Home » Foreign Forces » U.S. Naval Commander in Europe: NATO Needs to Adapt to Russia’s New Way of Hybrid Warfare


U.S. Naval Commander in Europe: NATO Needs to Adapt to Russia’s New Way of Hybrid Warfare

Adm. Mark Ferguson at The Atlantic Council on Oct. 6, 2015. Atlantic Council Image

Adm. Mark Ferguson at The Atlantic Council on Oct. 6, 2015. Atlantic Council Image

Russia has found ways to slow NATO military responses while simultaneously quickening its own ability to mobilize, the commander of U.S. naval forces in Europe and Africa said, and NATO needs to find ways to adapt.

Adm. Mark Ferguson, who also commands the Allied Joint Force Command in Naples, Italy, said at the Atlantic Council on Tuesday that Russia has not only expanded its presence – in the Atlantic Ocean, the Arctic, the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea and now in the Mediterranean Sea – but has deployed more sophisticated weaponry and has introduced an element of hybrid warfare that keeps NATO unsure of how to respond.

“The language coming from the Russian military reflects the mindset and actions characteristic of direct challenge and confrontation with NATO. What makes this approach troubling is hybrid warfare coupled with the ever-present threat of the full application of robust conventional and nuclear forces,” Ferguson said.
“Russia has also introduced new capabilities, such as newer and more stealthy nuclear-powered attack and ballistic missile defense submarines. They are also expanding the reach of their conventional submarines with advanced cruise missiles. Just last month the first Caliber [cruise missile]-equipped Kilo-class submarine transited from the North Sea to the Black Sea, the first of six, bringing within its range the eastern half of Europe.”

What makes the military buildup tricky for NATO is that Russia has also leveraged space and cyber and waded into information and hybrid warfare that is “designed to cripple the decision-making cycle of the alliance. Their capabilities have focused on the creation of ambiguity.”

“On land, Russia exploits ethnic and religious divisions, makes use of an aggressive information campaign, and extensively uses misinformation and deception to delegitimize the forces under attack while confusing the attribution of their actions,” Ferguson said, adding that the Russian Navy has also attempted to disrupt decision-cycles at sea.

At the same time, “to execute swiftly, they are also centralizing their national and military decision-making. We are seeing more frequent snap exercises focused on rapid mobilization and movement directed by central headquarters, to include their naval forces, where we have seen large numbers of ships get underway with little or no notice.”

The end result, he said, is that conditions change faster than NATO’s chain of command can keep up with, with alliance leaders hesitant to stake out a course of action in the midst of so much uncertainty.

During a question and answer session, Ferguson said that NATO has taken some steps to quicken its response time, such as creating a Very High Readiness Joint Task Force and forward stationing some equipment. However, he said the Supreme Allied Commander of Europe and the NATO North Atlantic Council would need to find ways to more rapidly give authorities and permission to respond to crises. Ferguson said Russia has proven several times how quickly it can surprise NATO allies with action, and NATO needs to be more responsive and be able to have the mechanisms to make the decisions quicker” – which in part will require greater situational awareness on the ground.

Additionally, “We may have to think differently about how we set up our command structures in response to speed and surprise,” he said later at the event.

Ferguson said in his presentation that NATO needed to further adapt in several ways. First, alliance members should invest in training at the high end of the warfare scale. Naval forces should be on-call for real-world events, to reduce mobilization time, and those forces need to invest in new technologies to keep up with Russian investment.

He noted that budgets are tight across Europe, but that to upgrade the allies’ militaries with equipment resistant to space and cyber warfare, “in this era of fiscal limits, allies should pool resources and form consortiums to purchase or lease the capabilities the U.S. may possess.”

Ferguson also noted that European forces are struggling to maintain current force levels, let alone grow them. The size of allied navies needs to at least stay steady, and those navies must participate in more live-fire exercises such as the upcoming Trident Juncture and the annual Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) exercise that took place in June.

Ferguson also said in response to a question that he has held meetings with Russian Navy officials to discuss incidents between the United States and Russia, which he described as professional. He said that ship-to-ship interactions between U.S. and Russian forces have also remained professional and responsible but that “we have seen more aggressive behavior from the air forces and aircraft overflights.”

