Poland is rapidly increasing the size and capability of its Armed Forces. Uniformed personnel are one part of a Whole Force mix. Commander-led action will be needed urgently to turn the rhetoric of the ‘Whole Force’ into a military/industry reality. This action is integral to – not separate from – the wider Force re-design and re-set of capabilities being conducted in Poland and across NATO. My remarks are framed as considerations for Commanders, especially those at more senior levels. Not to undermine the key role of acquisition experts. But because the declaration of military capability as ‘ready to fight’ is a function of command. Poland and other Allies might be interested in the UK experience where the Whole Force is still a fragmented Force. Fixing this (and avoiding the pitfalls) is an operational leadership imperative not just a technical contracting problem. In crisis and in war the industry private sector ‘component’ must be indivisible from the public sector components. Critical industry support cannot be assumed in crisis and conflict, unless it was designed and has been tested for this purpose. Many of the supposedly Whole Force commercial constructs that underpin UK’s fighting power today (and likely across NATO) pre-date the invasions of Ukraine in 2022 and even 2014. They are the product of profoundly different strategic imperatives and assumptions. This is not a criticism, but it is a fact. It will require military leaders to engage personally, to find, avoid and where necessary fill the worst gaps. To direct prioritised campaigns to first identify and then rectify assumptions and commercial constructs that are unfit.
In keynote remarks at WSF the Chairman of NATO’s Military Committee challenged nations to develop forces and capabilities fit to deter and win a war on NATO’s eastern flank. Are mission-critical industry partners in your military an adjunct to that campaign or integral to it? If they are held at arms-length and tasked when needed in legacy transactional relationships NATO nations will have undermined their own strategic foundations and cohesion. This paper does not explore whether the UK’s public-to-private sector transfer of the past 3-4 decades has been a good or bad thing. As with all capability solutions there are strengths and weaknesses. I have experienced exceptionally professional even gallant support from contractors in Northern Ireland, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. The UK could not have recaptured the Falklands without the heroic efforts of the Merchant Navy. But whatever one’s view of outsourcing, it is simply a fact that current UK Commanders have inherited – from my generation – a fragmented strategic landscape: one where industry is not consistently or fully integrated into operational structures, decision making, planning and training. Any organisation that is forging new relationships with industry should start from first principles. No General would accept their supporting artillery or engineers being treated as outsiders or leave vital readiness and force generation to contract managers. Because this is a strategic risk (and opportunity) fixing inherited anomalies and creating a NATO Whole Force it is not the sole preserve of commercial and procurement specialists. Without assured, timely, resilient partnerships forged into integrated, cohesive industry/military teams, Commanders and their troops across NATO will not be set up to win.
Whole Force… in Name Only?
After the Cold War Regular military forces were cut. Democracies took a peace dividend. This led to incremental outsourcing of military support in many functional areas to civilians. In UK it was done under peacetime assumptions and cultures. The result were contracts fit for more peaceful times. The extent and scope of the Whole Force transfer of mission-critical functions varies across the Alliance and domains, but typically includes aspects of equipment maintenance, repair, fleet management, logistics, communications and training. Industry ‘partnerships’ are now woven into the fabric of NATO’s strategic posture. These mutual dependencies take the form of technical contracts, and lack the clarity of an Order of Battle diagram or a State of Command more familiar to military leaders. If the civilian, commercial part of the Whole Force is alien territory for most Commanders, this paper suggests 10 practical considerations, to help assess whether you have – or are creating – a Whole Force or a Fragmented Force. They are, frankly, things I wish I had thought of and done in my 3* command appointment.
Whole Force… a ‘Centre of Gravity’?
The excellent 2023 WSF Report describes the eastern flank as NATO’s “centre of gravity”. A centre of gravity can be a source of mission-winning strength or a vulnerability. Consider the Whole Force in this way. Any gap between the military and civilian parts of the Force will be exploited and attacked. Enemies love an open flank!
