A Look Back at the Standup of the SPMAGTF-CR-AF and the Way Ahead on Crisis Management: A Look Back and Forward with Col. David Suggs, CO of MCAS Yuma


By Robbin Laird

During my May 2018 visit to MCAS Yuma, I had a chance to sit down with the Commanding Officer of the Air Station who has significant electronic warfare experience and was part of the standup of the SPMAGTF-CR-AF.

The naming convention was changed multiple times.

The original name was SPMAGTF-AF operating out of NAS Sigonella, Italy.

This force was not a CR force and was designed to support Theater Security Cooperation (TSC) utilizing logistics combat element (LCE), no Air Combat Element (ACE), or Ground Combat Element (GCE).

The (CE) was limited in scope and tailored to meet mission requirements.

After 2013 the ACE, and GCE were added with a robust CE to support the Crisis Response (CR) mission requirements and hence became the SPMAGTF-CR.

We are focusing on the role of insertion forces in 21stcrisis management and the birthing of the SPMAGTF-CR-AF &CENT is clearly part of that transition.

Our conversation focused around the standup of SPMAGTF-CR-AF and the way ahead with crisis management.

During the visit of Murielle Delaporte to Morón Air Base, Spain, Dec. 6, 2013, the initial standup of the SPMAGTF-CR-AF was described:

SPMAGTF–CR-AF is a self-command and -controlled, self-deploying and highly mobile maritime crisis response force allocated to U.S. Africa Command to respond to a broad range of military operations to provide limited-defense crisis response in the AFRICOM/EUCOM region.

The Marine task force can serve as the lead element, or the coordination node, for a larger fly-in element. It also can conduct military-to-military training exercises throughout the AFRICOM and EUCOM areas of responsibility.

Like other MAGTFs, the SPMAGTF–CR includes a command element, a ground combat element (GCE), an aviation combat element (ACE) and a logistics combat element (LCE). It is composed largely from II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C., coordinating a balanced team of ground, air and logistics assets under a central command.


Col. Suggs provided an overview on how the standup and operation of the force provided a defensive insertion force, which empowered crisis response options but also triggered broader working relationships with allies in shaping convergent crisis response capabilities.

Crisis management requires both the forces and the convergent C2 and decision making to use those forces. And the standup and operation of the SPMAGTF-CR-AF facilitated both processes.

In effect, the formation of the SPMAGTF-CR-AF provided a bridging function for AFRICOM and EUCOM to be able to provide insertion forces able to deploy rapidly, a key means for triggering enhanced training with key allies in the Western Mediterranean.

This was especially important as the focus had shifted dramatically to CENTCOM and provided an important stimulus to American forces being able to work through with interoperability among crisis response forces.

SIPRNET is where Americans work with each other, and can become a limiting capability which inhibits broader and more effective collaboration with allies, the kind of collaboration central to allied crisis management.

And the Western Med collaboration in turn provided leverage back into broader NATO collaboration.

And all of this was driven by the stand up of the SPMAGTF-CR-AF as a forcing function force, so to speak.

“In fact, SPMAGTF-CR-AF itself was born from the Benghazi crisis.

“We did not have a reactive/sustainable force to operate in Africa and the AFRICOM and EUCOM relationship did not have in place the procedures for how to transfer forces from one component commander to the other in African operations in a timely manner.

“Having a complete understanding and the authority to launch a CR force from a sovereign nation can create additional bureaucratic delays if all participates are not on the same sheet.

“SPMAGTF-CR-AF created a catalyst and through collaboration with the Spanish and Italian MODs we were able to establish a clear common understanding allowing for quick response to a crisis.

“To me a crisis is my house on fire and I need to call the first responders right away and know the number to call.  It’s about building connective tissue, or access to the right people at the right time.”

“We needed to set up the first responders and the 911 number.

“And it is not just a question of the physical force, but the working relationships among allies to allow that force to engage rapidly.

“We have logistics support units postured in Africa but we are not set up to operate in Africa for a sustained period of time unless we are operating out of Djibouti.

“And it was cost prohibitive to set up Djibouti West, if one might call it that.

Question: In effect, you were sizing a force that could be effective, but clearly defensive in nature, and one that could work with allies to get not just pre-positioning but de facto pre authorization for use?

Col. Suggs: The challenge was precisely that.

“SPMAGTF-CR-AF was set up to operate out of Morón Air Base, Spain, and worked closely with Naval Air Station (NAS), Sigonella, Italy.

“The Spanish have great forces operating from Morón Air Base and we had close proximity with the French.

“We have had a lot of coordination with French Forces and conducted routine training exercises to ensure proper techniques and procedures where established.

“We have introduced the Osprey to the Spanish, French, Italians, and UK, integrating forces conducting amphibious training on their ships.  This increased readiness in not only our forces, but also to NATO forces.

“In effect, we were going back to the time when we used to have a MEU in the Mediterranean working with allies, but that has atrophied given the focus on CENTCOM.”

Col. Suggs highlighted that the SPMAGTF-CR-AF was a triggering for more allied cooperation as well.

“We created a number of second and third order effects as well as our small force contingents were able to work with other NATO allies, such as in theEUCOM Black Sea Rotational Force.

“There a small force of Marines led by a Marine Corps LtCol led the effort and we learned how to work more effectively together.

“The problem on the US side is that we rely primarily on SIPRNET for our communications and even though a significant amount of the content is actually unclassified, we are operating within our SIPRNET culture.

“Allies are not on SIPRNET so we need to train ourselves to become more interoperable and work with other communication and intelligence channels to deliver the kind of crisis management effect we are going to need.”

“This small little group is operating as a trigger for significant reworking by ourselves and our allies, way beyond the combat weight of what that force brings to the table.”

Question: It is important to focus on crisis management, not simply forces the US can deploy to an event. 

How does your SPMAGTF experience trigger that kind of learning?

Col. Suggs: If we have a crisis to respond too, a key part of the response is ensuring that the relevant allies are all on the same page operationally and politically.

“Because we are training regularly with those allies but not bringing overwhelming force to the training, we shape common approaches and procedures, which are crucial to crisis management situations.

