Interview article

LGen Markus Bentler, Commander

Multinational Joint HQ
JÜRGEN K.G. ROSENTHAL  |  Jul 15, 2012

Lieutenant-General Markus Bentler

The Response Forces Operations Command (RFOC) in Ulm, also known as Multinational Joint Headquarters Ulm, exercises command and control of multinational operations as tasked by NATO, the European Union, or the United Nations. The RFOC is the only multinational and joint Bundeswehr command equipped to deploy anywhere in the world at any time to exercise command and control of operations abroad, either in theater or from within Germany. Lieutenant-General Markus Bentler recently outlined future tasks and projects of the Command during an interview with Jürgen K.G. Rosenthal.
General, the RFOC exercises joint command and control of Bundeswehr operations. How do its tasks differ from those of the Bundeswehr Joint Operations Command in Potsdam?

There is an absolutely clear-cut delineation of tasks between Ulm and Potsdam which is rooted in the pertinent concepts. As you know, the Bundeswehr Joint Operations Command in Potsdam is responsible for planning, preparing and exercising administrative control of German contingents participating in those multinational operations the Bundeswehr is involved in. This is a very comprehensive and important task – which is why the Bundeswehr Joint Operations Command will report to the Chief of Staff, Bundeswehr, in the future.

The Response Forces Operations Command or Multinational Joint Headquarters Ulm, as it is now referred to in the multinational arena, exercises command and control of multinational operations as tasked by NATO, the European Union, or the United Nations. You can say it is the only multinational and joint Bundeswehr command able to move all of its equipment, computers, tents and containers and deploy to a theater far away from Germany to exercise truly operational command and control.

In essence, the Command in Ulm is a headquarters focused on the operational level – the command and control of multinational ground, air and naval forces, in one single operation. This also sets us apart from the corps in Münster and Stettin as well as the Eurocorps. They exclusively comprise ground forces representing the tactical level in their function as Component Commands (CCs). We also like to emphasize our exceptional state of readiness, our rapid deployability and our capability of operating at any time and place in the world. In a nutshell, our core capabilities are operational command and control and rapid deployability to theaters of operations.

An additional task for the Command has often led to confusion in the past. On behalf of the European Union, which lacks permanent military command structures of its own, we can exercise command and control of operations from within Germany as an Operation Headquarters, one hierarchical level above the Force Headquarters. For this purpose, we keep an operational infrastructure, including an Operations Center, etc., on standby at the Henning von Tresckow Barracks in Potsdam – the same installation where the Bundeswehr Joint Operations Command is based as well. The difference is sometimes not so easy to spot, indeed.

Again, one command exercises administrative control while stationed at home in Germany, and the other, which is us, deploys globally to exercise operational command and control of multinational missions. And that’s worlds apart.

As a multinational command on the military-strategic level, the RFOC will soon be available for NATO operations in the function of a Joint Headquarters, and for EU operations in the function of an Operation Headquarters. Could you elaborate on this dual function, and the reasons for this reorientation?

It shows the Command is developing further. The Response Forces Operations Command used to be traditionally EU-oriented, therefore focusing primarily on the command and control of EU operations. Over time, much has changed in both organizations, NATO and the EU. The EU is seeking to further strengthen its operational capabilities. And it will succeed in doing so, for instance by continuing to bundle more capabilities. This process – called “pooling and sharing” – is receiving a great deal of media attention at the moment. [David Rudd discussed this topic in FrontLine 2012, issue#3.] In the future, the Command in Ulm will be playing an important role in this regard, because we will continue to provide our capability of exercising operational command and control. But at the same time, the North Atlantic Alliance has downsized its NATO command structure considerably in the wake of the Lisbon summit and the new strategic concept. Deployable headquarters are needed in NATO’s force structure to compensate for these reductions. Thanks to our capabilities, this makes the Command in Ulm a welcome partner. The special charm, or the added value this Command has to offer, lies with our development toward becoming a Multinational Joint Headquarters – a command designed to work with both organizations.

The Wilhelmsburg barracks in Ulm – home base of the Response Forces Operations Command. (Photo: RFOC)

According to the “single set of forces” principle, I can spend a 2-euro coin only once, but I can spend it in a way that benefits both organizations, therefore serving the needs of both of them. This path towards establishing a foothold in the EU and NATO while increasing multinationality and keeping the joint approach is exactly what makes Ulm special.

The positive aspect of this development is that we avoid duplication of structures, thus refuting any allegations of us trying to invent new headquarters. Actually, quite the opposite is the case, since we are a hybrid command able to fulfill the requirements of both NATO and the EU. I think this is the path we need to follow in the future. Besides, this is all our budget will allow.
Network-Enabled Operations have become a major part of command and control capability. A field trial was conducted during the COMMON ENDEAVOUR 2012 exercise in February/March. What are the conclusions you have drawn after this exercise, for the Bundeswehr as a whole and for your Command in particular?
Network-Enabled Operations is a project which has been on the Bundeswehr’s agenda for a long time.
By the way, this is also what our last White Paper from 2006 states, and ultimately, this is the basis for rendering the German armed forces fit for the future.

