A multinational solution required for Personnel Recovery operations

Contributor:  Andrew Elwell
Posted:  02/25/2013  12:00:00 AM EST
Rate this Article: (4.7 Stars | 6 Votes)

The U.S. Army defines personnel recovery as: “The sum of military, DOD civilian, DOD contractor personnel, or other personnel designated by the President or Secretary of Defense, who are isolated, missing, detained, or captured (IMDC) in an operational environment.”

Personnel Recovery (PR) is one of those operational issues that governments and militaries want to assure the public that they’ve got under control. If a soldier is taken hostage in a foreign land they become a valuable asset.

“I think having a personnel recovery strategy is going to be a prerequisite before deploying in the future,” said Benjamin Fuchs, acting project officer engage and responsible for the European Defence Agency’s (EDA) Personnel Recovery project.

“It gives the soldiers the confidence that if they’re in trouble they will be extracted. If they are taken hostage then you will have severe diplomatic problems to deal with – it’s in our interests to have personnel recovery in place.”

The EDA’s Personnel Recovery programme was established in 2007 with the aim of developing a personnel recovery architecture designed to improve the interoperability of existing search and rescue operator equipment as well as harmonising capability requirements for future equipment and supporting network enabled capabilities. But the plan soon changed. In 2009 the project team (PT) for PR concluded that the goals of the programme were misaligned so the PT broadened its focus. Following the shift in focus of the project, “in October 2011 the concept for personnel recovery in support of the common security and defence policy was ratified by the European Union Military Committee (EUMC), which was a major success for the PT,” said Fuchs.

The member  states signed up to the EDA Personnel Recovery programme include Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Germany – who are the lead nation – Finland, France, Netherlands, Poland, Sweden and more recently the Czech Republic.

Fuchs said that the UK may come on board in the future although there is still some resistance from the British MoD about the need for a multinational approach to PR. That is at least with its European neighbours; the UK tends to make the U.S. its bedfellows in this field, however, Fuchs pointed out that during the Libya campaign strong ties were forged between Britain and other EU nations.

For Fuchs, the supranational element of personnel recovery is key. It’s not personnel recovery, it’s joint personnel recovery:

“We know that the member states are supporting the area of personnel recovery even though it’s not considered a priority for EDA. The positive connotations that go with it may also be useful in this respect. With Libya the member states have seen that they need to do more in the personnel recovery area – they are also now starting to understand that you need a multi-national approach because in operations like in Afghanistan if you have a small contingent of several hundred soldiers that aren’t supported by a larger one then you typically don’t have your own personnel recovery force in place. You need to have a joint approach and work with others.”

EDA’s Personnel Recovery programme has had three key successes to date.

First is the implementation of the isolated personnel report (ISOPREP) into a personnel management (J1) functional area service, which was put together by the Personnel Recovery project team together with the Project Team CIS. ISOPREP means that whenever someone is isolated in an area of operation, the search for him must be initiated with a report that details all the relevant and available information on the missing person.

Second is the work EDA has done on a personnel recovery function area service, which is a software application for a command and control system where planners in force headquarters can plan and execute personnel recovery missions. “Before there hadn’t been any designated software programme for this,” said Fuchs. “The first phase of this has already been concluded where we set up a target architecture and the personnel recovery function area service demonstrator will be finalised at the end of 2013.”

Finally, the other important factor that EDA has been facilitating in this field is training, led by Sweden.

“Almost two years ago we did a pilot personnel recovery controller and planner course, and that was initiated due to the fact that there aren’t many personnel in the European Union that are able to conduct the planning and coordination mission. It was borne out of a lack of personnel for ISAF while the European armed forces also began to see that there was a lack of a talent in the entire chain of personnel recovery. We’ve already had four courses, the last of which was conducted last month in Germany and we have a fifth coming up in France in June 2013.”

The Personnel Recovery programme is making progress – at a time when militaries are shrinking, public opinion over governments’ handling of armed forces is becoming increasingly sceptical and data flow between forces is getting more complex, it needs to. “If I was to describe this project I would say that it used to be a delicate branch that is now becoming stronger and stronger,” said Fuchs. “I hope that it will become a sturdy tree.”

Andrew Elwell Contributor:   Andrew Elwell

comments powered by Disqus

Advertise With Us

Join Defence IQ