint Doctrine AJP-01(D). (2010).

ARAMP-1. (2012, February). NATO Risk Management Guide for Acquisition Programmes.

Army Technical Publication 5-19. (2014, April). Risk Management.

Commander's Guide to Multinational Interoperability . (2015).

Command's Handbook "Multinational Interoperability". (2015). "Multinational Interoperability" Vol 1 / UNCLASSIFIED//FOUO/REL USA, NATO. JMRC.

Field, K., Learmont, J., & Charland, J. (n.d.). US Landpower in Regional Focus. Regionally Aligned Forces: Business Not as Usual.

Gregory L. Cantwell PhD., C. T. (2015, March). Regionally Aligned Forces: Concept Viability and Implementation. Carlisle Compendia.

Higginbotham, C. M. (2016). Improving Mission Command: Accept More Prudent Risk. AWC. (n.d.). Retrieved from JMTC Homepage:

Phelps, 1. C. (2015). Leader Development and Pacific Pathways.

Sanok, S., Guy, J., Buzzard, C., Laumann, E., Nicolucci, S., Pellegrino, J., . . . Loney, M. (2013, August). Beyond the Last War. Balancing Ground Forces and Future Risk Challenges in USCENTCOM and USPACOM. Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS).

Stewart, K. G. (2004). The Challenge of Command Leadership in Multinational Operations. Center for Human Science.

Strong Europe Special Publication. (2016). Retrieved from

The Army Operating Concept. (2014, October 7). TP525-3-1. U.S. Army Combined Arms Center.

The Human Dimesion White Paper. (2014, October 9). U.S. Army Combined Arms Center.

US Army Home Page. (2015, October). Retrieved from

End Notes

[i] (The Human Dimesion White Paper, 2014)

[ii] (The Army Operating Concept, 2014)

[iii] (The Army Operating Concept, 2014)

[iv] (The Army Operating Concept, 2014)

[v] (Gregory L. Cantwell PhD., 2015)

[vi] (, n.d.)

[vii] (Allied Joint Doctrine AJP-01(D), 2010)

[viii] (ARAMP-1, 2012)

[ix] (Gregory L. Cantwell PhD., 2015)

[x] (Gregory L. Cantwell PhD., 2015)

[xi] (ADP 6-0 (Mission Command), 2014)

[xii] (Higginbotham, 2016)

[xiii] (Higginbotham, 2016)

[xiv] (Stewart, 2004)

[xv] (Army Technical Publication 5-19, 2014)

[xvi] (Commander's Guide to Multinational Interoperability , 2015)

[xvii] (ADP 1-01 Doctrine Primer, 2014)

[xviii] (Commander's Guide to Multinational Interoperability , 2015)


Categories: Mad Scientist

About the Author(s)

Scott Kubica works for General Support Services as a Loss Prevention Analyst at the US Army, Combat Readiness Center, Fort Rucker, AL. Prior to his current position, he served 29 and a half years as an officer in the US Army and retired as a Colonel.  He served in a variety of staff and leadership positions, including, Battalion Commander 3-2 GSAB, Camp Humphreys, Korea, Director, Air Task Force, USACRC, Fort Rucker, Deputy G3, ARCENT, Kuwait, Senior Army Advisor to the Kentucky National Guard, and culminating his Army career as Command Inspector General, US Army Cadet Command and Fort Knox.  He has 5 combat tours in support of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Enduring and Iraqi Freedom, Kosovo and New Dawn.

LTC Phillip Jenison is the Ground Forces Director at the US Army, Combat Readiness Center, Fort Rucker, AL.  Prior to this his current position, he commanded the fires battalion in 1st BCT, 82nd Airborne Division.  He has served in multiple OC/T duty positions at the Mission Command Training Program (MCTP) and the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC).  He has served in a variety of battalion and brigade staff positions and has multiple combat tours in support of both Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.