“It is about convergent forces, and convergent intervention approaches and shaping a capability to do so in the short time span which effective crisis intervention requires.

“It is not about bringing multiple Army battalions or Air Force Air Wings.  It is about arriving at the right time; the right place and to get the right effect our outcome.

“When one’s house is on fire you want to call the first responders and expect them to show up.

“You are not calling the insurance adjuster’s first.”

The featured photo and slideshow show U.S. Marine Corps Col. David A. Suggs, the commanding officer of Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., when he was invited to fly in one of two EA-6B Prowler aircraft attached to Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron (VMAQ) 2, Oct. 16, 2017.

This is the first time Col. Suggs has flown the Prowler after Many Years. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Ernest D. Grant)

From HMS Illustrious to HMS Queen Elizabeth: A Decade’s Journey


by Robbin Laird

Recently, I had the chance to visit RAF Marham and to interview Air Commodore Bradshaw who was appointed as Lighting Force Commander, Royal Air Force Marham in April 2017.

In looking through his background, I found that we had something in common.  We both had been onboard the HMS Illustrious.

Air Commodore David Bradshaw is a fast jet pilot with almost 3000 hours flying experience of which 2000 hours were in Harrier GR7 / 9 as a front line pilot, Qualified Weapons Instructor and Display Pilot. 

He has seen operational service over the Balkans and Iraq, the latter from both land and HMS Illustrious.

As a group captain, he commanded 904 Expeditionary Air Wing (EAW), Kandahar, followed by RAF Leeming and 135 EAW. Staff roles have included: Group Captain Lightning; Assistant Director (Integration) within the Directorate of Equipment Capability, Deep Target Attack; Chief-of-Staff Strategy within the Air Staff; and as the MoD member of the Prime Minister’s Strategic Communications Team during the 2011 NATO intervention in Libya.

Air Commodore Bradshaw assumed command of the UK Lightning Force in spring 2017 and is responsible for generating an Initial Operational Capability in 2018 with an embarked operational capability from HMS Queen Elizabeth in 2020.

 His role was obviously both different and more significant than mine, but my visit in 2007 was at the end of the line of the ship and was being populated with USMC Ospreys and Harriers in a training exercise off of the Virginia coast.

It has only been a decade since then but with the coming of the HMS Queen Elizabeth, again off of the Virginia coast this year, we are marking a significant way forward for both the Royal Navy and for the F-35 program.

Here is my most recent look at the 2007 visit to HMS Illustrious.


By Robbin Laird

In 2007, the HMS Illustrious was the first non-US ship on which an Osprey was to land.

I had the opportunity to be aboard one of those Ospreys and land on the ship and observe Marines working with the Royal Navy and operating their Harriers off of the jump-jet carrier as part of their training effort.

At the time British Harriers were operating in Iraq and not aboard the ship itself.

These photos show the Osprey and USMC Harriers operating aboard HMS Illustrious in the 2007 training exercise and are credited to Second Line of Defense. 

The final photo is credited to the Royal Navy and was shot when in September 2013, the Osprey landed again on the ship.

According to a Royal Navy story published in 2013:

Six years ago HMS Illustrious became the first non-US ship to fly an Osprey and was pleased to welcome one back on board with it completing a total of four deck landings.

Piloting the US Marine Corp aircraft as it landed at dusk was a Royal Navy Lieutenant – Alan Wootton – a former Army Air Corps pilot who transferred to the Royal Navy as a Lynx pilot.

Al is on a three year exchange with the US Marine Corps and flew with co-pilot Captain Goudy of the United States Marine Corps.

Lieutenant Commander Nigel Terry, deputy head of HMS Illustrious’ Flight Department was also on board when the Osprey visited in 2007.

He said: “Opportunities like this present an invaluable opportunity to continue to grow our ability to work together with other nations.

This is absolutely essential in modern naval operations.

“It allows us to grow our understanding of our different procedures as well as providing valuable training for our deck crews…..”

Until recently, USS Kearsarge had three Royal Navy aircraft handlers embarked as part of the Long Lead Specialist Skills Programme. 

This programme seeks to retain and develop the specialist skills required to operate the Royal Navy’s new Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carriers which are under construction at Rosyth dockyard.

Three US Marines and six US Navy personnel also visited HMS Illustrious during the rendezvous.

HMS Illustrious is currently part of the Response Force Task Group deployed on Cougar 13 operating in the Mediterranean, Red Sea, Persian Gulf, and Horn of Africa.

It involves exercising with partner nations, and will show the UK Armed Forces’ capacity to project an effective maritime component anywhere in the world as part of the Royal Navy’s Response Force Task Group as commanded by Commodore Paddy McAlpine.

Recently, in an interview at Camp Lejeune, Major General Simcock, the CG of 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, spoke of the importance of evolving a global amphibious fleet, where Marines need to train and be able to work with allies and partners off of their ships as well US Navy ships. 

Clearly, the kind of relationship the UK and the US has evolved is an example of this.

With the coming of the USS America, and the revitalization of the large deck amphibious ships with the twin operations of Ospreys and F-35Bs, there is a clear opportunity to expand those relationships with foreign warships, which can either operate the Osprey or the F-35B.

And with the British building the largest warship they have ever built coming on line in the period ahead, opportunities for shaping USN-USMC and British collaborative con-ops will go up as well.


The BAE Systems Role in the F-35 Program

An overview of the significant role which BAE Systems plays in the F-35 program is provided by the company on their website.


The following graphic above provides a representation of this role with regard to the air system.

And the graphic below provides a representation of the key role which the company is playing in integration of the F-35 with the new UK carrier.

There is a webpage as well which provides an overview on the BAE Systems role with regard to F-35 and carrier integration.



Norwegian Quick Reaction Aircraft, Bodø Airbase and Future Basing Challenges

By Robbin Laird

During visits to the United Kingdom, I have had a chance to see and visit with RAF the operators of the quick reaction air capability in the United Kingdom.

A key point is that to have two aircraft ready to fly on a moment’s notice, or within 15 minutes, a significant pyramid of support is necessary to deliver a QRA capability.

