Interview: Colonel Manuel Monin

The CaMo Programme

A Strategic Partnership to Modernize the Belgian Army's Motorized Capacity.

Colonel Manuel Monin

Belgian Program officer for SCORPION - CaMo program

Interview by Paul-Alexander Cramers

Could you briefly present the CAMO Project and your role in it?

I am Colonel Manuel Monin, the Program Officer of the SCORPION-CAMO Project. Our project has the same structure as France’s SCORPION programme. This means that there is a program director from the Direction générale de l’armement (The French Directorate General for Armaments; DGA) and a program officer. The programme director is French, based in Paris and the deputy director, Colonel Classen, is here at the Direction Générale des Ressources Matérielles (Material Resources Branch -; DGMR) in Belgium. I am the program officer based in Brussels and my deputy is in Paris with the French Army SCORPION  program officer. This square-shaped structure is very important because it underpins the program. This means that on the right and on the left, there is the DGA and DGMR, and in each of them there is a French and Belgian representative. So, there is a program director for SCORPION and another for CAMO. In addition, there is a program officer for SCORPION and a program officer for the SCORPION-CAMO.

The program director is in charge of contracts: a market and a company. I am in charge of the capacy aspect. When we have a new capacity, my role is to best integrate it in the land forces. Since it is a bi-national project, there are two aspects. On the solely Belgian side, for the management of the program, there is a regulation called integrated capacity management (ICM). The CTSG (capability team steering group) makes the decisions. Under that structure there is a Capability Team camo (where I am the team leader). On the French Belgian side, a bi-national governance structure is described within the intergovernmental agreement (IGA), with a director committee and three steering committees (SC). program, armament, capacities.

I use the NATO methodology DOTML PFI (also known as the lines of development). It stands for Doctrine of Organisation, Training, Material, Leadership, Personnel, Facilities, Interoperability. All these lines of development are covered by CT Camo. I deal with them on a national level but also on a bi-national level. For example, doctrine, in what direction are we heading on a doctrinal level?

Is it a challenge that Belgium is Atlanticist whereas France not so much?

It is a challenge and an opportunity. As part of the partnership, the French Armée de Terre recognizes that our expertise regarding interoperability, especially NATO interoperability, is better than theirs. During meetings, they take our remarks into consideration, since we speak from experience.

The above is the general structure. Regarding the IGA, there’s the level of ambition, which aims at native interoperability as part of collaborative combat. In order to succeed, we need to align our doctrines and organizations. We need common training goals, common evaluation, if possible identical material, etc. Leadership is very important: our people need to understand each other. All of this is part of the Steering Committee’s capacities. The IGA has two aspects: one deals with material. The fact that we were able to buy for 1.2 billion without going through the regulation of public markets is justified by the fact that we used the exception planned by Europe because we are creating a strategic partnership. It’s the Steering Committee’s capacities that materialises it and this is what we are doing at the moment.

What are the operational consequences for the Belgian Land Component in light of this partnership with France ?

It is clearly defined in the IGA, particularly in the capacities development plan. On the NATO level, we regularly talk about interoperability, there are rules, most of the time we start to talk about interoperability on the brigade level and above. Interoperability is seen through a wide lens. In this case, we are reaching a level of interoperability that has never been explored. This means we are working on the level of elementary units at company level. We are going from 7500 people to 150 people. This is very important. Moreover, we are talking about native interoperability. This is illustrated by the example of a computer mouse; in worst cases it takes a few seconds for it to work. This is what we want. We don’t want to send liaison officers and establish protocols regarding our means of communication, our systems of information, to explain and translate terms that are well defined (in the context of a brigade, it can be vague; it cannot be when 30 or 40 people are in the field). We are talking about native interoperability in a GTIA (Groupement Tactique Interarmes; InterArms Tactical Combat Group, a french concept of a temporary unit established for the duration of a mission). It is not in one capacity, not artillery, engineering, infantry, but as a GTIA and it’s native (no need to take classes before a deployment or restate certain things on a technical, organisational or doctrinal level – things are clear). This is the level we would like to reach. It is very ambitious.

Do you think it will be complicated to reach such a level of interoperability?

