The Danish Airpower Symposium: Laying a Foundation for Rethinking Coalition Airpower


2015-04-21 By Robbin Laird

There is nothing that focuses one’s thinking about defense more than having an immediate and direct threat that is not going away anytime soon.

With the Russian Ambassador threatening to use nuclear weapons against Denmark if they join the NATO missile defense network, or Russians paratrooping into the Danish zone of responsibility for Arctic search and rescue, or telling the Nordics that banding together threatens Russian security, one can not have an abstract conversation about defense and security in a small country like Denmark.

The Danes clearly know this, and have emphasized in various ways their alliance relationships in order to play a role in their own defense and also play a role in the broader scheme of Alliance security.

The Danes have coalition leadership and cooperation as part of their defense DNA.

Danish Conference

At the symposium, several strands of shaping a way ahead to deal with the threats facing the coalition of democratic states were evident, all converging on the evolving challenge of getting it right to defend against 21st century threats.

One strand was to discuss the Danish approach.

Here three presentations at the Symposium highlighted that approach and characterized the way ahead.

The first presentation along these lines was by the well-known Danish professor, Dr. Peter Viggo Jakobsen.

This presentation provided an overview of why Denmark has been so engaged in alliance expeditionary operations over the past decade, and why that proclivity is likely to continue.

And given the threat overhanging Denmark, clearly the relationship with the United States is a crucial factor in shaping Denmark’s thinking about the way ahead or with regard to the acquisition of fighter aircraft.

Dr. Gary Schaub from the Centre of Military Studies, the co-host of the symposium, then looked back at the F-16 program as a prologue to the next fighter acquisition program.

He highlighted a number of lessons to be learned from those efforts. the most central of them was the collaborative nature of the F-16 program and the contributions made by participating in the consortium of European F-16 states in the operation, maintenance, and modernization of Danish F-16s.

Clearly, airpower is central to Denmark and to its coalition efforts, both for direct defense and for expeditionary operations.

And Col. Anders Rex, Chief of the Expeditionary Air Staff of the Danish Air Force, underscored this theme.

Rex coined a phrase “coalitionability” to express his focus on the core requirement of allied air forces and defense forces shaping ways to work more effectively with one another in dealing with 21st century challenges.

The conference then turned to the question of innovation in airpower and reshaping–or as I call it “renorming airpower”–to deal with the 21st century threat environment.

Two airpowers that are unique in that they are resetting their core air platforms within a relatively short period of time – the Royal Australian Air Force and the USMC – are facing a similar challenge: how best to innovate with the integrated force under the influence of airpower modernization?

For both these forces, the central platform impacting on the transformation is the F-35.

For the RAAF, the Chief has set in motion Plan Jericho which is a fundamental rethink and reworking of the fleet to provide for a more lethal and integrated force designed to enhance its capabilities notably when operating in coalition.

For the USMC, the F-35 is a centerpiece of the next wave of innovation which has been launched under the impact of the Osprey revolution.

In both cases, the central challenge is to reshape the operational mind-sets and approaches able to leverage the fifth generation revolution.

The RAAF perspective was provided by the co-host of the Symposium, John Blackburn; the USMC perspective was provided by Lt. Col. David Berke, a unique pilot with F-22, F-35, F-18, F-16, and JTAC experience.

The presentations dovetailed on the core challenge of resetting capabilities and mindsets to deal with evolving challenges.

Group Captain Paul Godfrey from the Royal Air Force explained the RAF approach to modernization and the impact of the F-35 on that modernization.

As a Harrier, F-16, and Typhoon pilot, Godfrey looked at the role of the F-35 in opening up the aperture for Royal Navy and Royal Air Force modernization which comes together in the form of the new HMS Queen Elizabeth carrier.

Although Godfrey did not say this, the reality is that the HMS Queen Elizabeth could well be a key participant in coalition operations to deter Russia in the Baltics and the Nordic region.

Air Commodore Dré Kraak from the Royal Netherlands Air Force focused on the modernization of the Dutch Air Force and ways to work with allies.

The Dutch are transitioning to an all F-35 fleet, and in so doing are working closely with the Italians, who will build the bulk of the Dutch F-35s.

They are also discussing with the Italians the possibility of developing a common training solution as well.

According to Air Commodore Dré Kraak, “The Italians have made major strides in their capabilities to build aerospace systems.

It is really quite remarkable to look at the progress over the past 20 years.”

Col. “Jeep” Willi from the NATO Joint Airpower Center, highlighted a number of studies that the Center was conducting. These studies emphasized the challenges and opportunities facing coalition airpower. He also took the opportunity to deliver a message from USAFE Commander General Frank Gorenc to the Danish Air Force, inviting them to join the Center and bring the Danish perspective to bear as they develop NATO airpower concepts..

It is clear with the Russian threat to the Baltics that a well thought through coalition approach is crucial so that even smaller allies can contribute capabilities that can fit effectively into a scalable modular force.

This could be an effective way to think about enhancing the defense of the Nordic and Baltic region.

Deterrence is simply not credible if there is a weak or divided or incoherent allied defense force facing an aggressor the size and proclivities of Putin’s Russia.

In my own presentation, I focused on the importance of shaping a 21st century force, and not simply looking backward.

I focused on a way ahead, namely to shape a modular, scalable, and C2 enabled coalition force, in which a regional lead nation could call up and generate forces to deal with adversaries as varied as the probing military powers, like China or Russia, or the pop up threats posed by groups like ISIS.

Ed Timperlake then focused on a number of key technological opportunities facing the allies–as well as strategic challenges that were pressing upon them to actually take advantage of those opportunities.

In the Baltic area right now the Russians were conducting Tron Warfare, and Denmark was on the front lines of this important aspect of 21st century operations, Timperlake noted to the audience.

The symposium was closed by the co-chairs with John Blackburn underscoring that Col. Rex core concept of “coalitionabilty” was at the heart of the RAAF transformation with Plan Jericho.

And Gary Schaub underscored how important airpower really was to effective coalition operations.

Schaub closed with the thought that partnerships are key to enabling a real revolutionary jump in air combat power for joint operations.

Editor: A note about Tron Warfare:

EW is a complex subject with many discreet but also connected elements. Over time all things electronic in the military took on many dimensions. Electronic Counter-measures (ECM) begat Electronic Counter-Counter (ECCM) measures, Command and Control (C&C) has grown to C5ISR. Information war in certain applications created a multi-billion dollar domain called “”cyber.”

Additionally there has to always be considerations of Electro Magnetic Pulse concerns (EMP) and the counter measures of ‘hardening” of electronic components. There are a lot of other EW issues in “tron war,” such as Infer-Red Sensing (IR) and always protecting “signals in space” information being transmitted and trying to jam the bad guys “signals in space.”

Tactically, it has been said on the modern battlefield — air, sea or land — if not done correctly, “you emit and you die.”

EW can include offensive operations to identify an opponent’s emissions in order to and fry spoof or jam their systems.

In successful “tron” war, often-kinetic kill weapons can be fired.  The kinetic kill shot is usually a high-speed missile designed to HOJ (home on jam). There is also the ability to emit electronic “kill” or spoofing signals i.e. to emit miss signals to an enemy’s incoming weapon sensors.

The air engagements between the Russians and the allies in the Nordic and Baltic region include a significant element of Tron Warfare.