THE BULGARIAN ARMED FORCES EXPERIENCE GAINED FROM PEACE SUPPORT OPERATIONS Печат
Автор Симеон Николов   
Неделя, 01 Юли 2007 03:00
/ Report of Simeon Nikolov, 4 th Handelsblatt Conference 3. and 4. Juli 2007, Berlin /

The Republic of Bulgaria, similarly to other NATO and EU countries, is intensively gaining experience from its participation in peace support operations during the last decade. A characteristic feature of these operations is that they develop within a dynamic environment, which is formed by the present time security risks and challenges on the one hand, and on the other hand, as a result of global and regional processes and trends that create instability. Depending on the size and scope of the forces causing instability, the intensity range of a peace support operation can widely vary: from conflict prevention to a peace enforcement operation.
Our national experience shows that achieving a modern time operation’s objective is only possible through optimally combining diplomatic, political, cultural, economic and military measures. The military factor continues to be an important element for the operations’ success, which makes it necessary for it to be constantly improved and perfected. The important changes in the recent years, however, were not solely aimed at improving the operational efficiency of the military instrument. The relationships and responsibilities of the state and political leadership on the one hand and the military command on the other got a new dynamics with regard to decision making on a participation in operation, practical training and preparation, support of an operation and termination of a participation. In order to make the picture complete, we should add also the development of the public debate in the country with regard to the adequacy of the participation in a peace support operation, as well as the balance between the final result achieved and national resource spent.

1. Measures for increasing the contribution in operations
Bulgaria, being a responsible and committed NATO member gives its contribution to building the collective capabilities and sharing the responsibilities on the operations conducted. Our experience gained from participation in various operations necessitated a new thinking in relation to the principles and requirements to the country’s participation in military operations abroad, the legal aspects, as well as the issues of the planning, training, financial provision and overall support of the participating contingents. Our efforts were directed toward building efficient, multi-functional, modular and mobile force units capable of deploying outside the country’s territory, relatively independent and self-sustainable, interoperable with the allies’ forces and capable of timely responding to the present-day’s security environment challenges. The realization of this ambitious task necessitated applying a complex approach requiring changes to the legal and doctrinal basis, the existing structures, the programs for education and training and procuring modern armament and equipment.

1.1. Changes to the legal basis were made, through which the procedures for making political decisions on participation in operations were optimized and terms shortened, and the forces and assets that should possess capabilities for taking part in operations outside the country were determined. These changes are aimed at creating conditions for providing within short terms the forces needed to the Alliance that are structured, manned, equipped and trained under NATO standards.

1.2. A key element in this process is the professionalization of these forces, which will guarantee their manning with highly motivated and trained service men. From this point of view, the time frames for professionalization of the Bulgarian Armed Forces were updated and it will be completed by 1 January 2008 instead of the initially planned term – 2015. Also, the personnel number will be reduced from 45 000 to 39 000 personnel.

1.3. The need of meeting the force requirements that will ensure achieving the Alliance’s “level of ambition” necessitated making a profound analysis of the fulfillment of the Armed Forces’ usability criteria. Based on its results, we started making changes to the structures, training and equipment of the forces with a view to meeting the requirement for 40 % of the Land Forces being deployable forces. Besides, our efforts are also directed toward a gradual achievement of the requirement for 8 % of the Land Forces participating or being planned and ready to participate in operations. The realization of this goal requires both time and considerable financial resources. During the last 2 years, the share of the land forces taking part in missions was maintained at about 2.5%, or about 550 military men simultaneously, and in 2007, this share was increased to 3,5% or about 750 military men.
In spite of the objective difficulties that we are facing in the process of achieving the usability criteria, a there is a considerable progress in this respect. Until recently, our participation in operations was limited up to a platoon level and individual military men in the operations HQs. The gradual building up of capabilities and the experience gained allowed us to enlarge the format of our participation in operations and reach a participation with a company in the EU operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina and a battalion in the Coalition force in Iraq. Indicative of our consistent efforts for increasing our armed forces’ usability is the enlargement of our contribution with forces in Afghanistan last month with two companies – a mechanized company in Regional Command Capital and a guard company for Kandahar Air Field.

The formation of multinational contingents allows for the countries to make available individual specific capabilities thus equally distributing the total burden of participation in the operations and also compensating the shortage of certain capabilities of some countries’ forces. From operational point of view, it would be most appropriate, however, to participate with compact units, a battalion for example.