But the question of what the pyramid looks like beyond this is simply having two pilots ready 24/7 with 2 support staff and eight engineers for each week in support as well.

1(F) Squadron, II (AC) Sqn. and 6 Sqn. provide the aircraft, pilots and engineers for the 24/7 operation. The Air Traffic Control Center is manned 24/7 to enable aircraft to launch at any time. The Ground Support System or GSS provides support to the Typhoons with mission data and computer systems used by the aircraft.

And chefs and catering staff are on station to cook and serve meals for duty personnel, three meals a day, 365 days a year.

To put it bluntly: to be 24/7 ready is a significant demand signal for the Typhoon fleet, and one which can be overlooked in terms of the number of aircraft which are required to remain ready for operational launch, 24/7 and 365 days a year.

According to the QRA North team, the Typhoon has performed its role well, but it requires maintainers, pilots and operations personnel to pay close attention to the rotation of aircraft into the demand side of QRA.

And when the RAF deploys to the Baltics, in effect, the UK is supporting three QRA efforts.

The pyramid is demanding; the photos of the planes on strip alert simply masks the significant level of effort to ensure that they are on strip alert.

This demand side is one which can be easily overlooked by everyone, except those providing the capability and the intruders into UK airspace.

During my recent visit to Bodø Airbase, I was able to discuss the QRA effort at the airbase and the transition being put in place to transition from F-16s doing this mission from Bodø to F-35s operating from Evenes Air Station, where P-8s may operate from as well.

Evenes Air Station is significantly further north from Bodø, which will move the QRA effort further north as well.

The Norwegian government is restructuring its basing infrastructure, closing some airbases and building up others. Bodø Airbase itself is scheduled to close.

I discussed the QRA effort, the past and future of the Bodø Airbase, and the shift from the F-16 to F-35 for QRA with the Lt. Col. Henning Hansen Homb, Group Commander 132 Air Wing and Base Commander Bodø and Major Trond Ertsgaard who is a key member of the Wing as well.

The Bodø Airbase provides the pyramid from which the current F-16 QRA capability is generated. Like RAF Coningsby or RAF Lossiemouth, from which current RAF Typhoon QRAs are generated, Bodø Airbase is a main F-16 airbase and as such provides the pyramid to support the F-16s generated for QRA.

Bodø is strategically located to contribute to both air and maritime defense of Norway. It must always be remembered that Norway has very significant maritime as well as airspace to protect.

As Lt. Col. Homb underscored: “Norway’s territorial waters are six times the size of our land area. This is also an area which we need to defend.”

The base itself in its current configuration was built during the cold war and can host multiple squadrons and has a number of hardened shelters for operations as well.

As a main F-16 operating base, it can draw upon the personnel who fly, operate and maintain F-16s to support QRA activities.

Indeed, the base has demonstrated in operations, its ability to generate airpower as required by the Norwegian political authorities in times of crisis.

According to Lt. Col. Homb, during the Norwegian contribution to the 2011 Libyan operation, the turn around from the tasking to participate to delivering weapons during first strikes was only six days.

“That certainly proved that our training system clearly works.

“You can not go from a holiday weekend back home, to being ordered to participate in an international operation and then to deliver weapons within six days, if your training is not on track and clearly working.”

Bodø Airbase as a large airbase dominates the town and is located at the tip of the peninsula on which the town is located.

The operating conditions are challenging for sure with winds and temperatures which create challenges to operate combat aircraft, and which require a learning curve for allies who come to the airbase to work with the Norwegians as well.

The basic facts as provided by the Wing Commander with regard to Bodø were as follows:

  • Midnight sun between May 30thand July 12th;
  • Dark time between December 1stand January 9th;
  • Average temperature in summer time +13.6 degrees C and in winter time 12.1 degrees C;
  • Well known as a windy city and for having the world’s strongest maelstrom, Saltstraume;
  • And with the highest mountain in the area being Lurfjelltind, 1.284m above sea level

The following photo captures in some sense the challenge:

Put bluntly, operating a QRA force with a requirement to launch on 15 minutes from the order to launch is not an easy task.

And as a large airbase, Bodø has been a key one where allies come to operate in exercises with the Norwegian Air Force as will be done in this year’s Trident Juncture exercise.

And the larger shelters built to house an F-15 can take F-35s as well.

The local knowledge provided by the Bodø airmen are important to inform allies when they come to Norway of the challenges as well.

“We have beautiful scenery for flying but many hazards and dangers as well which we need to inform our colleagues from allied countries about when they fly in our area as well.

“Flying in mainland Europe is not the same as flying in our area for sure.”

But the base is being closed as part of a basing cutback to support defense economies in support of an overall defense modernization strategy.

The close down of Bodø does pose challenges as well.

The first challenge is that when the F-35 takes over from the F-16 it will operate at Evenes Air Station, which is not scheduled to be a main operating base for the F-35. 

The main operating base for F-35 will be the Ørland airbase.

This means that a detachment of F-35s to do QRA will be operating from Evenes and supported from Ørland, which is different from operating from a large operating base of the same aircraft.

Getting the deployment support right will be a challenge but one not dissimilar from the Baltic Air Policing or Icelandic Air Policing mission experience.

Currently, the Norwegian Air Force has about 200 personnel to support the F-16 base overall and from that force can support the QRA mission as well.

The second is that Bodø has proven to be a key allied support base and sorting through how best to base allies when they come for an exercise or a crisis is a work in progress, one the Norwegians take very seriously.

But as the future of Bodø is worked out, facilities could remain beyond the currently scheduled search and rescue force.

Shelters could remain in some areas, if the approach is not one of complete elimination, and residual support capabilities could be sustained as projected in the following drawing of a possible future Bodø situation.

A further challenge seen from the QRA perspective is that the F-35 is not an F-16 or a Typhoon for that matter.

What does a QRA mission conducted by an F-35 look like?

It is a multi-mission and low observable platform; how best to use it in the QRA role?

This is clearly a work in progress in which the Norwegians will be pioneering what I have called F-35 2.0, namely, how will use the aircraft as part of an overall combat transformation process?

Clearly, the Norwegians are modernizing their airpower and reshaping their infrastructure to support it and Bodø is part of that transition.