As we see in Ukraine and Gaza the character of war can evolve fast. Long-range multi-domain strike makes redundant old concepts of ‘lines of support’ and dispels the comfortable notion of a ‘safe rear area’. Factories, ports and storage hubs hundreds of kilometres from the close battle will be attacked whether they have a military badge or a company logo on the gate. And the range of core military tasks (cyber, for example) is also expanding, placing new demands on expanding but still finite numbers of military personnel and on budgets. These factors will combine to increase reliance on civilian partnerships. Third, despite predictions about technology replacing people, some old characteristics of war stubbornly refuse to go quietly. The battlefield exhibits some doggedly persistent characteristics, where fighting mass still matters. There will be more tasks than there are uniformed troops to do them, which means that if a task has a low military element, it might need to be done by a civilian.
It seems unlikely that there will be wholesale reversal of a decades-long trend of incremental outsourcing of mission-critical functions. Industry is already in the Force with which NATO will fight. But often in an odd semi-detached relationship. The conflicts of the past three decades have been discretionary and expeditionary: they were limited ‘wars of choice’ not existential wars to defend our homelands. Unsurprisingly, this Whole Force construct was not fully tested against today’s scenarios. Is the Whole Force resilient or brittle and how can we test it? Are key relationships, commercial contracts, governance ‘chains of command’ and habits, ingrained over more than 30 years of taking peace dividends, unfit today? Commanders own this risk.
Authoritarian regimes decide and act faster than democratic Governments and Alliances. There will not be time in a crisis to re-negotiate arrangements that have accrued in peace. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) set in contracts designed in less dangerous times probably do not reflect what Commanders need today. Commanders make personal assessments of the true nature and readiness of their own uniformed capabilities, using a combination of data and intuition. They lead military force design. Commanders (including myself!) however, have been far less engaged when it comes to knowing the readiness and true capabilities of the non-military – but mission-critical parts – of the Whole Force. And they should be engaged in ‘force design’ which is when key services are re-framed and re-competed. Integration – to the maximum extent possible – can bring to bear the latent power of industry and protect its vulnerabilities. These 10 Considerations set out ways by which a Commander can quickly assess whether they have – or are on track to create – an integrated military/industry Whole Force.
If you are a Commander supported by industry, I suggest that you familiarise yourself with the key features of contracts that might have been negotiated before you took command to support you or your predecessors. When was the contract competed and awarded? If the competition was run pre-2022 or even pre-2014 it was designed in a different military strategic epoch. Does the contract make it clear, to you and to industry, what is expected – of both parties – in peace, in crisis and in war? Does it prioritise ‘cost effectiveness’ (price) or ‘operational effectiveness’ (resilience)? How flexible is it, and what are the critical dependencies – on both sides? This does not need deep technical or commercial expertise, just the kind of probing that all Commanders do visiting a subordinate HQ or battlefield circulation. How does it ‘feel’? Is the contract a peacetime Monday-to-Friday sort of construct, and if so, does that meet your intent? What vital changes are needed – now – if you require a different quantity or quality of service and ask how quickly can a Contract Change be enacted? Perhaps something as simple but critical as short-notice 24/7 manning. Understanding, shaping, re-setting and re-framing the main features of your key support and enabling contracts is as important as specifying requirements for a new tank or assessing the readiness of your lead Brigade Combat Team.
As the next step, having got yourself up to speed you might test whether your industry partners really understand what they signed up to, and how that risk is evolving. What intelligence do you share? They read about the wars in Ukraine and Gaza, and they see Poland doubling the strength of its Armed Forces, but do they even see themselves as being in NATO’s Whole Force? Do they understand the nuance in your language of ‘deter’ and ‘defeat’ – how the two are seamless and so signing up to one implies committing to the other?
