NATO Force Integration Unit gets own house

Oliver Kund
, reporter
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Established a year ago and thus far operating in a section of the Defence Forces headquarters, the 41-member NATO Force Integration Unit today receives a building of its own. As proven by the recent Trident Juncture 2016 exercises, Estonia is now in full readiness to receive NATO Response Force as urgency arises. 

«Our main task is to have an everyday awareness of the facilities Estonia is able to provide to a military force of considerable size to arrive in case of crisis to secure national defence. We need to detect deficiencies and swiftly forward the information to NATO,» said deputy head of NATO Force Integration Unit in Estonia (NFIU), UK Lieutenant Colonel Mark Attrill.

While located right next to the headquarters, the NATO Force Integration Unit’s main contact point is Multinational Corps North-East in Szczecin, Poland. In a word, they are the link between Estonian state and governmental agencies and NATO.

«Naturally, a large part of that information comes from Estonian authorities, but more is obtained from a much wider range of sources including commercial entities,» said Attrill. For that, NFIU  contains officers of various specialisations tasked with maintaining the needed information network in Estonia. «It is not that we would address an issue differently from the government; rather, that we have to translate it into language understandable to NATO.»

Quality communication

In addition to renovation costs of the building, the state allotted €170,500 for improvement of operational allied communication. «We have our own accommodation, and additional planning space and facilities. This gives us full communication capacity with the rest of NATO which we did not have in the current building. Now, we are really connected into every activity needed to ensure the arrival of the troops,» explained Lieutenant Colonel Attrill.

Bringing in 40,000 allied troops in 3–30 days is no easy feat. In case of crisis, what would arrive first is a 5,000 member Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, a VJTF, followed by the rest of NATO Response Force (NRF). The soldiers do not need to come from afar, as at the moment two mechanised companies of Scoutsbattalion are part of NRF.

Estonian NFIU, half of which are Estonian officers and the rest from allied NATO states, will have to support transport of troops to Estonia in crisis. In times of peace, they help planners and participate in exercises. NFIU’s main partner is Defence Forces and defence ministry, as well as  Estonian host nation command committee.

The NFIU was put to the test recently within the second stage of Trident Juncture 2016, the scenario being Estonia under attack of a fictitious foe named Bothnia.

Last week, NATO rapid response corps trained on Estonian terrain to battle Bothnia. In addition to supporting them, FFIU was to host JFC Naples OLRT composed of 20 men.

Swiftly to each state

The Team leader Rear Admiral Kent Whalen told Postimees that his team is usually among the first to start working in a crisis area. They are responsible to a 100-member planning team from the Major Subordinate Command which, depending on the rotation, takes decisions from Naples, Italy of Brunssum, Holland. In order to make the right decisions, the Command needs to receive lots of detailed information during a very short time span.

«In our team, some are experts in civilian-military cooperation, some are reconnaissance or logistics experts,» said Whalen. «It is important to get the information on how we would potentially bring in NATO troops, supply them with food and ammunition. We could do all that by phone, but when you sit down and get direct information, it is more valuable.»

According to Whalen, NATO is striving towards troops transported to every member state during the prescribed time. He said Estonians may rest quite assured that here this is possible.

He main motivation for use of rapid response forces would be NATO article 5, but they can also be used on other basis such as request for help by an allied state. Thus far, NRF has only been used four times since it was created; all were non-military instances: in 2004 at Athens Olympics and Presidential elections in Afghanistan; in 2005 after hurricane Katrina, and in 2006 to liquidate consequences of Pakistani earthquake.