12 April 2019

Does Romania need a new Special Operations Doctrine?

Daniel Ilie

Image source: Mediafax

In order to provide the conceptual and action coherence needed for the accomplishment of the specific missions and the achievement of the objectives of the defense policy, the new Romanian (ROU) Special Operations Doctrine will have to take into account the fundamental document, "The National Defense Strategy of the Country for 2015-2019”, the ROU Special Operations Forces (SOF) operational experience, and it needs to become the main document used by decision-makers and military experts when it comes to organizing, equipping, training, resource allocation prioritisation, and the employment of the ROU SOF in operations to contribute to the crisis management and providing national security and national and collective defense within the Transatlantic Alliance.

Preamble

Romania’s vulnerabilities against hybrid threats, the threats to the energy security and the maritime freedom of movement amplified by the important security imbalance within the Black Sea Extended Region caused by the ongoing area militarization (the latest significant developments - the deployment of Tu-22M3 Russian strategic bombers with nuclear munitions) aiming of strengthening the Russian Anti Acces/ Area Denial (A2/ AD) bubble, the intensification of large-scale snap (no-notice) exercises conducted by Russia in our proximity, after 5 years since the illegal Crimean Peninsula annexation, the political developments in the neighborhood, the recent political developments, the security situation in the Western Balkans, unsolved crises in the Middle East, migration and refugee phenomena, trans-regional terrorism, and the recent developments within the European Union, or, why not, the domestic ones are all topics that are constantly addressed with concern by most political and military analysts and by security and defense specialists.

The viewpoints on possible future developments, scenarios, and possible consequences are, as always, divided, but beyond any other controversy over the issue, we should understand that national security and defense need to be strengthened in the face of new risks and threats. In fact, among the directions and the main ways of providing national security mentioned in ”The National Defense Strategy of the Country for the period 2015-2019” includes the "development of capabilities needed to respond to asymmetric and hybrid threats" to ensure a “tailored legal framework”, "intensifying the inter-institutional collaboration”, and the "allocation of resources through a continuous, multi-annual, and rigorous integrated planning process”.

The current situation

Steps in this regard have been made by creating some institutional tools to combat potential asymmetric actions. Fewer, however, regarding the execution of the defense acquisitions programs to equip the military with up to date equipment, to include the area of countering asymmetric and hybrid threats, although financial resources have been allocated, recently.

From available data nor inter-institutional collaboration, or institutional knowledge excel when it comes to crisis management since this has not been done in an integrated, joint manner as no such a crisis management system has been built at the national level. In the event of a crisis caused by asymmetric and hybrid actions, some might argue that it is normal, as long as long as we do not even have an unanimously accepted definition at the concept level. Nonetheless, probably the relevant legislation will have to be reviewed.

In support of the above, the findings of a GlobalFocus Center think-tank 2018 study state that Romania does not yet have a clear architecture for coping with a potential aggression in the so-called "gray zone" at the intersection of peace, crisis and war. Moreover, the report reads that “Discussions with experts in the field have highlighted that while there are myriads of inter-agency working-groups, as well as written strategies, implementation and resource allocation are the real problem.”, one of the experts going forward and revealing that the responsibilities and responsibilities of the various national resilience structures are not very clear.

”In times of peace, the legislation places the responsibility for resilience on the General Inspectorate for Emergency Situations. In times when the state of emergency is declared, the focus falls on the Ministry of Defence.” [In fact, according to the Emergency Ordinance O.U.G. nr. 1/ 1999, the Ministry of National Defense is in the lead when siege, mobilization, or war states are declared]. The integration effort remains limited to somewhere at the very high echelons”

Above all of this, the absence of a unitary strategic culture capable of connecting and destroying institutional inertia overlaps, with negative consequences on the unity of effort. The study also suggests that there is no government-level integrated unit / cell capable of reacting and coordinating those crisis situations where the lines of operations are predominantly non-military, the system being outdated, originally created to deal with linear challenges. Personally, I have often noticed the institutional egocentrism of the system, which the study refers to and which, somehow, inhibits inter-institutional cooperation efforts.

Finally, the report also notes that, as previously mentioned, the only steps visible so far have been the establishment of dedicated structures at the level of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of National Defense, or Ministry of Internal Affairs, but almost all of them with not a very clear mandate and with little institutional knowledge, a coordination body within the Information Community, and a preliminary consultation with academia and civil society experts, as well. Below you can read some examples.

Preventing and combating of organized crime, illegal drug trafficking, cybercrime, economic and financial crime, and of terrorism are under the jurisdiction of the Directorate for Investigating Organized Crime and Terrorism (DIICOT) of the Public Ministry, but in their activity reports the institution admitted that the optimization of the activity "undoubtedly requires the completion and continuous update of the legal framework to the realities and challenges of the modern society".

At the Ministry of National Defense level, two command and control (C2) headquarters have been recently set up with important responsibilities in terms of responding to the new challenges of the security environment, the Special Operations Command (SOC) and the Cyber Defense Command. Their place and role within a potential future C2 inter-agency national architecture meant to cope with possible aggressions in the so-called “gray zone”  will need further clearer institutionalization.

