Attrill jfcnaplesNATO Force Integration Units (NFIUs) are part of the NATO Force Structure (NFS) under the primary responsibility of Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR); they have no deployable remit. You can read an exclusive interview with Royal Air Force Wg Cdr Mark Attrill here, which was published in JWC's The Three Swords Magazine in January 2017.


Wing Commander Attrill, thank you very much for this interview. NATO Force Integration Units (NFIUs) were established a year ago. What prompted this decision? Why are they necessary?

- The NATO Force Integration Unit concept was developed shortly after the NATO Summit held in Wales in September 2014. One of the Summit's big themes was the development of a new NATO Readiness Action Plan, to improve the Alliance's responsiveness in times of increased tension or crisis. At the same time, there was recognition that if the Very High Readiness Task Force (VJTF) was going to be ready and able to deploy rapidly, it would require an improvement in NATO's ability to complete the critical Receipt, Staging and Onward Movement (RSOM) phase of a military operation. In order to do this, some Host Receiving Nations saw a need for an enhancement in their capabilities and it was determined that small, joint and multinational units permanently present in each of the nominated NATO countries could serve this purpose.

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What are the core tasks of NFIU in Estonia and what are some of the key areas of expertise within your organization?

- Each of the NFIUs shares the same core tasks within their Host Nation. The NFIUs six main tasks are as follows: (1) Prepare and support the RSOM of the VJTF, and other NATO Response Force (NRF) elements at high readiness levels. (2) Support Article 5 operations, planning and exercises, including fostering coherence with national defence planning. (3) Support to Non-Article 5 operations, where appropriate, and agreed by Nations. (4) Coordinate and assist multinational training and exercises in relevant nations. (5) Prepare and support the sustainment of the VJTF, and other NRF elements. (6) Support the ongoing assurance measures, including preparing to receive and support the integration into operational Command and Control (C2) and, finally, enable the sustainment of Combat and Combat Support Elements engaged in those assurance measures.

Beginning in early 2017, NATO will establish Enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland. Are you a part of this initiative?

- Yes, the NFIU in Estonia is very much involved in the establishment of an Enhanced Forward Presence here in Estonia. I have a particular interest in the eFP because the United Kingdom is the Framework Nation for eFP in Estonia as a result of our historic ties with this country, which go back to the War of Independence between 1918-20. We are working in close coordination with our colleagues in the Estonian Defence Force HQ (EDF HQ) to establish an effective footprint for the deployment and integration of the eFP, which will also include Force Elements from Denmark and France as Contributing Nations to the UK-led battlegroup. The EDF very much value the multinational dimension of the NFIU, which includes Danish and French Officers, to help with the many challenges that we collectively face in ensuring the eFP is established as quickly and efficiently as possible.

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Former Deputy Commander JFC Brunssum, Air Marshal Graham Stacey, attended the inauguration ceremony of the NATO Force Integration Unit in Estonia, 15 June 2015. Photo by JFC Brunssum PAO.

Before this assignment, you served at JWC as an exercise planner. You were the lead planner for STEADFAST JOIST 12, which was a unique, conceptual exercise testing NATO's then newly established command structure as well as the new deployable HQ concept. It was also the first time JWC used its new training facility following the closure of Ulsnes. What experiences and events from those times at JWC most shaped your perspectives today and had the biggest influence on you?

- I was very fortunate to be the OPR for STEADFAST JOIST 12 since, as you say, it was a conceptual exercise and, therefore, something quite unique in the traditional NATO exercise calendar. We were also fortunate to work with Joint Force Command Lisbon who maintained a very open and constructive relationship with the JWC as we collectively tackled the challenges associated with running what was effectively a large experiment using the exercise as a vehicle and doing so in a brand new training facility at Jåttå. As always, the successful delivery of the exercise was all about collective teamwork and in this respect I was blessed with a very flexible and effective group of staff, both in the JWC and in JFC Lisbon. Diplomacy and Flexibility were the key qualities that I had to engender amongst the team and this can be a challenge in a multinational environment, but as long as the Leader keeps everyone in the picture and clearly explains the rationale for making a particular decision, the vast majority will accept the position and do their very best to support the concept and the team. The first time use of a new facility with many elements of the building still a 'work in progress' as we developed the exercise, also meant that the team with which I worked was considerably larger as we drew in building contractors, CIS engineers and Health and Safety Advisers amongst many others, not staff found on any normal exercise planning team. I also had the opportunity to have lunch with His Majesty the King of Norway during Phase III of the exercise, which was a little different too!