The current role of the Air Station was summed up by the Lt. Col. Homb in the following chart:

The first slideshow shows Norwegian F-16s participating in Arctic Challenge 2017 and flying form BODO airbase. Credit: Norwegian Ministry of Defence.

The second slideshow below highlights slides during the presentation by Lt. Col. Homb during the visit.


















USMC Participates in Finland’s Arrow Exercise

The Arrow Exercises are led by the Finnish Army and are part of training of Finnish forces based in large part on their mobilization capabilities.

For example, the Finnish Army provided this comment with regard to Arrow 17:

Arrow 17 is the final manoeuvre for many conscripts. There are also conscripts from Norway taking part in the exercise.

Tank trained Private Samu Kinnunen serves as a tank driver and drives a Leopard 2 A6 battle tank. Before Arrow 17, he wanted to train in new type of terrain. He also wanted to cooperate with international troops.

– All this action made me a little bit nervous, he tells.

There is one thing, that in particular sticks in Kinnunen’s mind: Leopard 2 A6 battle tanks.

– It was fun to drive a new Leopard 2 A6. I could really feel the force.

– It was an amazing experience to fire off a projectile. I had an opportunity to fire in spite of I am a driver. That was really nice, he says.

Cooperation is unbelievable

Samu Kinnunen finds that the cooperation between nationalities and branches has gone nicely.

– I think that we have all learned a lot. I have picked up on a lot from cooperating with Norwegian soldiers. I have also learned to piggyback terrains even better.

– Arrow 17 has been the culmination point of my time as a conscript. I will never regret this decision. I will never forget this exercise, he crystallizes.

For this year’s Arrow Exercise, the USMC participated for the first time.

According to Martin Egnash in an article published May 21, 2018 in Stars and Stripes:

U.S. Marines withdrew tanks and weapons from storage caves in secret locations in Norway to fire tank guns and other weaponry alongside more than 3,000 Finnish servicemembers.

This was the first time Marines from the 4th Tank Battalion brought tanks out of the underground, rock-hewn lairs to be used in Finland, though they have been used in other exercises around Scandinavia. Exercise Arrow is an annual training event that began May 7 and wrapped up on May 18.

“All of our major equipment was drawn from the caves in Norway,” said tank commander Capt. Matthew Anderson, who participated in the exercise. “This exercise would not have happened without the caves. The equipment, forward-staged, allows us to conduct these exercises. Without it, it’s a whole lot less likely that we would have been as successful as we were.”

The Marine Corps Pre-Positioning Caves in Norway program began during the Cold War. The caves contain Marine vehicles, artillery, and enough food and ammunition for a brigade of 4,600 Marines to last in several weeks of combat.

Arrow is a Finnish-led event in which partner nations conduct live-fire war games to certify that Finnish servicemembers – most of whom are conscripted – are capable of fighting…..

The photos in the slideshow are credited to Sgt. Averi Coppa, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Europe and Africa, May 15, 2018.

RAF Marham Prepares for Its Transition

Last year, we visited RAF Marham and got an update on the progress with regard to the base in preparation for the arrival of its first squadron of F-35s.

This year, we visited RAF Marham and got an update in early May 2018 from Air Commodore David Bradshaw, Commander of the Lightning Force, Captain Adam Clink, Deputy Commander of the Lightning Force, and Group Captain Townsend, the RAF Marham base commander.

We will be publishing interviews with each of them.

Pictured are (from left) Captain Adam Clink, Air Commodore David Bradshaw and Group Captain Cab Townsend. Picture: Ian Burt

An article by Rebecca Murphy from the Eastern Daily Press published on November 27, 2017 provided a good overview on the base construction associated with the coming of the F-35.

Excerpts from the article by Rebecca Murphy follow:

There are eight construction sites across the base. Works include refurbishment of the secondary runway which will be a short take-off and landing strip and construction of vertical landing pads.

A giant hangar where the RAF and Royal Navy’s aircraft will be maintained is being built along with a training centre which will house full Lightning mission simulators.

Buildings for the Operational Conversion Unit 207 Sqn, which will train future pilots, are also part of the works.

A Tornado GR4 flies over the site at RAF Marham where the second runway is under construction. Picture: Ian Burt

Group Capt Ian Townsend, station commander, said it was important to remember Marham is still home to the Tornado GR4, which he called a “stalwart” of the RAF.

The jets have 15 more months of operational service and are currently working in Iraq and Syria.

He said: “We absolutely have to maintain the operational focus on the Tornado GR4 community and they are working tirelessly day and night on that operation.”

However he added: “To have the F-35 coming here and securing the future of the base for the next 30 or 40 years is really significant.”

The F-35B is due to operate off HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier at the end of 2020.

Group Capt Townsend added: “In my four months here I cannot tell you how well support I think this air base is by the local community. That is brilliant.

“RAF Marham and the family of RAF Marham is not just us in the uniform or the civil service or contractors, it is really part of the region…..”

The featured photo shows (from left) Captain Adam Clink, Air Commodore David Bradshaw and Group Captain Cab Townsend. Picture: Ian Burt

Last year’s observations by Robbin Laird were published on 2017-04-13 and follow:

During my visit to the United Kingdom in March 2017, I had a chance to visit RAF Marham.

My host for the visit was Captain Nick Walker of the Royal Navy and we had the opportunity to view the various buildings in progress on the base as well as to receive a briefing from Commander John Butcher, the Chief of Staff at the Lightning Force Headquarters, and the commander of the first F-35B squadron to operate in the United Kingdom, which arrives next year.

I also received a briefing and had a chance to discuss the standup of the infrastructure with the impressive team supporting the establishment of the F-35B at Marham.

There is a staff of 17 at the Lightning Force headquarters supporting the operational standup with nine specifically focused on the infrastructure aspects.

They are busy simply in order to have the base ready next year to receive their first contingent of F-35Bs from their current base, which is in the United States.

The base will have a fully operational, training and support capability.

Training, maintenance and various centers are being stood up.

At the heart of the effort will be the National Operations Center in which logistics and operations are collocated and the U.S. will have personnel in this center as well.