Yes it will be complicated. There is a precedent: the cooperation between Belgium and the Netherlands (BENESAM) in the marines. The first document of this cooperation dates back to 1948. It’s only been a few years that they have the same equipment and procedures on ships. It took 70 years to get to that. In this case, we would like to get there in less than ten years. It’s not simple. Because the SCORPION armament system revolutionizes the mindset of ground combat. For many years, air and marine forces have integrated combats on a multinational level. For example, a F16 knows it cannot operate on its own and needs an AWACS, a CAOC (Combined Air Operations Center) and other planes that he interacts with. Until recently, an elementary unit on the ground could complete the mission autonomously. In this case, we are going to start digitizing, using networks in collaborative combat. We are transposing what is already happening with specialisations, within air and marine forces, but in the land forces. It is a big challenge, already on a national level, and even more so on a bilateral level. 

What are the main challenges for the Belgian land forces to be interoperable with the French land forces?

There are endogenous and exogenous challenges. Exogenously, from the experience of marines, it’s easier to be natively interoperable when the equipment is the same. Within the marines the MCM programme allowed them to buy and keep the same equipment, which is not easy. For example, when buying a combat vehicle, it would have to last for 30 years. Nowadays, there are a lot of software components that are harder to keep as long. Also, just like equipment, calendars are not the same. We each have our own history. We need to try, with time, to have identical equipment and synchronise the calendars. This is not simple. Thirdly, there is also the national industrial aspect. For example, we wanted to buy identical Griffons (the French Multi-Purpose Armored Vehicle), but on the Belgian side, the turrets will be made by FN, which is not the case for the French ones. These are little things exogenously that are difficult to influence. Endogenously, this is just as complicated. We have similar doctrines because they stem from the same conceptions of the art of war, with NATO we have been working for years together. We have to align all of this. With the internal organisation, we can’t change everything in one go. We can’t forget that when you have a doctrine, and there is a change, you need to teach this change. This needs a huge effort. It needs to be taken point by point at the transformation level in order to be interoperable. It is not impossible but it’s the mindset that needs to be changed. To make it accepted to everyone that we abandon some of our ideas, of our sovereignty, in order to find the most efficient way in cooperation with the French.

What are the solutions for these problems?

The bi-national governance that we have and the link between the bi-national and the national are the main solutions. The Steering Committees capacities deal with both doctrines and what needs to be adapted. The Armament SC tries to be a step ahead on projects by getting updated on national programs and trying to synchronise them. In the strategic vision, there are programs that haven’t been covered. For example, we check if there is a French program where we could be included. Through shared governance, we set up a bi-national structure which helps us anticipate as much as we can.

What is the calendar for Belgium??

There is the calendar of the Steering Committee which is regulated by a supply protocol that says that we will receive our first vehicles by the end of 2025 until the beginning of 2031. These are vehicles with radio, information system, etc. This calendar is a contract that is signed with the [whole] industry. The Capacities Steering Committee which has a development capacities plan: a strategic partnership. Here, everything still needs to be done. Through the establishment of the doctrine, we study how, where and when we are going to change our doctrine or organisation. In doctrine/organisation, for example, we can notice a change that will happen in 2022-23. In terms of training, we have already started. On the structural level, we are trying to align our training programmes. We are figuring out what are the important milestones in the training of a unit and when they [can] happen. The way to get it done will probably be on a national level because we don’t have the same means or problems as France. A joint  evaluation and certification of an individual or a unit are also important. You need to be certain of where different units stand in comparison with others, in order to establish interoperability. What shall be certified in Belgium won’t need to be certified again in France, and vice-versa. 

In terms of equipment, there also is an ambitious plan. France has already started to introduce new equipment to its forces. At the moment, they don’t have many issues but at a certain point, we are going to be confronted with the cohabitation of old and new equipment. France will get their equipment delivered between 2019 and 2033, which means, because it is a big nation, their problem will last longer than ours. Belgium is implementing mechanisms to try to help them before we receive our equipment. By doing so, we can more easily transform ourselves too, and there will be mutual support between our two militaries. There are important dates: 2022-23 (for training) where we will help France even if we don’t have our equipment so that people can come back and be operational for our transformation. The 2025 milestone will be significant regarding the equipment. There are also operational milestones. France has an objective to deploy the first GTIA SCORPION battalion in 2021 and its first brigade in 2023. We expect that it will be 2027 and 2029 for our companies and battalions. The political decision on how we will do this together is pending. We are going to buy the SCORPION armament system that will help develop our motorised capacity. SCORPION and CaMo are two different things. The French aim to create a community based on its SCORPION system, wherein we aimed to integrate ourselves.

