Connecting Allied Hybrid Networks through NATO Centers of Excellence

“Raptor 14” Multinational Training Team Approach (JMRC, Germany)


The following post was provided by Victor R. Morris, a former Army Captain and current Army contractor at the U.S. Army Europe’s Joint Multinational Readiness Center (JMRC) in Germany. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of FORSCOM, the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, the United States Government or Booz Allen Hamilton.


“It takes a network to defeat a network,” said Gen. Stanley McChrystal, reflecting on operations conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan within the complexity of today’s adversarial networks. That phrase could not be any more relevant in today’s highly networked and dynamic operational environments.

Contemporary nonlinear warfare, facilitated by 21st century technologies, involves multiple actors employing both combinations of various instruments, and combinations of conventional and irregular forces. It takes a global allied network to counter a global adversarial network.

That global allied network is NATO.

But how? Leveraging NATO centers of excellence (COEs) supports interoperability, influences doctrine development, and counters threat networks. Through leveraging strengths and a shared consciousness, it is possible to not only facilitate smart defense initiatives, but also deter threats to European security.


Centers of Excellence as Centers of Gravity

Centers of Excellence are nationally or multi-nationally funded institutions that train and educate leaders from NATO member and partner countries. Some of their key tasks involve doctrine development and capabilities improvement through a variety of means. These COEs offer recognized expertise and experience that is crucial to both the Alliance, and to the adaptation of NATO. There are currently 20 COEs coordinated by Allied Command Transformation (ACT) in Norfolk, Virginia, and all are considered to be international military organizations.

Although they are not part of the NATO command structure, they are part of a wider framework supporting NATO Command Arrangements. Each COE specializes in an area of expertise, which in most cases correlates to experience and national strength which benefits the Alliance. For example, Estonia is home to the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Centre of Excellence (NATO CCD COE), located in Tallinn, Estonia. In 2007, Estonia was targeted with cyber attacks targeting critical infrastructure, which highlighted for the first time potential vulnerabilities of NATO countries and lack of capability to deter or counter cyber attacks. This attack was also a harbinger of future state sponsored cyber warfare in Europe. A friendly forces critical factors analysis identified vulnerabilities, a lack of requirements and enlisted an establishment of capabilities.

Estonia has since developed and implemented e-military doctrine which is integrated into a cyber warfare facility called the Computer Emergency Response Team of Estonia (CERT). The organization focuses on security issues in local networks. There are several key tenets associated with nonlinear warfare (also called “hybrid” or “unrestricted” warfare) where unconventional operations are a central component. These tenants intrinsically involve understanding the operational environment, which is comprised of civil considerations, and opponent evaluation. Finally, developing nonlinear instruments and utilizing them in a more effective combination than your adversary is required in order to deter or defeat them.

In this context, the term “nonlinear instrument” is used to describe the employment of 21st century technologies with combinations of diplomatic, intelligence formation, militaristic, economic, information and humanitarian means in various domains to include cyberspace. The tactical to operational level militaristic instrument becomes more complex through combinations of: conventional, irregular, violent extremist and special purpose forces, blended tactics, weapons of mass destruction, terrorism (including mass murder), cyber attacks; and transnational criminal behavior, supported by international information campaigns.

What further complicates this form of warfare is the persistent fluctuation and manipulation of political and ideological conflict — key aspects of nonlinear warfare which extend past traditional coercive diplomacy and unconventional war. This article utilizes the term “non-linear war” in the same way as defined by 21st century Russian military or “Gerasimov” doctrine: as a means to reach desired strategic orientation and geopolitical outcomes primarily using non-military approaches. As in the majority of recent conflicts, human and physical terrains are the center of gravity for all actors involved.

All 20 COEs exemplify a collective understanding of both the European landscape and operational environment by leveraging a combination of physical and cultural proximity, shared history, purpose and mutual respect.


Connecting the Centers of Gravity

Once a shared understanding of the mission and operational environment is developed, networks (including all relevant nodes and actors) can then be connected. Thus, “building the network” is an erroneous term because networks already exist, and are constantly adapting and transitioning. Human networks are intuitive and organic, and form in the absence of direction and order. Therefore, at the base level, network constellations are self-forming and must compete for resources and desired effects. The existing networks understand hybrid war, which is executed through potent and complex variations of warfare. The goal now is to connect hybrid allies to counter hybrid adversaries.