If in the area of preventing and combating terrorism, the cooperation with the public institutions and authorities that contribute to the National System for Prevention and Combating of Terrorism seems to properly work with the help of the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) (national authority in this area), the Anti-terrorist Operational Coordination Center (CCOA), the same cannot be said about managing comprehensive, synchronized, systematic and inter-institutional responses to the new security challenges such as threats and hybrid actions in the so-called “gray zone”.

Why do we need a new special operation doctrine?

In this complex equation with multiple variables, but also unknowns, ROU SOF come with more than 13 yearlong operational experience gained in theaters of operations where they conducted all spectrum operations. There downrange they had to plan and execute specific missions along with coalition partners, having the chance to collect and exploit multiple lessons learned about the two approaches to special operations, namely:

  • direct one (kinetic) - that requires lethality, intelligence, cooperation between different agencies, the use of digital data networks, control of the battle space and which involves extreme risk, accuracy of execution, immediate impact and results at operational or strategic levels;
  • indirect one (non-kinetic) - that requires the assistance of the indigenous defense and security forces, "winning the hearts and minds" of local actors, humanitarian assistance, but also addressing and cooperating with key leaders of society in the area of ​​operations with longer-term effects in the effort to build credible defense and security capabilities.

As they are telling, or the coalition partners members of the Combined Special Operations Task Force 10 wrote about them, in Afghanistan over time, whether acting under the mandate of the International Security Assistance Force or Resolute Support, the ROU SOF participated in the planning and execution of numerous high-risk missions, mostly at night, in support of the training of the Special Security Forces of the Afghan Police (similar to SWAT troops). These include, among other things, direct actions such as counter-terrorist interventions, high-risk raids for capture and arrest, based on warrants (Warrant/ Evidence Based Operations), different insurgent leaders or facilitators, vehicle interdiction, cache recovery and other specific missions, simultaneously with the execution of military assistance missions.

Such operational experience gained over a relatively long period of time and with many sacrifices should not be wasted. It should add the lessons identified and learned from the evaluation of the measure of performance but also of the efficiency during the various national and multinational training stages of the ROU SOF - exercises based on fictive scenarios created, for example, to test the response of these capabilities to asymmetric or hybrid threats.

Besides, recently amended legislation adds some novelty as the ROU SOF place in the ROU Armed Forces structure and their chain of command, but also regarding the role of these capabilities within the Ministry of National Defense, by extending their area of ​​competence allowing them to conduct unconventional missions. And since the ROU SOF  lack extensive experience in conducting such operations, the new missions need to be clearly defined in order to determine the peculiarities of SOF operationalization process. Most likely they refer to actions meant to support a resistance to withstand an occupying power. In this case, aspects such as the strategic objective, who will assume the responsibility and the main effort, the value of the employed force, the duration and feasibility of the engagement, the way the inter-institutional cooperation should function, the methods of recruitment and integration of the elements from the tactical up to the strategic one, and more should be established.

All these are very complex problems that need to be addressed in the ROU SOF modernization process and as a result all the fundamental concepts, principles, and ideas, adapted to the national specifics, on the new approach to special operations have to be consolidated. In other words, the final product will be a new special operations doctrine adapted to the new operational environment conditions resulted from the current challenges to the national security and defense.

In order to provide the conceptual and actional coherence needed for the accomplishment of the specific missions and the achievement of the objectives of the defense policy, the new ROU Special Operations Doctrine will have to take into account the fundamental document, "The National Defense Strategy of the Country for the period 2015-2019”, the ROU Special Operations Forces (SOF) operational experience, and it needs to become the main document used by decision-makers and military experts when it comes to organizing, equipping, training, resource allocation prioritisation, and the employment of the ROU SOF in operations to contribute to the crisis management and providing national security and national and collective defense within the Transatlantic Alliance.

About the place and roles of SOF in the modern warfare and in countering asymmetric and hybrid actions as an instrument of military power, I wrote some time ago trying to point out that although they are perceived as a very valuable and versatile tool to respond (both kinetically and non-kinetically) to such challenges, they should not be seen as a universal solution that substitutes the comprehensive, synchronized, systematic, and inter-institutional response to the new security environment challenges. They would not even be able to do so since they do not have all the necessary knowledge to identify and counter such actions and, moreover, nor have they been designed and created (defined, invested with authority and freedom of action, organized, equipped, and trained) only for that purpose.

As you have seen, the issue of identifying and providing the right response to hybrid threats and actions to the national security and defense is a particularly complex one. It ultimately depends on the political will, coherent legislation, inter-institutional cooperation, and the involvement of academia and civil society, highly qualified and trained staff, advanced technology, and resource allocation.

About the innovative approaches required by the future of the security in the face of such threats, I invite you to learn more during the Conference ”Transatlantic Security Bridges Over Increasing Security Vision Gaps - Romania's Perspective”, planned for 16 April 2019, at the JW Marriot Hotel in Bucurest, during the panel ”(In)security drivers of change in an increasingly disconnected world”.

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