Interview: Major General Pierre Gérard

The CaMo Programme

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

Major General Pierre Gérard

Belgian Land Component Commander

Interview by Paul-Alexander Cramers

Could you quickly present the CaMo partnership?

The CaMo Programme is a partnership between two countries: France and Belgium. The most visible aspect of the programme involves the acquisition of new military vehicles by Belgium. We’ll start by buying the Jaguar and Griffon armoured vehicles and we hope it won't be limited to just that. However, the partnership is not solely about the acquisition of new military vehicles. Because the CaMo programme involves a partnership with France for the modernisation of our motorised capacity, it links us to their new interconnected weapon systems under the Scorpion Programme. Therefore, there are two parts to the CaMo Programme, the first being the purchase of new combat vehicles and the establishment of a partnership with France. The second and less visible part, which can be considered as the backbone of the project, involves acquiring new communication systems, new software, and digitalisation of our motorised capacity which stems from being part of the Scorpion Programme. For the Belgian Land Component, this second part is very important, possibly even more so than the acquisition of new vehicles and hardware.

Beyond the purchase of new equipment, an important consequence of this intergovernmental agreement signed between Belgium and France is the de facto alignment between the two countries at an operational level. Thus, the CaMo program clearly allows a rapprochement between our two armed forces in terms of training and will also facilitate operational collaboration.

Why did Belgium decided/needed to create a strategic partnership with another country to renew its motorized capabilities ? And why with France ?

On a purely technical and military level, and not technological, the choice to pursue a partnership with another country to modernise the Belgian motorised capacity is the result of a combination of three main factors:

1. The complexity of today's weapon systems. Unlike a few decades ago, it's not just about replacing a few guns and ammunitions anymore. Nowadays, weapon systems are technologically much more complex and they evolve at a much quicker pace.

 

2.The challenges ahead. At present, in stark contrast with the period which followed the fall of the Berlin Wall and where we were mainly engaged in Crisis Response Operations (e.g. Afghanistan and the Balkans), what is being asked of the Belgian Land Component is to defend NATO’s territory within the framework of Article 5 of the Alliance’s Charter, and therefore potentially engage in warfighting. In order to be able to achieve this, what is required is mass.

 

3. The lack of resources in Belgium to coherently develop and manage such programmes, especially in light of the fact that each of the three components of the Belgian armed forces have one or more major modernisation programmes underway. The Air Component is replacing its F-16s and C-130s with F-35s and A400Ms. The Navy will be replacing its frigates and its mine warfare vessels. Finally, the Land Component is aiming to modernise its motorised capacity. Thus, given the unprecedented scale of the projects being undertaken by each component of the Belgian Armed Forces, it can not afford to embark on such a project alone. Hence the decision to develop partnerships with other countries in order to minimise the burden of the overall process for the Belgian Defence.

 

The willingness to create a partnership is also linked to the fact that, today, no one works alone anymore. This is particularly the case in Belgium, where the Navy has been working for a long time with the Dutch Navy, and in a similar fashion, the Air Component works in a very integrated way with its Dutch counterpart, whether it’s in Afghanistan or in Jordan. Moreover, with the purchase of the F-35s by both Belgium and the Netherlands, the two air forces will increase their level of cooperation even further.

For the past twenty years, Belgium has not deployed its military forces alone. Our participation in the Balkan operations in the 1990s was the last time that Belgium had a large national footprint in an operation abroad, as highlighted by the deployment of a "Battle Group". However, since the beginning of the 2000s, Belgian military operations abroad were, without exception, carried out in an integrated manner with partner nations. Particularly in Afghanistan from 2002 and 2003 onwards, where the Belgian forces worked jointly with German forces. In Belgium, there is a general tendency towards building partnerships. Even if there is no European army, we already extensively work with our European partners. There are two main reasons for this phenomenon. Firstly, this allows single countries to reduce their contribution to military operations. Secondly, multinational operations are often seen as much more legitimate than those being launched unilaterally.

"For the past twenty years, Belgium has not deployed its military forces alone."

Now, concerning the question about the choice of France as the partner for modernization the Land Component’s motorized capacity. In addition to being our neighbor and culturally quite similar to us, France has one of the most proactive, militarily committed and experienced armies on the European continent. By excellence, the French Army, is the army that can pull up the Belgian Land Component.

It is often pointed out that Belgium is not only buying new armoured vehicles, but new capabilities. Could you elaborate on that?

Clearly, we are buying new vehicles, radios and software. However, as far as the rest is concerned, and by that I mean everything intangible, our investments go more into the frame of a partnership rather than a purchase. From my point of view, we are not buying commitments to take part in operations, we are not buying doctrine and we are not buying training. All those elements are part of a partnership and the desire to create synergies between the two armies in order to operate together. It is precisely that desire to train and work together that lies at the heart of the CaMo partnership, alongside the purchase of new vehicles for the Belgian Land Component.

