WASHINGTON — With exercise Saber Guardian coming to a close in Eastern Europe and more than 30 exercises still to take place during the remainder of 2017, NATO is continuing to build its readiness. Gen. Tod Wolters, commander of NATO’s Allied Air Command, highlighted for Defense News the importance of these exercises from the air perspective of the multi-domain effort.
“What you want to do is out-work them, out-exercise them, out-train them,” he said on how to best NATO‘s adversaries, such as Russia.
Wolters likened NATO to an athlete, perched in theater in a three-point stance, ready to move forward “on the drop of a dime” in response to nefarious events.
To maximize get readiness, Wolters emphasized training, training and training as the best way to integrate both layered capabilities and layered domains for this level of maximum readiness. And to get the “best juice for your squeeze,” he said, the alliance should train with the resources available.
As an example, he said NATO has seven nations that are “on the brink” of bringing fifth-generation F-35 aircraft into theater. But a crew of mixed fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft makes for an operational challenge.
As the aircraft train in an integrated group, he said, the crews learn how the other types of aircraft react to different situations. They become familiar with communication systems and work out the kinks, allowing for a cohesive crew, he added, in turn increasing deterrence capabilities.
This idea also extends to the interoperability of domains. Each NATO exercise, he said, is designed to incorporate several domains and ensure that allies operate smoothly, side by side and add to a greater effect.
“Each one of these exercises — they improve your speed, they improve your understanding of the environment,” he said. “You gain a greater intellectual grasp of what the problem could be, and you certainly gain a greater degree of confidence.”
For Wolters, communication is also key to readiness and efficiency. This is especially true in relation to the air domain, as pilots must be cognizant of their environment through which they fly as well as coordinate with operations in other domains.
Wolters said he sees a great willingness from NATO countries both to train and provide understanding in their air domains. And he sees investments being made in ensuring the linkage between domains is open and flowing, allowing an awareness of what other groups are accomplishing.
This greater motivation to participate in exercises and cooperate across borders comes from the recent acceleration of readiness and NATO’s shift from assurance to deterrence. Wolters said this shift has driven counties to secure their airspace and not only allow but participate in NATO activities.
He sees this in Turkey.
The Turkish Air Force maintains airspace security not only for its own aircraft, but also for the aircraft taking off from Turkish soil to participate in Operation Inherent Resolve, the multinational joint task force battling the Islamic State group.
“You have to be on your toes 24/7, 365 to make sure you understand exactly what is taking place,” he said. “It’s not easy. You have to embrace it intellectually.”
“But training, training, training in maintaining a razor-sharp edge is critically important,” he added. “And we’ve had great success up to this point there.”