1.4. The effect-based approach applied in the operations requires a maximum effective use of the capabilities of the forces participating in the operation. The imposing of national caveats prevents the operations commanders from accomplishing their tasks assigned and decreases the national contribution effectiveness. Nevertheless, sometimes we have to resort to this restrictive measure for some of our contingents due to a deficiency of certain capabilities, owing to the lack of up-to-date combat equipment and special equipment1. To overcome this deficiency of capabilities, considerable financial resources are needed and within short terms at that, which a country like Bulgaria cannot afford at this stage. In order to minimize the Bulgarian contingents’ caveats, we have developed and we are implementing a realistic program for a phased modernization of the armed forces, a priority in which has the force package designated for participation in operations outside the country. Along with this, with the assistance of other countries based on bilateral agreements, we manage to provide for temporary use the armament and equipment that we are currently lacking and reduce to the minimum the national caveats of our contingents. The willingness and understanding of some companies for fast procurement in such cases could only be welcomed.

1.5. The participation in operations abroad brought to the fore the necessity of establishing capabilities in the areas of strategic airlift and logistic support. The lack of such capabilities limits the operational use of the units and their self-sustainability. At this stage, we compensate our considerable lagging behind in these two areas through the aid provided by other countries, but we understand that this is a provisional solution, due to which our efforts are directed toward acquiring own transport aircraft and creating capabilities for full logistic support. The establishment of such capabilities is a high costing activity, which sometimes appears to be a limiting factor with regard to participation in operations. This makes it necessary to search for mechanisms for aiding the countries with limited capacities in these areas, which will on its part, encourage them for a larger contribution to the operations. A possible approach in the strategic airlift area is the cooperation of several countries in acquiring transport aircraft. In this respect, Bulgaria attaches great importance to this issue and takes part in the initiative for multinational procurement of C-17 aircraft for strategic airlift.

1.6. The success of the course of operations or the degree of task execution requires possessing a capability for focused, coordinated and effective employment of the forces and assets at the right place and in the right time. It is necessary to act against an anticipated adversary preemptively, from a larger distance, with higher precision and greater effectiveness. One of the prerequisites for ensuring the achievement of a greater combat effect and effective execution of the tasks is the equipping of the forces participating in operations with up-to-date and compatible communication and information systems. Since it is an activity requiring considerable financial resources, possibilities have to be searched that the forces critical to the successful execution of some operations are equipped with such systems from common funding resources.
At present, the BU AF are in need of modern armored vehicles, which we will procure in phases, in accordance with the needs of each mission, because of the impossibility to start realizing an overall project.
The above mentioned possible approaches for compensating the shortage of individual capabilities for participation in operations should be considered as provisional measures, as their permanent application in practice can demotivate the countries for developing the lacking capabilities.

1.7. The problems related to the psychological support of operations and missions are common to all of us, allies and partners, and perhaps the exchange of experience should be more intensive. Notwithstanding the more limited Bulgarian participation in missions, a sufficient amount of knowledge and experience were accumulated. It is necessary to increase the time and the activeness of the psychological work with the contingents with a view to achieve better results in the long term, to provide permanent positions for taking care of the personnel’s mental health, to improve the recreation programs upon return from a mission, to update the programs for psychological assistance of the mission participants’ families, to improve the officers leader programs in critical situations etc.

1.8. An important factor for the success of any military operation is the formation of a positive attitude toward the international forces amongst the local population, the gaining of its approval of the operation conducted and the increase of its willingness to support the international efforts for stabilization and reconstruction of the country. This requires both carrying out a comprehensive information activity and a series of practical activities. The participation of the Bulgarian contingent in the Coalition operation in Iraq was accompanied, besides with the execution of purely military tasks, also with rendering humanitarian aid, realization of infrastructure projects and training of the Iraqi Army’s units. In Kosovo, the Bulgarian engineer platoon executed, simultaneously with the KFOR tasks also tasks to the interest of the local population – construction and repair of residential buildings, water supply systems, road facilities etc. The support provided by the military contingents in the stabilization and reconstruction of the country that is affected by the conflict gains the confidence of the local population, creates a stable security environment and deters violence. Along with this, an important factor is the maintenance of a good cooperation with the local authorities and the security structures in the Area of Operation, as well as with the religious leaders.