As far as doctrine is concerned, Belgium does not buy doctrine from France. Rather, the two armies will align their doctrines. This makes it possible to pull our doctrines together in order to bring out a common doctrine. However, it is important to note that Belgium has never had an extensive doctrinal culture. Since the end of the Cold War, in Belgium, there has not been any major doctrinal initiatives and the doctrine being taught at the Royal Military Academy has been highly inspired by that of the US armed forces. In addition, as far as the higher echelons are concerned, there is a sort of doctrinal vacuum in Belgium. Therefore, it is not a bad thing to fill this void with the help of the French army. More particularly, because I believe there are many good things in the French doctrine, such as the emphasis on “l’initiative” and “l’effet majeur”, which in the American doctrine are referred to as “Mission command”.

However, we should be under no illusion since a doctrine is merely a manual and an operating concept. It will not change the “mindset” of our soldiers, or at least, not in the short and medium term. Besides, this is not what we are seeking to do. Even after the alignment of our doctrines, there will still remain differences between a Belgian and a French soldier, especially in the way they execute their missions.

To summarise the path we have chosen with the CaMo partnership, I would say that this is a joint acquisition of equipment and weapon systems, which represent the tangible part of the agreement. Parallel to that, there is a quest for synergies and mutualisation between the two countries for all that is in support of those weapon system, that is to say: training, maintenance, logistics, etc. Concerning the doctrine, it’s a question of synthesizing the best ideas on both sides, because Belgium also has valuable input and strong points, compared to France, in this domain. All this, of course, in line with a philosophy of “win-win” for both countries.

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

A partnership must be a deal where both sides are gaining something. Although some believe that France is receiving money from this agreement, the total amount that Belgium is paying remains marginal for France in the long run, especially if you compare it to the scale of the French economy. What France probably expects from Belgium from this partnership is greater cooperation in terms of military operational commitments. For France, this is probably where there is political value. Thus, for the Belgian Land Component, I am convinced that the direct consequence of the CaMo partnership will be more targeted, more decisive, and more concentrated operational commitments. Indeed, rather than having military personnel deployed in small units as is now the case, we are aiming for commitments in operation at the company level starting from 2021 and at the battalion level from 2025. If possible, in partnership with France, for two reasons. First, it was with them that the CaMo technical-military partnership was established. Second, (with other European partners) we share common regional security interests that roughly translate to the north African and Sahel regions. For my part, I remain convinced that the security situation in Africa is Europe’s greatest challenge for the next thirty years.

in the future, with the modernization of Belgian motorized capacity, is it conceivable that the Belgian land forces will be engaged in a more intensively in military operations?

The CaMo partnership could probably translate into a more intensive operational involvement for the Belgian land forces. However, rather than intensive, I would prefer to use the words “more decisive operational implication”. By this, I mean that the Belgian Army will go where there is a strategic value and where it will have a decisive role to play – a role that will be linked to our national and European security interests. Moreover, the arrival of new vehicles from 2025 will not prevent us from already operating alongside the French forces with our current vehicles, regardless of whether those vehicles are in the meantime “Scorpionised” with new radios and the required software or not.

Do you believe that this partnership can be extended (opened-up) to other countries ? Can it serve as the framework for multilateral cooperation at the European level ?

The CaMo partnership involves two major risks. In the Belgian Land Component there are two main capacities: the motorised capacity that will be “Scorpionized” and the Special Operations Regiment (SOR). However, each one of them is moving at their own rhythm and with different starting points. The SOR is currently one step ahead and is moving in a direction that has largely been set-up for and by itself. As the Land Component Commander, my role is to get those two pillars of the Belgian Army to move in the same direction and keep them aligned. The second risk is that interoperability with the French land forces will be detrimental to interoperability between the Belgian armed forces themselves. For example, it is absolutely essential that the soldiers of the motorised units – who will eventually be “scorpionised”- continue to be able to communicate with their Special Operations colleagues. This operational risk is currently being addressed and I am convinced that in the long term we will be able to resolve it. Nevertheless the risk exists. 

Moreover, when I speak of the risk to our internal interoperability, I am not speaking solely about the Belgian armed forces but also the interoperability within the Benelux region. This is a topic that remains very important to us, especially given the high level of cooperation and integration of the Belgian Navy and the Air Component with their Dutch counterparts, as well as the very strong operational cooperation that we have with Luxembourg. Moreover, in some aspects such as the ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, and Recognition) domain, we believe that Benelux is one step ahead of France. For these reasons, we do not want interoperability with France to be detrimental to our current level of cooperation and interoperability within the Benelux.

This positive dynamic within the Benelux countries can be very beneficial to the European defence project. Indeed, if within the Benelux, cooperation remains strong and we have, on the one hand, Belgium which has a partnership with France, and on the other, the Netherlands which has a partnership with Germany, in the long term, we can very well imagine CaMo acting as an additional bridge between France and Germany. There are already a number of bridges between Germany and France, either through the Franco-German Brigade, the Eurocorps or through other more limited projects in terms of more limited ambitions. Thus, in the longer term, the CaMo partnership can serve as an additional link between France and Germany, while including the Benelux in it and has the potential to become the nucleus of a European interoperability project that can unify future initiatives.

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