Having established if you have common ‘rules of engagement’ in tests 1 and 2, ask your CEO counterpart if and if so, how they know the resilience of their own organisations and supply chains. They might need your help. An integrated Lessons Learnt (L2) process can galvanise and focus their gap analysis creating a shared sense of mission. The UK MOD has done some excellent Ukraine L2 collaborative work with industry. Industry is being asked for its views, and the classified meetings have served as a prompt to many on the civilian side to look hard at their own resilience. More of this structured collaborative predictive analysis will help de-risk your war plans. L2 can indicate where dormant risk lies. When we mounted the Second Gulf War and started transporting equipment into UK ports civilian drivers found roads blocked by peaceful protesters. Contractor’s drivers were reticent to cross picket lines. This caused operational delays. Do you know how industry personnel policies might impact your logistic operational plans in a time of intense tension in Europe? A dormant but high readiness Sponsored Reserve (SR) element to the contract can add resilience to the Whole Force. Poland is doing ground-breaking imaginative work to expand the Army’s recruiting base eg one-year engagements. SR could be part of this transformation. The same driver, putting on their uniform and obeying lawful military commands, might reduce vulnerability to disruption. SR can also buy you valuable time, by surging below the political threshold whilst awaiting decisions on full mobilisation. An open L2 culture and processes will help highlight these options.
Wargames (tabletop scenario exercises and ROCC Drills) are excellent tools, as every Commander knows. Run a half-day wargame of ‘the road to war’ with your industry opposite numbers. Mission Command is a powerful lever. But it will only work in a crisis if it is understood, accepted and applied in peacetime. Wargaming a range of credible scenarios will quickly expose flawed assumptions – on all sides. And wargaming is the natural sequel to a L2 session. It will focus the commercial staffs’ expertise and scarce resources on the critical gaps that you need filling first.
Going further with integration, can you involve industry CEOs and their Leadership Teams (SLTs) in your real contingency planning? Strive to have the same quality of relationship and understanding as you would in any military supported/supporting state of command. Could their liaison teams embed in your HQ with all the benefits of trust and agility deriving from physical colocation? Armies invented ‘headquarters’ so it seems odd if the Whole Force is excluded. An exemplar is the integrated military/industry Equipment Support (ES) Branch in the British Army’s 1st Division Headquarters. Uniformed ES experts and their Babcock counterparts work as one team-of-teams. You might invite industry leaders to take part in your terrain tours and staff rides to fully-understand and anticipate your requirements, and to create a non-commercial ‘safe space’ in which they can offer their advice. They have skills that can help Commanders to craft stronger military solutions. They will bring their distinctive expertise to bear on the most wicked problems, but only if they know the Commander’s intent – as in any war-ready Formation.
The 6th area that Commanders might test is whether your key partners train with you. Do they take part in your force generation and warfighting exercises? Not just to support them, but to be exercised – as players. Militaries train constantly. It is how they learn their craft, test concepts, select leaders, and send strategic messages. It is how armies create cohesion; that hard to define, ‘know it when you feel it’ quality. Industry must hone their craft, build their teams and learn with you, your Commanders and staffs. To feel part of your team. As General Petraeus said, “You can’t surge trust.” ‘Train as you fight’ is only true if it is true across the breadth and depth of the whole Whole Force.
As with the military decision-making process familiar to all Commanders, there are key moments in a competition for a new critical service or piece of equipment where Commanders can have huge – and entirely legitimate – impact. In my experience most combat-stream officers see ‘commercial’ as a dark art at best and a mine field to be avoided at worst. I was over-cautious in this regard. I regret being too detached from anything with a commercial element, and for staying too firmly within my military comfort zone. Take advice on the legalities for sure but make clear what outcomes you expect. Setting and competing contracts for the Whole Force in my Army has tended to be the purview of acquisition experts. Engaging early, as you do with mission analysis when campaign planning, means Commanders can ensure that scoring parameters weight the right things. Early, appropriate engagement in the design of all key competitions (its ‘intent, concept and scheme of manoeuvre’ in military parlance) will help ensure the scoring system evaluates different competitor’s cultures and behaviours. Getting the language right in the competition may seem obvious but, in my experience, cannot be taken for granted. Officers know that a ‘hasty attack’ is different to a ‘deliberate attack’; ‘management’ is not the same as ‘transformation’. What do you, the Commander, require, in peace, in crisis and in war? Lots of competitions have ‘transformation’ in the title. Do you want transformation? If you do want ‘transformation’ that implies a deliberate disruption of the existing model, aiming for significantly different outcomes, be that in performance and/or cost. It also implies a higher risk appetite. And transformation will call for different skills. Getting the ‘mission verbs’ in the competition and the contract right is essential and is Commanders’ business. Choosing partners involves art as well as science. Your experts will guide you, but I suggest you seek advice early to establish ways to inject timely appropriate ‘command intent’ into the science of commercial processes.