According to Wing Commander Butcher: “Within the National Operating Center, you essentially have two main functions. There’s what we’re calling the Logistics Operating Center, and the Lightning Force Headquarters.

“The two of those together create the National Operating Center. Within the Logistics Operating Center, or the LOC, you have some very key elements of the Lightning project team that are currently based out of Abbeywood.

“The people who are doing the engineering supervision, the acquisition of the facilities, acquisition of the parts, the management of the supply chain, many of these will move to Marham and will sit alongside key industry partners.

“We have as well the Lightning Force Headquarters built within that same facility. Now if you plug in the USAF into that as well, which is our plan right now, then you have a very joint UK F-35 outlook with regard to the entire enterprise.”

There are multiple synergies involved with the F-35 and the standup of the Marham Air Base.

The first is the synergy from America to the United Kingdom and back again.

The UK has operators at Pax River, Edwards, Eglin and Beaufort Marine Corps Air Station.

17 Squadron at Edwards is a Test and Evaluation squadron and because the F-35 is a software upgradeable aircraft, tests will be a fact of life as the capabilities of the aircraft evolve over time, and the Brits are well placed at Edwards to be participants in this process. It should also be noted that the Dutch are on the ground floor with the Brits in this process as well as the Aussies.

The UK and the USMC are fully pooled at Beaufort with Marines flying British planes and vice versa. While there the Brits use the US Navy logistics system to support the F-35B whereas at Edwards they use the British system, so are learning how to work within both systems.

The Eglin engagement with the Canadians and Australians involved is with the reprogramming lab. “In effect, this is the apps center for the evolution of the software,” according to Commander Butcher.

According to Wing Commander Bucher, the build up at Beaufort will continue until mid-2018 when personnel will gradually transfer to Edwards or other facilities in the United States or come back to the UK.

“We will peak out at about 200 persons at Beaufort. We will bring 9 of our jets back next summer and five more later in the year.”

All of these bases are key elements in the UK element of the F-35 global enterprise.

The planes coming from Beaufort will provide the standup for the first RAF squadron. 617 squadron will be stood up next year as the Brits move from Beaufort to Marham.

The second synergy is between the standup among bases and lessons learned.

Marham is being stood up and generating operational lessons learned back to the United States, both in terms of the U.S.’s standup of its own bases abroad and at home, and, notably in terms of shaping a new operational dynamic for RAF Lakenheath.

The USAF F-35s at Lakenheath can become integrated into the operational, training and support elements in the UK as well, shaping a new approach for the USAF as well.

As Wing Commander Butcher underscored the possibilities:

“We want to take forwards everything that we’ve done in the pooling and implementation agreement in the United States, and try and see how we can transpose that into a UK model.

“We’re looking to have jets taking off, F-35A’s taking off at Lakenheath. Well, what if they have an issue and they need to land in Marham. Rather than take the time to move people, spares etc from Lakenheath up to here, what’s to say that we couldn’t conceptually have some maintainers from 617 Squadron repair the jet, sign off, send it flying again.

“Lakenheath is going to be busy base with the closure of Mildenhall. Increased efficiencies working with us would make sense.

“Could we potentially have F-35As operating out of Marham on a daily basis?

“How do we organize hot pit operations on each other’s base?

“One can easily see how that could buy you a lot of combat flexibility, in terms of how you might do maintenance operations.”

Commander Butcher noted that in the working group with Lakenheath, a 06-level maintainer is embedded in the UK Lightning Force Headquarters.

“He’s come in to do the interim scoping for how we might integrate the USAF into the Lightning Force headquarters facility, in particular the National Operating Center.”

Embedded in this synergy is a close working relationship with the USMC as well which can be seen at Beaufort or on the LHAs preparing for F-35B operations.

There is also a close working relationship between the new carrier community in the UK and with the US Navy as many UK officers have trained and operated aboard US carriers learning the US approach to the use of carriers, and shaping their thinking as well with regard to shaping their own approach to carrier operations with the F-35B.

The third synergy is between the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force.

The UK is standing up a Lightning Force, not a RAF or Royal Navy force. The first two squadrons are being established on a 58/42 basis between RAF and RN pilots.

The first squadron, which will start the move from Beaufort in mid-2018 with full IOC by the end of 2018, will be badged as an RAF squadron and headed by an RAF officer (Wing Commander Butcher) who will be then relieved when the time comes by a RN officer.

And for the next two years, the squadron will work on integration with the Queen Elizabeth class carriers.

According to Wing Commander Butcher: “We are focused on the defense product, not the service one when it comes to the Lightning Force. It is important to do our business as a Lightning Force.”

The second front line F35B squadron, 809 Squadron, will establish at Marham and badged as a Royal Navy squadron with a RN officer in charge who could then relieved when the time comes by an RAF officer.

The fourth synergy is building the base while the three Tornado squadrons are operationally involved and on a busy schedule supporting RAF operations worldwide, notably in the Middle East.

This means that Tornado infrastructure not only needs to be maintained but not leveraged in any way until those squadrons leave Marham.

This means that the next Marham base Commander Group Captain Townsend will be charged with standing up the base for F-35Bs, the squadron arriving in two parts, and keeping the key strike function of Tornado operational until the very end.

It can be disruptive but the ops tempo of the base is the key determinant of the effort; not simply erecting new buildings for a new aircraft.

The fifth synergy is between the base and the new Queen Elizabeth Class Carriers.

The new carriers are coming on line concurrently with the base becoming operational and sea trials and preparing for the integration of the F-35 with the new carriers.

And this base will provide a key element of shaping the outreach from the UK into Northern Europe as well as Norway, Denmark and the Dutch Air Forces come on line with their F-35s as well.

In other words, standing up the base at Marham is part of a significant strategic effort by the UK and at the heart of shaping 21t century approaches to deterrence.

When joined with what is happening from Lossie, to Iceland to Norway with P-8s, the upgrades to Typhoon, which will make it a core complement to the F-35B fleet and the reshaping of the ISTAR fleet at RAF Waddington, major changes are coming to the UK air and naval forces.

The rebuilding program itself is extensive.