In his Foreign Policy article, It Takes a Network, General McChrystal applies doctrinal targeting methodology to a connected network conducting counter terrorism operations. The methodology he cites is F3EA: find, fix, finish, exploit and analyze. In this context, and in the majority of situations, this model is directed toward the enemy. To successfully connect allied networks, the same model must be applied inwardly. Below is an example of applying F3EAD-P to accelerate our shared consciousness within the European COE community and the overall Alliance.

The NATO F3EADP methodology

Find allied capability and interoperability gaps through training needs analysis working groups. Specific training requirements and learning objectives must be developed according to the target audience. This phase also involves locating the desired expertise for participation, which is based on relationships and reputation and not on rank. An effective training needs analysis working group met in October 2014 at the NATO Counter Improvised Explosive Devices Centre of Excellence (NATO C-IED COE) in Madrid, Spain. The working group leveraged the international Attack the Network (AtN) community to develop an operational level AtN course which will be offered in mid April 2015.

Fix in this context means isolating the gaps within a certain solution space involving combinations of doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel, facilities and interoperability (DOTMLPFI). An example of fixing capability gaps is illustrated through tactical and operational intelligence enablers. Company Intelligence Support Teams (COIST), Attack the Network (AtN) and Human Network Analysis and Support to Targeting (HNAT) have all been identified as critical skill sets for future mission success. This gap is fixed and can be implemented and assessed in the training solution space at multiple nested levels (individual skills to joint exercises).

Finish bridging the gaps through pilot courses designed to validate course content and concepts. The pilot courses facilitate connecting specialized hybrid networks and developing shared consciousness. These networks coalesce from different environments and are working towards mutually benefitting objectives and effects. The NATO Defense Against Terrorism Centre of Excellence (NATO DAT COE) Counter Terrorism (CT) and Attack the Network pilot course from January 26–30, 2015 defines this phase clearly. The DAT COE and Intelligence Branch Chief found and employed specialized networks within the counter terrorism community that represented a myriad of professional military and academic institutions. The COE leveraged experience from organizations such as the NATO Response Force (NRF), US Army Europe, Allied Command Transformation (ACT), George Marshall Centre, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, King’s College London, University of Liverpool and Reddit, as well the Turkish Officers, Non-commissioned officers, law enforcement and subject matter experts stationed at the COE. Overall, nine countries were represented during the course and future initiatives must involve joint, interagency, intergovernmental and multinational (JIIM) partners.

A similar pilot course following a comparable model was sponsored in October 2014 by the Romanian Military Engineering, EOD and CBRN Defense Training Centre in Ramnicu Valcea. This course also utilized specialized networks to expand internal capability and overall interoperability.

Exploit past experiences, present expertise, and new connections developed for application to future training and operations. It is imperative that the experiences of key nodes are captured, which embody characteristics of hybrid networks including blended modalities, simultaneity, fusion and reconciliation. Exploitation or taking full advantage of a situation through rapid capability development accelerates the targeting cycle and facilitates better understanding of the adversary and overall threat. An example of this point involves Human Network Analysis and Support to Targeting (HNAT) which was covered at the CT/AtN course in Turkey and will be presented at the Human Intelligence Centre of Excellence (HUMINT COE) in Oradea, Romania in late 2015. This type of training is essential to countering threat networks at all levels.

Further deliberate exploitation must involve European academics from the Baltic States, Eastern Europe, and other COEs who are at the forefront of understanding nonlinear warfare. The NATO Strategic Communications Center of Excellence (NATO STRATCOM COE) in Riga, Latvia is a phenomenal enabler for understanding and countering state and non-state actor information campaigns. Secondly, the NATO Civil-Military Cooperation Centre of Excellence (CIMIC) COE in Enschede, Netherlands enables awareness and orientation of civil military cooperation operations. Nonlinear warfare planners can leverage humanitarian and peacekeeping operations as a way to gain public trust and confidence.

