"We will be conducting today's Situation Awareness Brief (SAB) without the aid of our prepared briefings," U.S. Army Col. Brandon Smith, Assistant Chief of Staff for Operations for NRDC-T said Wednesday. "We are going full analog due to a cyber attack that just took down our servers."
This alleged cyber attack was not a real world incident, but rather a deliberate scenario "inject" designed to ween the war fighting headquarters away from sole reliance on digital systems in the conduct of staff operations. To simulate a cyber contested environment, the exercise HICON team from LANDCOM — the group acting as the exercise Joint Task Force Command — figured this minor planned cyber hardship was the least they could do to give NRDC-T an authentic experience.
"Cyber attacks are a very real possibility in today's operational environment," said British Army Lt. Col. Matt Cann, LANDCOM's HICON operations officer. "Taking away their ability to run a daily briefing using digital products is just a small taste of what COULD be effected in the event an adversary conducts a successful cyber intrusion."
NRDC-T conducted the command post exercise November 29 - December 6 near their Istanbul headquarters. This was a major step in their preparation for a December 2020 combat readiness evaluation (CREVAL) designed to certify NRDC-T for their role as the NATO Response Force 2021 land component.
The exercise control organization, or EXCON — the hub of training operations for NATO exercises — designs exercises to meet the aims and objectives of the training audience, in this case NRDC-T. EXCON ensured EAST 19 ran according to pre-planned events designed to provide incidents and dilemmas to steer the decision making and planning processes of the training audience. The LANDCOM HICON team's role in this scenario was to support the EXCON by emulating the joint task force headquarters role for the training audience to help facilitate these processes. They also provided land domain coaching and mentoring to NRDC-T during the conduct of the exercise.
Providing this land expertise and advice was not limited to the LANDCOM members. With augmentees from NRDC Italy and Joint Forces Command Naples, LANDCOM demonstrated a successful blend of NATO Command Structure and NATO Force Structure entities in support of NATO exercises. Italian Army Col. Massimo Crocco, LANDCOM Deputy HICON Chief, reported this success to U.S. Army Lt. Gen. J.T. Thomson, LANDCOM Commander, during his visit to EAST 19 on distinguished visitor day.
"The composition of my team is a perfect example of how to execute mutual training support," said Col. Massimo Crocco. "This ensured an environment where the training audience was able to reach their training goals."
During all phases of the exercise, HICON proved a powerful tool for the exercise director in enabling NRDC-T to achieve their training objectives. In addition to training in a non-Article V crisis response operation, the aim of the exercise was to integrate NRDC-T and their Very High Readiness Task Force Brigade (TUR VJTF Bde) in preparation for NRF 2021. It also served as a primer for some HICON augmentees whose commands will have a NRF role the same year.
"EAST 19 provided a fantastic opportunity to integrate with the LANDCOM team and develop the working relationship between Joint Force Command Naples Operations Division and NRDC-T, as both are preparing for their NATO Response Force responsibilities in 2021," said British Royal Navy Lt. Cdr. William Inglis. "These exercises are essential, not only for those conducting the exercise to train, but also for higher commands such as JFC Naples to send staff and observe how subordinates will conduct their operations," he said.
During his closing comments at the end of the SAB, retired Lt. Gen. Ethem Erdagl, senior exercise mentor to NRDC-T Commander, Turkish Lt. Gen. Kemal Yeni, referred back to NRDC-T's mitigation of the cyber attack with words of praise for how the organization handled the set back. He also had some advice.
"This was good practice, you were well prepared, and you gave [good] guidance," said the former NRDC-T and ISAF commander. He then implored the staff to maximize the training opportunity by making these types of exercise situations as difficult as possible.
"Every day we have VTC problems even without cyber attack," he said. "Have liaison officers brief on behalf of the commanders" to fully exercise staff operations [in a degraded environment], said Lt. Gen. Erdag.
This was and is sage advice for any organization preparing for their role as part of NATO's response forces now and in the future.
Lt. Col. T. Dettmer - LANDCOM Public Affairs