What is NFIU Estonia's role in strategic/operational level exercise TRIDENT JUNCTURE 16 (TRJE16)? In your opinion how have exercises evolved since STEADFAST JOIST 12 and why are they so vital for NATO?

- We are very fortunate that the SKOLKAN scenario is very much focused on an operational problem for NATO here in Estonia and so we are able to relate to any of the recent SKOLKAN series exercises very easily. As part of our own certification process in 2016, we were required to participate in an exercise to demonstrate the roles, responsibilities and utility to NATO and, using my previous experience in JWC, it was quickly determined that NFIU Estonia should offer to support the Operational Liaison and Reconnaissance Team (OLRT) in Estonia during Phase II of TRJE16. This would allow the Training Audience to physically deploy to Estonia and engage with Estonian Key Leaders and officials whilst also gaining a more complete understanding of the environment and the atmospherics here in the Baltic Region. I will not dwell too much on the deployment of the JFCNP OLRT to Tallinn, or our collective experiences since this will form a major part of an article being prepared for a future edition of The Three Swords Magazine, but we all learnt a lot of valuable lessons from the experience and it gave my staff a tangible sense of achievement to work with the OLRT. I spent six years in the Joint Warfare Centre and have continued to be involved in NATO exercises since my arrival in Estonia so I have witnessed at first-hand how our exercises have evolved over time. Since 2012, the scenario and settings on which the NATO exercises are founded have, without doubt, become much broader and deeper than those we used some seven, eight years ago and have matched the Training Audiences' appetite for more complexity and a greater challenge. The introduction of initiatives which have taken the Training Audience away from their main location, to be deployed in the field, such as that undertaken by NRDC(SP) during TRIDENT JAGUAR 14 or where the JWC has had the flexibility to allow the JFCNP OLRT to deploy to Tallinn rather than to Jåttå have really allowed us to 'Train as we would Fight' and provided added realism whilst also understanding the challenges associated with a whole host of issues such as CIS connectivity, Real Life Support or Force Protection.


Exercise TRIDENT JUNCTURE 16 at Joint Warfare Centre, Stavanger. Photo by JWC PAO.

The focus of NFIUs is on rapid, seamless deployment of NATO high readiness forces throughout Europe. There are troops, mechanized brigades with military equipment, battle tanks and helicopters in this picture. As a C2 unit, how does this work in practice for you?

- NATO is still coming to terms with understanding the NFIU concept or the precise role of the Unit. We are not, per se, a HQ nor do we command any NATO Forces deploying within our Area of Responsibility. The vast majority of currently established NFIUs have a staff of just over 40 personnel and in many cases we have singleton Subject Matter Experts, so our ability to conduct a sustained planning or execution effort on our own is somewhat limited. Our principle roles are to Support and Facilitate and these are the watchwords of our main task. We are, in effect, a semi-permanent OLRT and whilst we have a key role to play in the RSOM of NATO Forces within Estonia this can only be carried out in close coordination with the wide range of Host Nation Support authorities and, of course, the sending nations.    

Do you believe that NATO's eastern flank is better protected against threats today?

- There can be no doubt that the formal establishment of the NFIUs along NATO's Eastern Flank, now complimented by the forthcoming deployment of an Enhanced Forward Presence in each of the three Baltic States and Poland has sent a clear message that NATO takes its Collective Defence responsibilities very seriously. The NFIUs may be small in size but the capability that they bring, in enhancing NATO's ability to react and respond rapidly to any growing crisis in the region, far outweighs the modest investment that NATO has made. Strategic Communications and messaging are an important part of our daily role and further enhance NATO's ability to send a clear signal to any would-be aggressor that any provocation or attack against a member state would be met with a robust response. As I speak, we are actively involved in supporting and facilitating the forthcoming and rapid deployment of eFP in each of our respective countries, which are being tailored to compliment and strengthen the very capable Host Nation Defence Forces. There can be little doubt that these enhancements, which will all have been put in place in a little over 18 months, will strengthen NATO's Eastern Flank.


Wg Cdr Attrill with Mr Simon Dewing from JWC's Scenario Section. Photo by JWC PAO.




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The focus of NFIUs is on rapid, seamless deployment of NATO high readiness forces throughout Europe. There are troops, mechanized brigades with military equipment, battle tanks and helicopters in this picture. As a C2 unit, how does this work in practice for you? It is not an easy task to be able to command and control the movement of 40,000 troops within two to seven days.