What are the consequences that the programme will have on the operational and strategic autonomy of the Belgian forces?

Normally none. We should always be able to deploy our means in total autonomy. Contrary to certain programs where the nation that exports keeps the key on certain parts. In this case, we need to be able to use our weapon systems autonomously, including the SCORPION communication system. The internal modification of the combat system will stay the property of France. This is why it is very important that everything we buy can be enforced autonomously. BENESAM is a great example. The Frigates and Minehunters are prepared jointly and once they are used, it’s solely a Belgian autonomous decision where Belgian means are enough. There is no need for support or approval from the Netherlands. It should be the same case on the SCORPION level. Spare parts should not be an issue because they will come from common stocks. The stocks that we acquire are projection stocks. The rest of the stock is the property of the industry on the basis of a service level agreement. The biggest risk lies in the interoperability on the Belgian side because of the exogenous factors that I outlined earlier. In other words, while France started their reflexion in 1999 and materialised scorpion in 2014, the Belgian DGMR discovered scorpion in 2016 and signed the contract in 2018. The DGMR didn’t see the big picture. It is during the internal capacities discussion that we realised that the weapon system is not solely the Griffon, and the Jaguar (the new vehicles acquired by France), but it was a part of SCORPION. The French land forces are adapting to SCORPION on a global level. The strategic vision of Belgium, we planned to buy equipment, but didn’t realise that this equipment natively works with SCORPION. The limit we are going to have is the integration, on different levels, of everything we bought that isn’t natively SCORPION-based. One example of it is the replacement of the Lynx through the CLV contract. The question that stems from this replacement is “what do we want to do with these vehicles?” and “How will they be implemented in the SCORPION framework”. The limit is the integration of these programmes that are non-natively SCORPION in the programme. Because France needs to authorise us to do so and we’ll need to pay for the integration of the vehicles that we might need but that the French don’t need. 

In Belgium, how does interoperability work between different components?

This is linked to the fact that we are a small country. There are very few armies that are still strategically autonomous. France says it is the only army that will still be complete and autonomous in Europe. The UK depends on the US. Germany never had this ambition. A key component is the Contact radio (NDT: a radio model). It is a Thalès radio that results from an interarmy programme in France. The Contact radio will be in the Rafale, in the Tigre Eurocopters, in all marine buildings and vehicles. In Belgium, we use the standards laid out by NATO, the Harris radios. When we want to communicate with a F16, Belgians use a PRC117 that can then implement the link16. France does the same. If they want to be interoperable with NATO, they use the PRC117. Belgium never developed a privileged link between the land and air forces. We use the same link that NATO uses. Now we have a different way to interact with the French. We will have a choice of using the PRC117, like we are already doing, or the JTAC (Joint Terminal Attack Controller) that the French also use. Those are interoperable. In the future, we’ll also be able to use the Contact radio with the French. We Belgians lost our autonomy a long time ago. The CaMo contract, in terms of interoperability, doesn’t change much. 

By being interoperable with France, are we losing the interoperability with other allies?

Yes and no. NATO interoperability is an important factor for both France and Belgium, but also with other EU-partners. The only difference is the size. Belgium made sure of NATO interoperability on lower levels than France. For this reason, in the IGA, there is a paragraph (in the section objectives of the partnership) that states that the Belgian issue with interoperability is much bigger and is seen on lower levels than France. Regarding NATO interoperability, there will be no problem. Regarding European interoperability, there will be differences because of our choices and the ones of our partners. Our recent battle management system (BMS) is a Dutch system so we are interoperable with the BENELUX. Because we have chosen the SCORPION system, it thus is evident that we will be less interoperable with the Dutch and more with France. The Dutch made the same choice since they are now with the Germans. Luxembourg still needs to choose between whom they will want to be more interoperable with.

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