1.9. The analytical expertise in operations outside the country’s and the Alliance’s territory is a key issue, which was not present initially, in our first participations in missions. However, presently we pay considerably greater attention to the operational analysis.

2. Gaining operational experience from participation in missions
Significant contribution for gaining the necessary experience and enhancing interoperability had the participation of our units within the contingents of countries possessing the required capabilities for participation in the full spectrum of operations. The joint activities with German units in Kosovo and Afghanistan, with Dutch units in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with Polish in Iraq allowed the Bulgarian military men to learn faster the required operational procedures and acquire skills for operating in a multinational environment.
Our participation with an engineer contingent in the operation of the NATO-led international forces in Kosovo contributes basically to our engineer units acquiring interoperability with the Allies’ requirements and procedures.
The NATO training mission in Baghdad contributes to learning the Alliance’s Standard Operational Procedures and using the experience gained in operations to follow.
The participation of the Bulgarian Armed Forces in NRF-6, 7 and 8 with a NBC reconnaissance platoon contributes to the enhancement of the interoperability among the individual formations.
The Bulgarian participation in the EU operation Althea in Bosnia and Herzegovina for more than 10 years is an expression of the country’s commitment in solving the problems and its will for strengthening the regional security.
The participation of Bulgarian Armed Forces’ units in Alliance’s and coalition operations provides an experience that helps us in the continuous optimization of the training activities in accordance with the tasks assigned. The theoretical and practical knowledge of the military men was increased. The positive experience of NATO’s and EU’s forces is shared. The circle of responsible officials from the state and military leaderships, which are taking part in putting forward the military missions into a national assignment, is enlarging.

3. Conclusions
The experience from our participation in operations by this moment shows that the efforts should be focused upon the establishment of capabilities for:
- taking early preventive measures in order not to allow for the problems to develop into crises, and the crises into conflicts;
- fast deployment/”projecting” of the military forces at a great distance from the country’s territory and conducting joint operations;
- conducting operations in urban terrains;
- conducting operations under difficult terrain and atmospheric conditions;
- conducting special operations, operations on ensuring internal order and counter-terrorist operations;
- providing humanitarian assistance in events with catastrophic consequences;
- achieving high level of military-technical and language training of the personnel;
- gaining public opinion through the establishment of effective civil-military relationships.
As a result of the above conclusions, as well as taking into account the necessity of fulfilling the force usability criteria, Bulgaria is in a process of reassessing its transformation plans. The need of accelerating the process of building up military capabilities for execution of peace support and security tasks is already not only a priority for the defense policy and the armed forces but it is also widely supported by the state and political leadership. The participation in peace support operations and the experience gained are in the basis of the confidence that the conventional defense planning for establishing and maintaining capabilities for the defense of the national territory gives way to a new type of thinking based on the understanding for meeting the challenges and responding to the crises at the place where they emerge – before their reaching the national borders.
While the speeding up of the transformation process is to a certain extent a predictable and anticipated effect from the above stated experience, not similar is the situation with the issue of the public debate with regard to the necessity and effectiveness of that participation. From a historical point of view, including in the transition years, the Armed Forces of the Republic of Bulgaria relied by tradition on a considerable public support. That support, however, is not simply transferred to the participation of the Bulgarian Armed Forces in peace support operations. While for the contingents that the country sends and maintains for the NATO and EU operations in the West Balkans there is a wide enough support, for other operations, geographic regions and remote areas, the character of the public debate is rather a negative one. This, on the one hand, can be an expression of the necessity for the Bulgarian political class to state its grounds for participation in a certain operation in a more argument supported and purpose oriented way, and on the other hand, it can be indicative of the insufficient commitment of the society to deal with global problems in lieu of its own problems. These facts represent an additional challenge, which obliges us as politicians and military men to search for ways and approaches for an open and informed debate, because in the conditions of a democratic government the only enduring decisions are the ones that are transparent and supported by the public.
The participation of Bulgaria in international missions and operations is an expression of the transparent and predictable policy pursued by the country and of the firm will for fulfilling the Alliance commitments. On the other hand, we consider this participation a stimulus for developing military capabilities of our country that are adequate to the new security and defense risks and challenges, for enhancing the professionalism, increasing the interoperability and strengthening the confidence in the Bulgarian Armed Forces’ abilities on the part of the allies and the Bulgarian society.