So, with Test 7 in mind, how to judge whether your potential partner can – and will – change their ways of working to suit your evolving operational demands? Can they help you to bridge from business as usual to be ready for the crisis? Babcock provides the British Army’s deep expertise in AFV powerpack repair (and as an aside is repairing battle damaged gifted equipment in Poland). The Company is one of several required to provide SR under a prescient clause in their contract. But the use of SR is still relatively rare. This is a missed opportunity and an open goal for force designers. Under special terms of service, in this case Babcock is mandated to provide a cohort of SR highly experienced engineers. If the peace dividend has cut into your uniformed specialist capabilities, or you are finding more tasks than Regular troops to do them, can you make use of focused, mission-limited Reserve service stipulated in your key contracts? Should some of your partner executives be SR? Is the organisation with which you are partnering able to recruit and retain people with this ethos of service, in good times and in bad?
Once your partners are involved in L2, wargaming, training etc use the threat assessments you receive to help understand the consequences of enemy action for your industry partners as well as for your military force elements. What parts of your plan are vulnerable through direct or subversive attacks on your industrial partners? Are they considered in the higher-level strategic Force Protection concept? Your mission-critical industry partners will be targeted. Attacks during war will include physical disruption throughout the depth of NATO’s area. But more subtle hybrid operations will include disinformation to attack and undermine your Whole Force partners’ reputation and their share price, early in or even before the crisis. Enemies will seek to use the free market against us. Can National and Alliance leaderships help defend your civilian partners so that they are in a fit state to support you?
The final ‘test’ returns to the notion of command as art and science combined. Commanders develop a sixth sense. Having applied the tests above, when you look your industry CEO counterpart in the eye, what do you see? Trust, especially between leaders, is a critical factor in crisis and war. Whatever the contract says, will your industry partner stand with you in a crisis? I did not spend nearly enough time with my industry counterparts and frankly, could not have answered this question. I have discovered since that companies are very different. They are united by free-market motives, but their cultures and values vary. Military readers will be familiar with ‘fighting power’ as a way of assessing true capability. The physical component (a compatible IT system) and the conceptual component (an approach to improving productivity) are relatively easy to assess in a traditional competition and through KPIs once a contract is signed. But in a real crisis, it is the third component of fighting power that is often decisive. Assessing the moral component (the will as well as the skill to see the mission completed) is largely (perhaps entirely?) absent from standard assessments of potential industry partners. The intense pressures in a crisis or war will be similar for the military and civilian parts of the team. Babcock delivers training for the British Army. Their motto is “Whatever it takes.” That is a strategic commitment and is not made lightly. If any part of your military capability depends upon an industry partner, evaluating its moral component is a matter for Commander’s judgement as well as commercial staff rigour.
Poland is modernising its Armed Forces at impressive pace. Creating a true Whole Force is equally important. It demands at least the same urgency as the Force modernisation the Chairman called for at WSF.
Author: Paul Newton, former British Army officer and Director of Exeter University’s Strategy and Security
 Whole Force: the optimum mix of Military Regular and Reservists, Civil Servants and Civilian Contractors
 NATO stands for shared democratic values under-pinned by credible military hard power and enabled by a vibrant free market. A true Whole Force can fuse and exploit these strategic strengths.