OPCON of Austrian Armed Forces in International Operations
Austria’s Participation in Peace Support Operations
The Austrian Armed Forces have a long peacekeeping tradition that dates back to the late 19th century. It was already in 1897 when troops from the former Austro-Hungarian Monarchy were playing a decisive role within a combined joint peacekeeping task force, formed of British, French, German and Montenegrinian soldiers and operating on the Island of Crete. The aim of this very first Austria-related peacekeeping operation was the preservation of peace between the opposing Greek and Turk populations. Austria was taking part with an infantry task force and 17 warships. The operation lasted from 25 March 1897 until 12 April 1998.
Very shortly after the creation of the Second Republic of Austria, our Armed Forces were offering their support to the maintenance of peace by deploying a medical unit to the Republic of Congo in 1960. This deployment was the beginning of a long-lasting and still ongoing engagement of Austrian troops in the vast field of peace support activities, with currently 15 different missions worldwide (see map on page 42) in which Austrian soldiers are involved.
At the moment, our main peace support operations efforts focus on the Golan Heights, on the Kosovo and especially on Bosnia and Herzegovina, where Austria has taken over the MNTF North as the lead nation in December 2005, thus for the first time commanding a multinational brigade-sized task force consisting of 13 nations.
Since 1960, altogether some 60,000 Austrian troops and individual soldiers have been deployed to peace support operations abroad.
Preparation and Execution of Peace Support Operations
Such an intensive and worldwide contribution to international peace support requires, of course, thorough planning and efficient management. At the moment the Austrian International Operations Command (AUTINT), deployed in Graz, Styria is the main headquarters responsible for peace support operations of the Austrian Armed Forces.
The AUTINT’s main responsibilities are: - Planning for international operations on operational level; - Planning and execution of training for forces earmarked for deployment; - National C2I measures on operational level; - International cooperation activities; - Civil-military cooperation in crisis areas; - Personnel management; - Budget and finance planning for operations abroad.
Formation and Preparation
Currently, personnel for missions abroad can be recruited on a voluntary basis, which means that no Austrian soldier can forced to serve abroad. This applies both to soldiers on active duty and reservists. Nevertheless, for each career soldier it is favourable to gain international experience. This is probably the reason why Austrian peacekeeping contingents on an average are composed of 60 per cent soldiers on active duty and 40 per cent reservists.
The Austrian Land Forces are the main force provider and they generally prepare units for missions abroad.
To increase operational readiness, Austria has invented the FIOP system. FIOP stands for "Forces for International Operations” and consists of standing units and non-standing units.
Soldiers who wish to serve abroad have to pass an aptitude test, including a medical check-up, a physical fitness test and psychological screening. Only when they have passed these tests, they receive different kinds of pre-mission training, i.e. general training, specific training tailored to their job within the peace support operation, and unit training, where the task force’s operational capability is checked as a whole - the so-called "force integration training” (FIT). When the task force or the individual soldiers, e. g. observers, staff members etc., are assessed to be fully operational, they are deployed abroad. The deployment requires close cooperation between the AUTINT, the Austrian Air Force Command, and the Joint Service Support Command.
Once the soldiers are in their mission area, they get further support via the AUTINT operation centre, which is manned 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This so-called follow-on support comprises logistical re-supply, soldier and family care (see below), and a multitude of other matters for which Austria is responsible. All other affairs are taken care of by the military commander in the field to which the Austrian forces are assigned. As a principle, Austria tries to optimize the commitment of its forces to multinational units by minimizing its national constraints and accepting the already existing rules of engagement (ROEs) to the greatest extent possible.
Let us now have a closer look at two of Austria’s main peacekeeping missions abroad: The Austrian Battalion on the Golan Heights (AUSBATT/UNDOF) and the Austrian Contingent in the Kosovo (AUCON/KFOR).
