OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. – U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) continued its ongoing effort to build, support and sustain partnerships with ally nations last week by hosting the largest number ever of non-U.S. participants during the annual command and control exercise, Global Thunder 17.
More than 20 representatives from the U.K. and Canada traveled to the command’s headquarters at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., to take part in the exercise. Their visits also sparked discussions on developing further collaboration in exercise and real-world operations.
“The inclusion of our partners from the U.K. and Canada in exercises such as Global Thunder greatly enhances USSTRATCOM's ability to work with our allies to anticipate change and confront uncertainty with agility and innovation,” said USSTRATCOM Commander Adm. Cecil D. Haney. “The global security environment is increasingly interdependent, complex and dynamic. Because of this, we must pursue a proactive whole-of-government approach to deterrence. Collaborating with our allies and partners in all domains is necessary to confront these global challenges.”
Operations Director for the U.K. Ministry of Defence Air Vice Marshal Edward Stringer, the senior U.K. participant in Global Thunder 17, said the biggest takeaway from his experience at USSTRATCOM headquarters was seeing “the alignment of the problems the world faces and what we need to do to go about shaping it.
“They require global responses, and we need to re-structure ourselves accordingly,” he said. “I’m seeing U.S. Strategic Command thinking just the same way we do. My biggest takeaway – while the exercise has been excellent value and we got a lot out of it – is the assessment of the trends and how we need to adapt.”
Canadian Armed Forces Director General for Cyberspace Brig. Gen. Frances Allen, the Canadian observer team lead, said exercises like Global Thunder “are great because they give us an opportunity to validate the way we think things should work and work through things together.
“We are such close partners from a regional and economic standpoint,” she continued. “Our concerns about energy and the environment, and common defense – defense of our continent – are common interests that we have. Where we can leverage our partnerships and strengths as militaries to enable each other’s missions and our common mission, that’s what we hope to get out of our participation here.”
Allen added that the biggest takeaway from her experience during Global Thunder 17 is the immensity and challenge of the coordination effort required to execute USSTRATCOM’s missions.
“That function is daunting,” she said. “But there is a great process in place here to get the decisions to the commander at the right time.”
Like Haney and Allen, Stringer stressed the importance of continuing collaboration between allies, noting that the partnership between the U.S. and U.K., including the “Five Eyes” community – an intelligence alliance between Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States – benefits both nations in different ways.
“We share intelligence, but the U.S. collects a bit more than we do,” Stringer said. “There are accesses and authorities that we have through our footprint in areas of the world where we own important strategic bases… Or our political system that allows us to do things in a certain way that might just be the vital piece of the ’jigsaw’ for our alliance or coalition. Of course we’re in alliance with the U.S., but we’re also in many other coalitions with them – more so than any other nation – and in all of those, each nation does something that the other can’t. Some of those things might seem small, but they may be the key. Having these exercises and working out where each of us has a ’magic key’ or a ’keystone’ allows a whole edifice to be built that is absolutely vital.”
Stringer went on to describe the U.K.’s commitment to their partnership with the U.S. and other allies, citing his role as an example.
“I’m the senior British military advisor to U.S. Strategic Command and also the [director of operations] for the whole of the Ministry of Defence,” he said. “There isn’t a [British] Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine who conducts an operation around the world without me having signed off on the activation order on behalf of the Chief of the Defence Staff. And the fact that I’ve been made the senior British military advisor to U.S. Strategic Command gives you an idea of how our relationship is progressing in an ever more dangerous world… how important that relationship is.”
Allen and Stringer also provided their perspectives on the overall relationship between the U.S. and their respective countries, citing differences and similarities with regard to operating procedures and priorities.
“What strikes me as interesting is that while the U.S. and Canada have different military organizational structures, we face the same challenges,” Allen said. “How we deal with them and what our solutions might be can be different, but those challenges are common and we can share and learn from each other, even if we don’t come up with the same solution. It’s good to see that our issues and priorities are the same regardless of our differences.”
“Whether you talk about values or interest, our two nations are completely aligned,” Stringer said. “Not only do we have the same concerns, but we have the same worries. When you look at U.S. Strategic Command, with the immense responsibilities it has, I find that the men and women who work here share the same real-world concerns about exercising that great responsibility; and to see that the way they think about it is just the same way my people think about it has been rather humbling and heartening.”
Global Thunder 17, scheduled Oct. 24 through Nov. 1, is conducted annually to train Department of Defense (DoD) forces, assess joint operational readiness, and validate the command's ability to identify and mitigate attacks across all of USSTRATCOM's mission areas.
The notional, classified scenario for Global Thunder 17 drove integrated planning and training for a number of strategic threats to the nation, and was coordinated for more than a year. The exercise, and those previously conducted, ensures the resilience, redundancy and survivability of U.S. strategic deterrent forces, stressing USSTRATCOM capabilities provided to geographic combatant commanders during a crisis or contingency.