Virtually all of the runways need to be repaved. And the modifications of the hangers would be so significant for the F-35, that it was preferable to tear down buildings and build new ones to house the new force.

As the head of the Project Anvil project put it: “This is one of the few projects I’ve been involved with where we have actually demolished buildings, cleared the site, and built new buildings rather than simply refurbishing old ones.”

The team implementing Project Anvil as it is called underscored that the schedule is demanding to get it done in time the arrival of the jets and the standup of the squadron. The focus of the effort currently is on what is called the FOA, namely, Freedom of Action enablers for the squadron – the runway, the maintenance and finishing center, the Integrated Training Center and the National Operating Center.

And the second phase of Project Anvil can only start after the Tornados leave Marham and preparations for the second squadron can put in place.

The team has worked hard to ensure that the capability can be delivered on time.

One example was working with the planning authorities in the region for the upgrades of the power grid necessary to support the F-35s. By providing information on very timely basis, the planning authorities were obtained and the project kept on schedule.

And all of this is being generated in a time of profound political change within NATO and in terms of the threats being faced by NATO. Clearly, an effective standup of capabilities at Marham and their integration into a broader defense effort is crucial for the defense of the United Kingdom and for its core NATO allies.

Captain Nick Walker provided a good overview on the challenges and the opportunities inherent in setting up a new joint base at Marham with the coming of the Queen Elizabeth class carriers.

“I think there is fantastic opportunity with the restructuring of MARHAM to create a truly world-class F35 facility.  The investment in the infrastructure, particularly the National Operating Centre and maintenance facilities, will place MARHAM right at the fore of F35 operations and make it the hub in Northern Europe.  Only Italy, with its Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility at Cameri will come close to what MARHAM can offer.”

“And the fact that we are building it from new rather than modifying existing buildings really does present great opportunities to make the structure both future proof but more importantly design it from the outset to support multi-national F35 operations.”

“On the carrier angle, we have a similar opportunity.  The UK is buying F35Bs, which are designed to operate from ships as well as land bases.  The UK has determined to regenerate a carrier strike capability at the core of its power projection capabilities, and therefore we have purposely opted for an embarkable F35 variant.

“The carrier was then designed specifically to support F35B operations – the ‘aviation flow’ around the aviation, Carrier Strike Group and Intelligence planning and maintenance spaces has been very carefully thought through to ensure the best possible service and most efficient flow for the embarked squadrons.”

“Given that the design is now fixed and the nature of carrier construction means there is little scope for future alteration, we should take the opportunity to design the infrastructure at RAF MARHAM to emulate as far as possible the embarked flow and processes.”

“The F35B squadrons will spend a good proportion of their time embarked, and making the transition from ashore to afloat as seamless as possible just makes sense.  The ‘shock’ of embarking is therefore reduced, processes are familiar rather than alien and the whole experience of taking squadrons to sea will be more efficient, safer and easier to manage.”

“It helps to make flying to and from the carrier as natural as flying at the Main Operating Base – the embarked elements become second nature because the ashore processes resemble them as closely as possible.”

“I accept that you cannot replicate a carrier at a land base, but given the MARHAM infrastructure is being designed from new, it makes perfect sense to build in as much commonality as you can.”

“A good example is the process of storing, collecting and returning the pilots’ helmets.  This is done at a particular point in the pre-flight flow on-board, so it makes sense to have it at the same point in the flow ashore – the process is therefore the same both embarked and ashore.”

“The Lightning Force has looked at the helmet process on-board and will incorporate a similar process at MARHAM.  Small things, but they do make a difference and keep the F35B Force aware of, and familiar with, their embarked processes as far as possible while ashore – it makes the return to sea smoother, familiar and safer.”

In short, the rebuild at Marham is at the heart of the modernization or indeed transformation of UK forces and a significant impact as well on allied thinking, including the United States.

And getting into the spirt of things, here is the cover story from the Daily Star published on May 17, 2018:

Daily Star Cover May 17, 2018



Nordic Cooperation: A Stronger North?


In a new report produced under the aegis of NORDEFCO, the Nordic cooperation effort is assessed and analyzed.

The authors of the report, Tuomas Iso-Markku, Eeva Innola, and Teija Tiilikainen, focused on the history and the way ahead with regard to Nordic cooperation.


Eeva Innola is a research fellow in the European Union Research Program.  Thomas Iso-Markku is a research fellow with the European Union Research Program. And Teija Tiilikainen is editor in Chief of the Finnish Journal of Foreign Affairs.


The purpose of the report was identified as follows:

It is against the backdrop of the recent changes in the Nordic-Baltic region, the EU, NATO, the transatlantic relationship, international institutions and the global power political set-up that this report sets out to assess both the current state and future potential of Nordic foreign and security policy cooperation.

Where does Nordic foreign and security policy cooperation stand in an international environment marked by the above-mentioned developments?

Do these developments imply new challenges, opportunities and/or constraints for Nordic foreign and security policy cooperation?

The aim of the report is two-fold.

Firstly, it seeks to provide an overview of the current state of Nordic foreign and security policy cooperation. This entails taking a look at its formats and structures as well as recent trends in this cooperation.

Secondly, the report seeks to analyse in more detail possible gaps, constraints and problems as well as untapped potential in Nordic foreign and security policy cooperation.

The report is comprehensive and provides an very helpful overview on the dynamics of change with regard to Nordic cooperation.

The report concludes as follows:

There are many reasons to expect a coherent and coordinated Nordic approach to a multitude of issues in the international arena. Nordic countries are united both through their societal values and geopolitical position.

As Northern small or middle-size powers, their international position and  influence benefit essentially from joint  positions  and action. 

Due to their significant economic output, successful societal model and respected tradition of international mediation and peacekeeping there is a joint power potential within the Nordic countries that should not be underestimated.

Furthermore, Nordic cooperation is decidedly uncontroversial and enjoys a solid legitimacy among the Nordic populations.

This report studied how this power potential is used and the kind of hurdles that obstruct a more concerted Nordic action in foreign and security policy. 

The hurdles are political, institutional and cultural.

