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Friday, January 1, 2010

JPR on the Back Burner, Until the Heat is On

By Andrew Drwiega

Military | Personnel Recovery

The military business of Joint Personnel Recovery (JPR) is low down the priority list of many a General and politician. Low down that is, until a hostage appears on an Arabic media channel such as al Jazeera or a pilot is shot down and needs rescuing, or civilians need extracting from a rapidly deteriorating situation (usually in the glare of the world’s media). It is then that the ‘great and the good’ expect a force to be instantly available to successfully achieve the right result with consummate perfection.

Such is the world of the military rescue force fraternity. One clear message coming from all of the speakers on the first day of the Joint Personnel Recovery Conference staged by Defence IQ in London, UK, was that there are always shortages of funding, interoperability (not only internationally but also between forces of the same nation) and equipment. The definition of military rescue—is it PR or CSAR—can be debated, although the genre is usually defined by the scale of the force available, the breadth and depth of the training of its personnel, and the level of difficulty (threat) of the mission ahead.

Those within the international PR community do realize the scope of the challenge whenever they are called. There has been a general increase internationally in survive, evade, resist, extract (SERE) training and organizations such as the European Air Group that are trying to draw individual nations together to conduct multinational, interoperability training. But with rotary wing assets as a premium, the buy-in of some key nations has proven hard to secure.

There is also some duplication of effort in developing standard operating procedures (SOPs) and doctrines. While NATO has been the standard for most member states to follow, the drive to create a European-only capability seems to be causing confusion, especially in regard to which processes (already proven) should be adopted. It is obvious that some organizations seem intent on ‘re-inventing the wheel’. Even when resources and assets do get into a theatre of operations, they are quickly seen by ground commanders as resources that can be used in a multi-functional sort of way—including ISTAR roles—rather than kept and utilized as the specialist assets they are. Due to the conference taking place under the Chatham House Rule (meaning this writer cannot identify who said what), I can nevertheless provide unattributed quotes to give a flavor of the discussions taking place:

“It is a real challenge to get an overall picture when fighting a war.” Comment made regarding the difficulty of monitoring the potential requirement for, and incidents involving, some kind of PR or CSAR mission during a period of operational deployment.

“We’ve been down the road with common platforms, but it doesn’t scratch everyone’s ears. I don’t see one common capability.” The “one solution fits all” approach that financiers would have us believe clearly has detractors from the operating community.

“It is a training challenge. We just can’t put all those people through the (SERE) program.” Comment regarding the need to potentially provide some type of PR training to the increasing number of civilian contractors working in operational theatres.

“The PR system is more than just a set of equipment.” Just because you have all the kit, doesn’t mean that everyone automatically knows how it works, nationally or internationally.

“People [military] don’t have time or capacity to do all the mandated training—and SERE is taking the hit.” Units are squeezed on training time, and finances, and often SERE training is one of the first items to be scrubbed off the list. The choice can be: range time (defending yourself) or SERE training. You can live without the latter, but not the former.

“You can use any asset [for PR] as long as you can mitigate the threat to that asset.” And the best way of doing that is by employing an asset [training] that won’t make the mistake of getting itself into trouble.

“Afghanistan has been a steep learning curve for us. Our guys carry a lot of equipment in case things go out of control.” If there was ever a case of ‘expect the unexpected,’ conducting a rescue mission is one of the worst times to learn that lesson. —By Andrew Drwiega at the 2009 Joint Personnel Recovery Conference in London, UK.

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