  • Curtis Conway

    Not having Proactive Presence ‘in place’ does provide some unique response challenges, doesn’t it?

    The US Navy 6th Fleet must be bolstered and/or reconstituted with a constant full time presence requirement employing a full time command/flag ship, ARG presence/Light Carrier presence based upon the USS America Class (LHA-6) with no less than 20 F-35Bs on board. This Super MAG can function reasonably well without organic AEW&C support within the confines of the Mediterranean. Given a threat environment requiring that support, it can be provided by numerous land based AEW aircraft capable Allied air forces, US AWACS, or E-2D Detachments ashore. The additional amphibious ships present will provide Navy Expeditionary Combat Command operations as required.

    An ARG / MAGTF can fill the Light Carrier spot until a light carrier is available, or an Allied carrier [1,000 ship navy?] can fill that need, if they are willing.

    • redgriffin

      What we have to do also is define what exactly the European Forces are in this operation. It can not be just the role of the US to keep forces in Europe and have European Forces do nothing. Until we do that we can never have proactive peace.

      • Curtis Conway

        1,000 ship Navy?

        • Secundius

          @ Curtis Conway.

          Star Fleet, MAYBE. Terrestrial Earth Bound Navy, “PROBABLY NOT”…

          • Curtis Conway

            I applied to Star Fleet once . . . they never got back to me.

          • vetww2

            I may be going there soon. Most of my buddies have already been accepted.

          • Secundius

            @ Curtis Conway.

            Got a GOLD Shirt myself, didn’t Now ALL the RED SHIRT’S were Filled. You probably Look Good In RED…

          • Curtis Conway

            No. I’m a Gold Shirt!

          • Secundius

            @ Curtis Conway.

            I was referring to the Original Series, not TNG…

          • Curtis Conway

            I admire Capt. Picard, but identify with Capt. James Tiberius Kirk.

        • redgriffin

          No country is going to build a 1,000 ship navy because the infrastructure to build your ships expeditiously no longer exists.

          • Curtis Conway

            Hey redgriffin . . . get with the program. No one is building a 1,000 ship navy. Our former CNO (that’s Chief of Naval Operations) made a speech some time ago and proposed all Free-World Navies should ban together to participate in protecting the world as one unit. He characterized it as the . . . 1,000 Ship Navy.

          • redgriffin

            Hey Chris read the whole conversation I think I said that all ready.

          • Navyjag907

            I don’t think you did. Were you aware of the former CNO’s use of the construct of a thousand ship navy? Your comment didn’t indicate that.

          • redgriffin

            Oh I forgot that no one on this blog understand irony so let me say this right out there will NEVER be a 1000 ship navy ever due the lack of infrastructure . Oh and a total lack of Naval strategy n this country.

          • Navyjag907

            Subsequent to WWII no one has ever planned for a US 1000 ship navy. The term 1000 ship navy was used by one of our CNOs to indicate the ships that might be available if the navies of our friends and allies were aggregated and used through planning, exercises, and deployments. The term went by the wayside but it was a clever idea. Lack of infrastructure and lack of naval strategy and a failure to understand irony had nothing to do with the demise of the idea. It was never a program; it was just a PR idea. Your attack of it as a programmatic failure might confuse some people which is why I discussed it.

          • Secundius

            @ Navyjag907.

            At the Official End of World War Two, on 31 December 1946. The US Navy had a Sum Total of 71,009-Ship’s of Various Classes. More then TWICE of the Combined Total of all the other World Navies put together, including to One’s We Destroyed…

          • Navyjag907

            We had a giant fleet but I think they counted every LCVP to get to that figure.

          • disqus_zommBwspv9

            I don’t think they counted the LCVP’s but most likey the LCI, LCU, PC, subchasers, and fleet Tugboats (maybe the Yard Oilers, and Large Harbor Tugs.

          • Navyjag907

            If they counted only “real” ships like CVs, BBs, CBs, CAs, CLs, CVES, DDs, DEs, SSs, and the auxilliaries, it would be under 2,000, I think. Still gigantic but 71,000 really misstates it by counting every rowboat.