When the Nordic brand in international relations is quite clear and coherent externally, the different historical traditions and identities come to the fore internally.

The statement according to which the further away from the Nordic region one is, the better the Nordic foreign policy cooperation functions, is highly descriptive of the situation.

The study in hand confirms the key conditions for further enhancement of Nordic cooperation in foreign and security policy. 

Due to historical experiences and identities, the Nordic community is important but still does not form the primary political community for any of the Nordic countries.

It is rather seen to complement the main “alliances”, which in the case of Denmark, Norway and Iceland is NATO, and in the case of Finland and Sweden the EU.

Irrespective of the commonality of values and geopolitical interests among the Nordic states, Nordic cooperation has to adjust to the political and institutional requirements of NATO and the EU.

Adherence to different alliances does not mean that common Nordic interests could not be taken into account and promoted by the Nordic members of the respective two alliances, NATO and the EU.

This is what happens, but there are limits to it as it is by no means supposed to challenge the broader consensus-building in the EU or NATO. It is obvious that the possibilities for influencing the EU and NATO as common arenas for European and transatlantic policy-making remain underused from the point of view of common Nordic interests.

Major decisions in the EU and NATO concerning their policy priorities or strategic approaches, for instance, do affect the whole Nordic community irrespective of the Nordic states’ affiliation with the organisations.

The preparation of such decisions should therefore be prioritized on the Nordic agenda and be linked with more thorough information-sharing and policy coordination.

Broader Nordic-Baltic cooperation could duly strengthen these efforts to influence the EU and NATO. Could more efficient Nordic (and Nordic-Baltic) coordination lead to a more proactive policy by the respective Nordic members of the EU and NATO with regard to questions of shared Nordic interests?

Another key condition of Nordic cooperation in foreign and security policy – linked to its character in complementing primary alliances – is its informal nature. The only exception to this can be found within Nordic defence cooperation, where the set-up is more formal.

Informality means that there is no single institutionalized framework for foreign policy cooperation, nor is there any systematic planning or a coherent set of policy instruments.

What is equally missing is overall strategic leadership, which would define the key Nordic priorities and interests for this cooperation in the longer perspective.

Nordic cooperation takes place in a variety of different contexts, starting from dense contacts between individual civil servants and policymakers, and covering a whole range of multilateral fora, both with an entirely Nordic character (N5) and larger formats (NB8, e- PINE, N5+V4 and Northern Group).

Informality is highly valued as it enables the formation of a fully needs-based agenda.

The Nordic meetings can address issues of topical concern and interest.

Informality also means that there is no need to decide whether Nordic foreign and security policy cooperation should include the Nordic states with or without the Balts, as an enlarged Nordic community would be in the interests of many but not all.

Informality is clearly perceived to be an asset for Nordic foreign policy cooperation, but it is also a reason for the highly reactive nature of this cooperation. Without any joint policy- planning capability, the Nordic agenda can hardly contain more systematic and long-term efforts to influence the political environment in a more proactive manner.

In order to lead to more concrete outcomes, Nordic foreign policy cooperation should also have clear foci, which seems to be at odds with its needs-based agenda-setting.

To ensure full use of the Nordic potential, Nordic foreign policy cooperation should adopt a dual-track approach. Within the general framework of informality, it should still be possible to agree on a number of concrete policy priorities and adopt a joint implementation plan for advancing them.

In order to safeguard both the legitimacy and high political character of these joint  projects, their  planning and  implementation  should stay  within  the Nordic foreign ministries by taking the form of a joint Nordic task force.

These priority projects could contain a common Nordic initiative or effort within a multilateral institution or be more targeted towards the immediate  Nordic-Baltic environment. 

The projects should fully  respect  the Nordic commitments within EU and NATO contexts. These kinds of priority projects would enhance both the concrete content and continuity of the Nordic foreign policy agenda, but without challenging its informal character.

A third cornerstone of Nordic foreign and security policy cooperation can be found in its institutional complexity. The form of cooperation varies concerning its participatory structure and level and there is a lot of overlap between the various forms.

The informal foreign and security policy cooperation and the more institutionalized defence cooperation take place in separate realms with obviously little interaction existing between them.

In addition to the multilateral forms of cooperation, a range of systematic forms of bilateral relationships exist, with each of them having their own background and goal-setting.

Even if there is no possibility of significantly streamlining and simplifying the arenas for Nordic foreign and security policy cooperation, an effort should still be made to strengthen synergies between its different forms.

First, Nordic defence cooperation should be better anchored in a more systematically pursued Nordic consensus concerning the developments in its strategic environment and the emerging threats.

This is a section that is currently missing from the extensive cooperation agenda.  All of  the  Nordic countries  produce  such an  analysis separately, in the framework of their white books of security and defence, which also have linkages to the corresponding strategic documents produced by the EU and NATO.

A Nordic consensus on the strategic environment could be elaborated, for instance by reviewing the separate Nordic documents and identifying converging and differing elements in their analysis.

The review could bring together the ministries of foreign affairs and defence at different levels with the process and outcome of the debate, providing a more solid common political starting point for Nordic defence cooperation both in the NORDEFCO framework and in the bilateral format.

Other types of synergies between the different forms of Nordic foreign and security policy cooperation should also be enhanced. One question to be answered deals with the added value that existing bilateral relationships might provide for the broader Nordic framework if efficiently used.

Are the good practices emerging within a particular bilateral relationship efficiently presented in the multilateral Nordic context in order to possibly be used in another bilateral context?

Existing bilateral practices extend from the exchange of civil servants to joint political visits to third countries, and further to different forms of operational cooperation between various branches of the armed forces.

 Finally, one question that needs to be studied further is the discrepancy that exists between the external conception about Nordic unity in international relations, and the more divided and fragmented situation internally, where differences in policy content and the value of Nordic cooperation both come to the fore.

If the external view is much more coherent than the internal reality suggests, could it possibly be enhanced, and also be more efficiently utilized without major changes being made to the internal system of policy coordination?

The pragmatic Nordic political culture is free of political symbols and a political rhetoric typical of great powers. The forms or outcomes of Nordic foreign policy cooperation are rarely celebrated with attention-grabbing headlines or references to strong Nordic unity or loyalty. Among the very few recent exceptions to this modest outlook was the Nordic solidarity declaration, which was nonetheless cautious in tone.