Finally, nonlinear warfare is not limited to the land domain. It is present in all domains which include space, air, maritime and cyberspace and there are COEs available to address them all. The current operational environment requires deliberate engagement of COEs which specialize in joint air and sea operations in addition to joint land operations. The aforementioned COEs must be leveraged for future training and curriculum design. Lastly, exploitation of opportunities must occur. The NATO C-IED COE took full advantage of an opportunity to train United Nations (UN) personnel in Mali and was not hindered by bureaucracy. This mission connected existing external networks to internal networks in Mali, and allowed trainers to experience a distinct dynamic operational environment, which can be applied to future training, operational area analysis and real-world multinational missions in Africa.

Analyze and evaluate adaptation and transition as key characteristics of effective hybrid networks. Analysis precedes the development of new methodologies and constructs, and is enabled through working groups and pilot courses. The contemporary and future operational environments must be defined and evaluated through newly developed methodologies based on hybrid network models which involve network doctrine, patterns, intent, goals and options. Relevant doctrine analysis involves NATO and “Gerasimov doctrine” as it applies to irregular and nonlinear approaches to war. Friendly high value individuals and high pay-off targets must also be identified and prioritized for meeting and engagement. Finally, pattern and predictive analysis is facilitated by relevant connected networks. Allied networks currently exist to analyze historical nonlinear warfare patterns and doctrine in the Cold War, Afghanistan, Baltic States, Chechnya, Georgia and Ukraine. This analysis leads to predictions about future nonlinear approaches to war, as well as predictions about transformation of state, non-state and proto-state actors. Accelerated analysis must be conducted to develop training that counters evolving hybrid adversaries.

Disseminate through constant interaction and sharing of information and intelligence at all levels. The end state is to de-compartmentalize similar campaigns. The COEs facilitate this through the information environment. The information environment is the aggregate of individuals, organizations, and systems that collect, process, disseminate, or act on information. It is made up of three interrelated dimensions: physical, informational, and cognitive which also involve cyberspace.1 After-action reviews, lesson learned and best practices conferences, on-line portals and the NATO Intelligence Fusion Centre (NIFC) are all examples of operating in the information environment in order to disseminate information and intelligence. The ability to share information in near real time is a capability and potential vulnerability to us, our allies and adversaries.

Promote and Publicize: During Brigade Task Force exploitation operations in Baghdad during Operation Iraq Freedom 09–10, a “P” was added to the targeting model. The “P” stood for “prosecute” and was in-line with evidence based operations, rule of law and future transition to the Iraq criminal court systems. In the allied hybrid network model, however a “P” is added for promotion of efforts and publicity associated with Alliance themes and messages. Such promotional efforts and publicity are facilitated through public affairs and social media channels oriented towards the target audiences. Public Affairs are related capabilities within Information Operations (IO), which are one of the most effective non-military instruments.

In a nonlinear conflict, information-based activities may be used as the decisive effort, with conventional military forces in a supporting or non-existent role. Conversely, these may also be applied in conjunction with offensive and defensive operations by irregular forces in order to inculcate fear, and to intimidate minorities, governments or societies. As mentioned above, 21st century technologies involving social media and social media intelligence which includes “Twintel” (intelligence derived from Twitter) have changed the information environment, with cyberspace becoming a significant domain. It overlaps the physical and informational dimensions of the information environment. A key Alliance capability must involve increased velocity and momentum of human interaction and events through information diffusion.

In conclusion, targeting or engagement methodologies can be effectively applied to Allied hybrid networks in order to reduce vulnerabilities. A clear and evolving definition of the problem must also occur and be maintained in order to effectively counter nonlinear or hybrid threats involving political, diplomatic, informational, military and economic instruments. The instruments employed by state or non-state actors are designed to expose adversary vulnerabilities and to undermine the government. Understanding both the environment and threat actor goals enables allied network expansion, and ability to conduct effective offensive, defensive and stability operations. It is not a matter of having military solutions to every problem in the 21st century; rather, it is a matter of awareness, education and preparedness through tailored training provided by adaptive professionals and institutions. The NATO COEs are at the tip of the spear for evolving training strategies that counter overlapping global threat networks. They make up the dynamic network to defeat an adversarial network.

NOTES: Information Environment Joint Publication 2–01.3 Joint Intelligence Preparation of the Operational Environment (JIPOE), 16 June 2009(JP 2–01.3.


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