AUSBATT/UNDOF has been deployed to the Golan Heights, Syria, with some 370 troops each since 1974. Since 1998, a Slovak unit has been part of the Austrian contingent. This "Golan Mission" is a typical Chapter VI mission under the UN Charta, i. e. a peacekeeping mission which, because of a newly established concept of operations, has become more dynamic. From the AUTINT point of view, the Golan provides the ideal environment to gather experience for other challenging peace support operations.
AUCON/KFOR has been operating in the NATO-led Kosovo mission since June 1999, currently committing some 580 troops. It forms, together with Swiss and German troops, the tri-national "Task Force Dulje”, which is part of the "Multinational Brigade Southwest” (MNB SW) led by Germany or Italy. Austria has made considerable investments to the Kosovo, e. g. a container camp consisting of more than 900 containers was set up in the town of Suva Reka, serving as an operations base for the Austrian KFOR troops.
Of course, Austria is also willing and able to contribute to the maintenance of peace at short notice, as it was the case with the Austrian contingent in Afghanistan, which, after a relatively short preparation period, could be dispatched to the area of Kunduz for security support operations of the Afghan general elections.
Logistic support is an essential precondition for the success of operations abroad. Individual soldiers or contingents send their supply requests to the AUTINT. In case they are connected to the Austrian military intranet, the supplies are directly requested from the Joint Service Support Command. Supply requests are processed by the AUTINT and covered in cooperation with the Logistic Support Command and the Joint Command and Control Staff. The supplies are then prepared for dispatch by the Joint Service Support Command and sent on to the requesting unit by shortest and fastest means. This happens in close cooperation with the Austrian Air Force Command.
In addition, Austria does not only want to contribute to the re-establishment and maintenance of peace in crisis areas but also does its best to support the reconstruction and economic recovery of these areas. Therefore, AUTINT attaches much importance to the so-called "Civil-Military Cooperation” (CIMIC), which aims at supporting the local population, an effort that also has a positive side effect on force protection. In this field, AUTINT has taken over a coordinating function between governmental organizations (GOs), non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the CIMIC elements in the field. CIMIC covers a broad range of various support activities, reaching from the (re)construction of kindergartens, schools and medical facilities to education and training of the local population.
Operations other than Peacekeeping
Another field of support for the Austrian Armed Forces is the provision of humanitarian aid to places shaken by natural catastrophes. By means of its "Armed Forces Disaster Relief Unit” (AFDRU), run by the Armed Forces NBC Defence School, Austria is able to react quickly to natural disasters worldwide, and to bring aid to the affected population within very little time, thus saving the lives of countless people.
Selection of Personnels
In order to maintain the high quality level of the Austrian soldiers operating abroad, they are subject to a permanent evaluation process. This process starts already during pre-mission training with a check of the training methods in relation to the skills needed abroad, and continues with an evaluation in the mission area itself, six weeks after the deployment. In addition to that, permanent supervision of the soldiers during their mission and a "final debriefing” after the return of the contingent provide all information on what needs to be revised and improved. As a consequence, these so-called "lessons learned” are taken into consideration for the next contingents and shared with our international partners.
Soldiers abroad do a job that cannot be compared to ordinary work. They are under permanent threat and very often under stress. Therefore, AUTINT has to make sure that Austrian soldiers operating abroad remain psychologically strong. One way to reach this is the morale, welfare and recreation programme. This means that we offer our soldiers meaningful leisure time activities like physical training, sports, cultural events, excursions etc. Besides that, periodic contacts with their families have proven as a good method to support the mental fitness not only for the soldiers abroad but also for their families back home. Therefore, we organize "family days”, on the occasion of which family members of soldiers serving abroad can meet and exchange their ideas and get first-hand information about the mission concerned. We also offer them psychological and social support, if needed.
