Copenhagen Airpower Conference: Thinking Through the Evolution of Coalition Airpower


2015-04-19 By Robbin Laird

On April 17, 2015, a joint symposium on the evolution of airpower was co-sponsored by The Sir Richard Williams Foundation (Australia) and the Centre for Military Studies of the Department of Political Science of the University of Copenhagen.

Both organizations are partners with Second Line of Defense.

This was an unusual conference given that it launched an Australian effort to broaden the working relationship with non-Asian partners in shaping new approaches to airpower and was, in turn, the beginning of a broader intellectual outreach by the Danish Centre as well.

It seemed that the Queen of Denmark smiled upon the organizers by having her 75th birthday the day before and greeted Danes and visitors facing her in her royal carriage are her son and her Aussie daughter-in-law, Crown Princess Mary.

In the photo below, the Queen is waving to part of the symposium team while the Crown Princess is sitting in front of the Queen.

Danish Queen

It seemed propitious and was.

For the conference launched a significant effort to think through the core problem of coalition airpower as seen from the standpoint of the smaller powers or airforces, or in the case of the United States, the role of the USMC in working through transformation correlated with evolving coalition approaches.

The core presentations were given by operators from key Air Forces which then drove the broader discussion.


It is no accident that one key element of USMC evolution is the working on new approaches to C2 with allies by 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade and doing it the way the Marines think about the role of embedded airpower.

The Marine Corps approach is widely appreciated by allies as they think through their own approach to reshaping coalition approaches, notably under the impact of airpower modernization, including the broader use of fifth generation capabilities.

Although a small country, Denmark is one of the most expeditionary in today’s Europe and has organized its forces to be able to do so.

In fact, Denmark has a core coalition operational competence, one which is of growing significance as operations become increasingly coalition in character.

The first panel seen left to right, Dr. Gary Schaub, CMS, Dr. Peter Jackobsen, Royal Danish Defence College, and Col. Anders Rex, Royal Danish Air Force. Credit Photo: SLD
The first panel seen left to right, Dr. Gary Schaub, CMS, Dr. Peter Viggo Jakobsen, Royal Danish Defence College, and Col. Anders Rex, Royal Danish Air Force. Credit Photo: SLD

Airpower and intervention forces are increasingly modular and scalable.

Denmark has modular and scalable forces in its DNA.

The conference was clearly not about applying lessons learned by other powers being applied to Denmark; it was an honest quest to understand how to reshape forces to be more effective as modular and scalable building blocks for future coalitions, notably as capabilities are being reshaped under the influence of new technologies, such as the broad introduction of fifth generation aircraft.

And the trend line highlighted in the opening of the conference by Dr. Schaub underscored the changing dynamics of coalition.

Over time, the numbers of participants has gone up and their engagement as a percentage of operations has done so as well.


The rethinking being done by the Royal Australian Air Force, the Royal Air Force, the Dutch Air Force and the Danish Air Force as well as the USMC were the major inputs to challenging the participants at the Conference to think through the rapidly evolving demands for and reshaping of approaches for successful coalition airpower.

In the weeks ahead, we will publish many of the presentations and highlight questions and approaches highlighted at this important, and foundational effort to rethink where the democracies are headed in reshaping coalition airpower.

Note: Last year, Denmark operating as the NATO force for the Baltic air policing mission were scrambled to defend common airspace against Russian intruders.

As Hans Tino Hansenfounder and CEO of Risk Intelligence based in Denmark noted in an interview during my last visit to Denmark:

Had the two Danish jets not arrived, the Russians could have easily entered Swedish airspace unhindered (Photo: Colourbox)
Had the two Danish jets not arrived, the Russians could have easily entered Swedish airspace unhindered (Photo: Colourbox)

I think that what has happened in Sweden is like with any other Western European country, they have been reducing their defense to such an extent that they are at the lowest level possible to actually withhold or maintain a credible defense – or even below.They got their first wake up call last year when Russian air exercises were targeted against Swedish installations.

And they didn’t actually have the 24/7 Quick Alert Reaction (QRA) fighter capability to show sovereignty against the Russians.

Ironically, the Russian planes were intercepted by Danish F16s operating from Lithuania during the NATO Air-Policing mission in the Baltic countries.

About the video above:

05/02/2014: Danish fighter jets have arrived in Amari Air Base in Estonia for air policing duties over the Baltic states.

According to a Fox news story published April 30, 2014L

TALLINN, Estonia – NATO has opened its second Baltic air base in Estonia as part of the military alliance’s increased regional air policing mission during the Ukraine crisis.

Estonia’s military says four Danish fighter jets arrived at the Amari air base, some 40 kilometers (25 miles) southwest of the capital Tallinn on Wednesday.

The Royal Danish Air Force F-16 planes will patrol the skies of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania for four months in coordination with NATO fighter jets stationed in Lithuania. After that, Germany will take over the rotational mission.

Credit Video: NATOCHANNEL:4/30/14