          • disqus_zommBwspv9

            Been into various sources So I think some took something out of context. How about the US Navy at the time of VJ Day had 70 percent of the vessels in the world that exceeded 1000 tons. As far as actual numbers I found figures ranging from 6,800 to 6,600 total ships.

          • redgriffin

            Or it will open some eyes to the truth this nation has a 75 year old naval strategy based on a historic text written over 100 years ago. Jag I know you hate me an you know what I wear your hate as a badge of pride.

          • Navyjag907

            Hate you? That’s a strange comment.

          • redgriffin

            Rowlol

          • Curtis Conway

            Someone with psycological skills need to visit long with you.

          • redgriffin

            psychological help the fall back line of the masses how quant.

  • uncaherb

    I think reviewing Adolph Hitler’s early plans for bordering countries in 1939 might be a good start, I think that is what Vlady and his cronies did.

    • redgriffin

      What Vladimir wants is not what Hitler wanted he wants what the Czars and Stalin wanted control of all countries in the Russian Sphere including the Baltic States, Ukraine Belarus, and all the rest of the old Soviet Union a weak and cowed Europe to the west and to figure out just how far he can push the US not NATO but the US before we say uncle because he miscalculated on the response to Ukraine and Crimea.

      • uncaherb

        End game may be different but protecting “Russian Citizens” is sure a familiar excuse…

        • redgriffin

          It always is an excellent excuse even t he US has used it several times. Still all one has to do to verify what I said is read some history Russia has never been repeatedly attacked from the east but it has from the West It’s defense rested on a buffer of Eastern European Nations most of which are now in NATO or the EU or both and being able to cow it’s immediate neighbors ,Finland and Sweden into a quiet submission to it’s will what it has right now is all of Europe in arms and it has to see if the US will really fight or even back up NATO in a fight for the Baltic Countries or wither it will back down.

  • Mr. Speaker

    Crawl back to your cave

  • vetww2

    I can remember the good old days when the Russkies had to adapt to OUR in initiatives.

    • bee bop

      We are no longer in the era of Khrushchev, but I doubt his threat of “we will bury you,” as he hammered his shoe on the podium, has been lost. And Putin, he’s just the goodwill guy. My grand father who had immigrated to the US at the age of eleven, 1880, with his family, left Prussia(Poland) when the Russians had control, said during the Cuban missile crisis you can never trust them(Russians). Grandpa died Jan. 1964 at the age of 95. I don’t think his view has changed.

    • disqus_zommBwspv9

      That I can remember too.

  • vetww2

    SHAHT UP.

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  • disqus_zommBwspv9

    So no nato air power buildup of Crypus, Crete, Sciliy

  • John B. Morgen

    NATO and the United States are not all that unified to respond quickly to Russia’s little games, and i seriously doubt if NATO ever will be or could unified under one roof. The same old problem—too many political interests and without a single leader. Russia can run a monk all they want and make circles around NATO, if NATO doesn’t take any concrete action.

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  • bee bop

    Looks like the Russian economy is in for the long haul. Today on one of the channels…CNN, etc…a Russian bank in a nicely done commercial was soliciting assets to be invested in that bank.

  • bee bop

    Considering the planting of a high number of operatives to de-Nazi-fy the East Germans following the end of WWII, where did those operatives(the unseen) all go before our illustrious President Reagan called out…Mr. Gorbachov, tear down that wall! They didn’t go back to mother Russia for a badge similar to Charlie Wilson of “Charlie Wilson’s War” movie, as the clandestine service.

  • bass_man86

    While we focus on public relations and touchy feely issues our opponents are focused on the mission! Shame on our leadership for failing to actually lead!

  • bee bop

    ARMAGEDDON! This is definitely a game of “chicken!” How do they know which Syrians to bomb, they all look alike. Sharpening their claws for post-election.

  • sferrin

    It’s called “chicken” and given the complete lack of a spine in Washington Putin is taking full advantage. Not really much of a “strategy” and it certainly won’t work against a foe willing to stand up for itself.

    • disqus_zommBwspv9

      I agree with you