The aim of Network-Enabled Operations basically is to create a common and interoperable joint communication and information network interlinking and enabling all relevant actors, sensors and effectors to achieve real-time effects. This target has not been reached yet. The situation picture is created in an IT environment resembling a group of islands: the individual islands can sometimes communicate with each other, but they are often separated by large stretches of water. This image shows that such an environment ultimately hampers the interoperability of connections and the smooth exchange of data. However, this approach seems outdated in the 21st century – the age of Facebook, digitalization and global networks. We must aim at creating an integrated communication and information network. The reason why the Command in Ulm has been tasked with this project, namely paving the way for an initial capability and achieving it, is that it is a joint command. Of course, we were very pleased to accept the challenge of implementing this project.

During the final project Common Endeavour 2012, we were able to demonstrate our ability to achieve an initial network-enabled capability, while keeping the financial effort at a minimum. We did so by interlinking all organizational areas as well as civilian partners and the Bundeswehr IT Office via a communication network. By establishing a so-called Fusion Centre, we were able to generate a joint role-oriented situation picture, providing us with a real-time situation overview on the operational level. We will shortly provide the Chief of Staff, Bundeswehr, with a lessons learned report and our recommendations; and I think the project will show a pragmatic approach for the Bundeswehr to take over the next few years in order to effectively establish this communication network. Above all, we will have to adapt it to the ongoing multinational developments.
In this context, I would like to mention the Afghan Mission Network (AMN) since it is possibly going to provide the nucleus of a “NATO Mission Network”. We, the Bundeswehr, must take a proactive role because otherwise, purely national solutions will again result in isolated solutions reminiscent of the island metaphor.

General, in conclusion, I would like to ask you to give our readers an idea of the Command’s future tasks, developments and projects.

Certainly. The first step will be to take the degree of the Command’s multinationalization to the next level. We have contacted many other nations to encourage as much multinational participation as possible. This is an ongoing process that will extend over the next few years. But after receiving the first responses, we are confident that instead of only seven nations, as is currently the case, many more will agree to assigning officers, non-commissioned officers and civilian experts. This would considerably increase the number of multinational Command members here in Ulm.

Joint operations command workstations. (Photo: RFOC)

The next task will then be to reorganize the Command. We have created a whole range of new structures as well as a completely new and innovative basic structure. In addition to the traditional elements of Operations and Support, we are going to establish a Knowledge Development Directorate as well as an Operational Competence Centre. And we are going to create another two elements, Strategic Communications and a Joint Logistic Support Group Corps Staff. All these elements must be accommodated by our existing infrastructure or, if necessary, by building new infrastructure within our installation.

Furthermore, we are of course involved in the armed forces’ ongoing exercise and training activities – which are strongly focused on operations, by the way. As an FHQ, we will be responsible for building up and assuming command and control of an EU Battlegroup in the second half of 2012. This EU Battlegroup is led by Germany but consists of multinational forces. The European Endeavour 2012 (EE 12) exercise will be conducted in June to obtain certification and report full operational capability to the EU Military Staff by the end of June. Over the entire second half of the year, we will be tasked with the “quasi-operational commitment” of deploying the EU Battlegroup to an operation at any time.
In addition, we will be participating in the multinational EU exercise MULTILAYER 2012, also in the second half of the year. This exercise follows a comprehensive approach that combines all of the EU’s civilian and military crisis management tools. The unique aspect of this exercise is that five hierarchy levels will participate simultaneously: the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs, Baroness Ashton, the political steering committee and the EU Military Staff on the political level; the Operation Headquarters we provide in Potsdam on the military-strategic level; and an Italian FHQ on the operational level.

The Wilhelmsburg barracks in Ulm – Home Base of the Response Forces Operations Command. (Photo: RFOC)

In 2013, we will conduct an exercise at the Joint Force HQ in Brunssum to demonstrate an initial operational capability (IOC) for NATO operations.
For 2015, I am aiming for full operational capability, which would render the Command available for NATO operations in addition to EU operations. During his visit to Ulm on May 7th, the German Minister of Defence, Thomas de Maizière, made it absolutely clear that operations are the top priority for the Command in Ulm, and that he would recommend it should the EU make any suggestions or demands. This gives us the necessary motivation to achieve and demonstrate this full operational capability.
Jürgen K. G. Rosenthal is editor-in-chief at Hardthöhenkurier (HHK).
© FrontLine Defence 2012