Of course, the commitment of Austrian soldiers to international operations abroad requires intensive international cooperation, especially in the fields of planning, training, C2I, logistics and evaluation. In this context, the AUTINT is happy to be able to fall back on its large network of bilateral and international relationships provided by the representatives and liaison officers of the Austrian Armed Forces working in various international organizations like the UN, NATO, the EU and in a multitude of foreign countries. At present, Austria has established a very close cooperation with Germany, Switzerland and Slovakia, as these four countries have deployed soldiers to the same areas of operations.
Experiences and Trends
The security-politico environment has changed for the last 15 years. The necessity for classical home defence has been replaced by the need to tackle conflicts in states in and around Europe, including the struggle against international terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, large-scale migration and criminal acts. Nowadays, none of the European countries is able to cope with all theses threats on its own; they all need increased international cooperation. This principle also applies to the armed forces of a country.
Moreover, also within the field of international peace support, the framework conditions are subject to permanent changes. Multinationality is constantly increasing and the call for robust rules of engagement is becoming louder. Another prerequisite for the success of multinational operations are foreign language skills, especially in English. This goes hand in hand with successful command & control and information gathering, two factors that have a great impact on the capabilities of an armed force.
Currently, the Austrian contingents scheduled to be deployed abroad are formed from standing brigades. If necessary, additional personnel are recruited from a pool of volunteers. This system has proven to be successful; nevertheless, it is very time-consuming, e. g. the formation of a KFOR contingent including the necessary training takes about 9 weeks. In order to meet the requirement of quick operational readiness, the Austrian Armed Forces formed so-called FIOP units. These units consist of standing units and non-standing units and are scheduled for the whole spectrum of peace support operations. The standing units consist of soldiers on active duty and are deployable within 5 days; the non-standing units include both soldiers on active duty and reservists and can be deployed within 30 - 60 days. Reservists are still playing an important role in the Austrian Armed Forces as they can greatly enrich the operational capacity by the skills they bring with them from their "civilian world”. In fact it is the good mix of career soldiers and reservists that has made the Austrians so successful in quite a few peace support operations. Without reservists Austria would not have been able to succeed in so many peace support operations in the past, nor would it be in the future.
Summary and Perspectives
Over the last years, international operations have become a main task for the armed forces of all European countries, and therefore also for the Austrian Armed Forces. Of course, such a fundamentally new orientation requires the adaptation of the whole system. That is why the Armed Forces Reform Commission recommended giving the Forces a new, more modern and highly professional shape in order to increase their capabilities for international cooperation, including rapid deployment and operational readiness, but still with a reservist component. As a consequence, the number of operational level commands has been reduced from six to two, leaving one Joint Forces Command (JFC) and one Joint Service Support Command. The JFC will be responsible for the command and control of all armed forces within Austria and abroad. It will be the high command for all tactical-level troops (land forces and air force), the military police, the special operations forces, the International Operations Base and the territorial organization.
An essential goal of the new structure is the provision of sufficient capacities for the command of a multinational framework brigade, together with the necessary organic command support elements. The brigade is to be able to cover the whole spectrum of the Petersberg Tasks. In a first step, in connection with this goal, Austrian short-term military planning aims at deploying some 1,500 troops abroad at the same time. In a second phase, around 2010, Austria should be able to send some 3,500 soldiers abroad.
In the future, Austria will focus its security and defence policy to the prevention and containment of crises and conflicts. Its armed forces will make an increased contribution to this policy. The fact that also the current Austrian International Operations Command will be integrated into the Austrian Joint Forces Command (AUTJFC) will have a positive impact on the achievement of these goals, as it will dispose of leadership capacities for national and international operations as well as the necessary human and material resources.
To sum up we can say that Austria’s contribution to peace support operations has been very ambitious so far and will remain so in the future. Austrian troops are very much appreciated abroad or, as the commanding general of the first International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, the British Major General John McCall said: "Austrians are firm, fair, skilled and friendly soldiers - excellent for peace support operations.” ___________________________________ __________________________________ By: Major General Mag. Günter Höfler, Commander of the Austrian International Operations Command [since 1 January 2006 Joint Forces Commander]