Preparing the Way Ahead: Joint Warrior 2017


2017-07-11 By Robbin Laird

During my visit to RAF Lossiemouth in March 2017, I had a chance to talk with the team preparing for Joint Warrior 2017 on the UK side.

Joint Warrior is held twice a year in the UK and has become a major NATO Exercise.  At the heart of Joint Warrior is the core effort to exercise Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) and honing the training for these operational capabilities.

Notably, as the alliance has deemphasized these skill sets while dealing with other challenges, the return of the Russian challenge in the North Atlantic has highlighted the need to ramp up these capabilities for UK and NATO defense.

At the current Joint Warrior, the US, the UK, France and Germany have provided ASW assets to the exercise.

Last year when I visited Lossie, I had a chance to discuss the challenge of keeping skill sets alive when the core aircraft, in this case the Nimrod, had been retired.  The P-8 decision was on the way at the time, but not public.  Now the decision to buy nine of the aircraft has been made, along with the decision to base it at Lossie.

During my June visit (2016) to RAF Lossiemouth, I had a chance to meet with a former Nimrod commander who is part of the seed corn effort, and it was clear that getting the P-8 into the force was an important step to allow the challenge of skill transition to be met successfully.

 My discussion with this RAF officer from No. 602 Squadron, which is a Royal Auxiliary Air Force squadron, highlighted the transition effort.

 “We are predominantly former Nimrod personnel and I spent 32 years flying in the MPA role.”

 He highlighted how important NATO exercises have been to shape a transition.

Joint Warrior which this year brought various NATO aircraft to RAF Lossiemouth, including the P-8, has provided a crucial opportunity for former Nimrod operators to go onboard US and allied Maritime Patrol Aircraft to keep skill sets current.

During  the March 2017 visit the same RAF officer spearhead a wide ranging discussion on Joint Warrior and the coming of the P-8 to the RAF.

We started by discussing the current approach to the exercise. 

The exercise has evolved from an air-maritime exercise to one that includes ground forces as well.

It has become a major NATO exercise in which nations bring capabilities to train out into the core effort, which is air-maritime defense. The ground side has seen the use of UAVs in support of the relevant missions and amphibious assault as well.

The French have brought their Atlantique and are preparing for an upgrade to the aircraft.  They are leveraging the exercise as part of their training approach for the upgraded aircraft.

The Germans have brought a P-3 which they have purchased from the Dutch. Instead of operating from their base in Germany and participating in the exercise, they are operating from Lossie during the current exercise.

The US has brought an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, USS Carney (DDG 64).

The Canadians are not there given funding and resource constraints.

Joint Warrior 2017. Credit: RAF

According to an article published on March 22, 2107:

Over 30 ships and submarines are taking part in the UK-hosted bi-annual exercise Joint Warrior over the course of next two weeks.

Around 13,000 soldiers and sailors from 13 nations will hone their warfighting capabilities from March 26 to April 6.

Among the participants are ships from Standing NATO Maritime Group One (SNMG1) which are conducting their second large multinational exercise of the year. The group took part in TG17-1/Dynamic Guard, off the coast of Norway in February.

Commodore Ole Morten Sandquist (NOR), Commander SNMG1, will be in command of one of two maritime task groups during JW 171.

“Joint Warrior is an important exercise arena for SNMG1 as it provides us with complex and challenging training in tactics and skills needed for Joint Task Force operations,” Commodore Sandquist said.

SNMG1 currently consists of the Norwegian flagship – frigate HNoMS Roald Amundsen, Belgian frigate BNS Louise-Marie, German oiler FGS Spessart, and Spanish frigate ESPS Reina Sofia.

Joint Warrior 172 will take place in the second half of 2017.

The coming of the P-8 to the UK, Norway and the US into the region will provide a new backbone capability to shaping the way ahead for North Atlantic ASW and AUSW. 

The C2 and broader ISR capabilities of the aircraft could well see the exercise become an important venue within which the Maritime Domain Awareness highway can be shaped in the North Atlantic to manage the data and C2 sharing challenges which will characterize a P-8 enabled ASW and AUSW force.

An aspect of what might change is the networking of simulators to work through concepts of operations.

“MPAs are inherently multi-mission assets.

“The P-8 takes the multi-mission approach a step further.

“And we look forward to networking of UK simulators with European and American allies in shaping training.

“And this training can then be further tested in the exercise.”

The trend towards shaping Live Virtual Constructive Learning could well become a key part of future Joint Warriors as well.

And the coming of 21t century assets such as F-35s, P-8s and Triton, shape a key challenge as well for shaping data sharing and decision making within the MDA North Atlantic highway as well.

“How do you share the data and how do you do the C2 in this battle space among allies flying even the same aircraft?”

And the software-upgradeable nature of the P-8s and Triton also will shape the opportunity to correlate findings from an exercise like Joint Warrior with demands to rewrite the software to deal with operational needs.

One RAF officer made the point that the P-8 in this sense represents a return to what was being realized with the Nimrod shortly before it was retired.

“We had software writers working directly with the operators to write to need.  For example, we had new code written for the acoustic operators which reflected what they felt they needed, rather than simply inserting an abstract requirement.”

The P-8 represents its own challenges in this adaptation space.

“What are we allowed to do with our P-8s?  What will be the impact of different national objectives and use profiles on shaping the way ahead with the aircraft?”

With a new asset coming to the force, the challenge is to train to the vector of where you want to go rather than reinforcing where you have been. Rather than simply reinforcing historical behavior, it is about reshaping behavior.

Can Joint Warrior adapt to such a challenge going forward?

Another key aspect is that the UK will approach its use of P-8s from the standpoint of having a small fleet of multi-mission aircraft and in good RAF tradition will run them often and long.

“We have to think carefully about how to best use of our much smaller fleet than the US has with its larger fleet.

“What will then be the relationship between how we do our innovations and how the US and other allies do theirs?”

“As new simulation approaches are generated and new capabilities come to the mission, how best to reshape effective use of exercise time?

“Certainly, a key challenge is C2 which becomes less top down with operators better placed for better information concerning what is happening in the area of interest.

“With the nature of the information flow enabled by the new platforms, the crew room becomes more important to mission success.

“How do we adjust to this?”

It was pointed out that one legacy from the allied cooperation in Afghanistan which needs to be taken forward is successful sharing of tactical information.

How to adapt this habit or practice into the higher end fight?

“A wider P-8 community will operate in the North Atlantic.

“How we leverage this opportunity?”