This raises the question of whether the Nordic countries should change this low-key style and start marketing the Nordic achievements, including unity and numerous common goals in foreign and security policy,  much  more visibly  than  what is  currently  the case. 

The conceptions that exist about Nordic unity could also be utilized for the purposes of stronger communication about the common values underpinning this unity, and about the goals into which they translate at the international level.

The featured photo show Prime ministers Stefan Lofven of Sweden, Juha Sipila of Finland, Lars Lokke Rasmussen of Denmark, Erna Solberg of Norway and Iceland’s Minister of Social Affairs Eyglo Hardardottir pose for a family photo in Copenhagen.


Trident Juncture 2018, the Defense of Norway and Working 21st Century Deterrence in Depth

By Robbin Laird

Trident Juncture 2018 will be a major NATO exercise. As the head of the Transformation Command in NATO, General Mercier,  put it last year:

“NATO needs to hold exercises on a large scale.

“Only this way are we able to test all the levels in the alliance: From the troops on the ground and all the way up to a strategic level, NATO needs realistic training, where we can combine operations in the air, at sea and on land. In Norway we get everything, this is one of the best places to train in Europe.”

It will be the largest exercise hosted in Norway for a very long time.

The first Trident Juncture exercise took place ​in Portugal, Spain and Italy from 3 October to 6 November 2015.

Around 36,000 soldiers and other personnel from over 30 nations took part in the exercise.

The next Trident Juncture will be held in central Norway in 2018 and is expected to be of the same size. Norway has a long tradition of hosting major allied and multinational mil​​itary exercises.

Among them is Cold Response.​​​​​​ Trident Juncture 2018 will consist of a live exercise in October ​and November and a Command Post Exercise in November 2018.

But seen from a Nordic perspective, the exercise is coming at a time when Norway is modernizing its defense force, working ever more closely with the other Nordics, including cross-border training with Sweden and Finland, and re-invigorating its total defense approach.

Indeed, with the return of conscription in Sweden, with the continued commitment to a national mobilized armed forces in Finland and to a re-emphasis on the total defense concept, the Nordics are leading the way within Europe on a wider societal commitment to defense.

With the importance of crisis management in the region, an ability to work effectively with allied forces operating on NATO territory supported by a total defense approach within Norway, is part of the effort to calibrate force capabilities appropriate to deal with regional crises.

As Norway reworks its air basing structure, and modernizes its air force, army and navy, along with changes in the broader North Atlantic, working deterrence in depth is underway as well.

For example, the UK will add a new F-35-enabled carrier able to operate in the region as a mobile base able to work with other F-35s in the region to shape a wider combat grid to support moves on the strategic and tactical chessboard necessary to deal with regional crises.

But to shape such capabilities will require an effective exercise regime, one in which Norway works to support allied forces appropriate to meeting effectively specific regional crisis situations.

It is not just about being reassured by importing allied capability, more generally; it is about integrating Norwegian with appropriate allied forces to meet specific crisis management challenges and military threats in the region.

During my visit to Norway during April 2018, I had a chance to discuss Trident Juncture with several Norwegian defense and military officials.

And at the end of the visit had a chance to focus specifically on the exercise and its interconnection with the Norwegian Total Defense Concept with Col Lars Lervik at the Norwegian Ministry of Defence who is working the preparation for the Trident Juncture 2018 exercise.

According to Col Lars Lervik: “A key focus of the exercise from the NATO side is exercising our ability to conduct high intensity operations in a multi-national environment.

“What we’re looking at here is confronting an opponent who has the whole arsenal available.

“We need to be able to function not only as individuals and individual nations, but actually function together.

“This is a key focus of the exercise.”

Trident Juncture 2018 is also a command post exercise as well and given that Norway is reworking its C2 capabilities as part of defense modernization, the exercise provides an opportunity to input multinational operational training as well into the transformation process.

Col Lars Lervik highlighted that “It is very important to ensure that we have the procedures in place necessary to operate an integrated force on Norwegian territory in a higher intensity operational environment.

“We are starting really to be serious about C2 again.

“We are working to shape an effective C2 template going forward.

“We need to make sure that all our structures are integratable with NATO.”

“It is not a coincidence that Norway volunteered to be the host for this exercise.

“We’ve been focused on getting NATO to focus back on collective defense for quite a while.”

The Norwegians are working at three levels with regard to C2.

The first is at the national level.

The second is at the NATO level.

The third is at the bilateral C2 level, namely working with the US, the UK, the Nordic non-NATO members as well as other NATO members, such as Germany.

There is a substantial maritime component within the exercise, which gets at the broader extended deterrence piece whereby the sea base becomes integrated into the defense of Norway and NATO forces operating on Norwegian territory as well.

Col Lars Lervik underscored that “Working with allied forces is also about the capability of Norway able to receive NATO and allied reinforcements.

“And that’s when a total defense concept comes into play for us to be able to fulfill our host nation support commitments.”

For Norway, the total defense concept is a focus on the ability of the civilian side of society to support military operations. 

For example, the Norwegians do not have a specialized military medical service. The civilian side is mobilized to support both Norwegian and allied medical needs in times of conflict.  This will be exercised during Trident Juncture 2018.

Col Lars Lervik emphasized that “We need to be able to support NATO allies when they come into Norway.

“I think we’re making real progress with regard to civil society’s ability to support the Norwegian and allied militaries.

“For example, when the US Marines arrive in Undredal, Norway (in the middle of Norway), it could be a civilian bus driver on a civilian bus who will transport them onward to their next location. They might pick up fuel from a local civilian Norwegian logistics company.

“It is about the resilience as well with regard to civilian society to support military operations.

“We need to understand and to enhance how the modern society is able to function in a time of crises and war.”

The featured photo shows the commander of NATO’s Allied Joint Force Command Naples, Admiral James Foggo, meeting with Norwegian Chief of Defence, Admiral Haakon Bruun-Hanssen, February 2018. Photo by Torbjørn Kjosvold