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Interview With Rear Adm. John B. “Brad” Skillman

Deputy Commander/Chief of Staff, Joint Warfare Command Center, Allied Command Transformation


Courtesy of Surface SITREP, published by the Surface Navy Association (

Capt. Edward H. Lundquist, USN-Ret : How would you describe your job at JWC?

Rear Adm. John B. “Brad” Skillman: I’m the Deputy Commander and the Chief of Staff. This is a multinational command, with 15 nations represented and we have nearly 260 posts. Our staff tends to be very senior – and they’re all subject matter experts, allowing us to deliver the exercises for NATO. We have three flag officers, with the commander being a 2-star Polish general. The command rotates between Germany and Poland. We have a special advisor which is a voluntary, national contribution from Norway, who is a 1-star. Right now it’s an Air Force brigadier, and he serves as the senior liaison back to the host nation. We have excellent host nation support here in Norway. There is a recruit training center in the local vicinity and they provide our administrative and organizational support. We leverage them for berthing during big exercises. It’s a good relationship with them. As I mentioned, we’re very top-heavy, and that’s partly because the commands we train are also quite senior. We’re delivering exercises for 4- and 3-star commands. We have two big periods of mass engagement from the staffs – one is the Phase 2, which is planning, and then the Phase 3-B which is the execution. For Trident Javelin 2017, which was our most recent major exercise, we grew to about 850 personnel for Phase 3-B execution.


What is the mission?

We create and deliver joint operational-level command post exercises (CPX) in order to prepare the headquarters of the NATO command and NATO force structures to successfully meet any operational challenges they may face. In addition to training, we provide analysis to support doctrinal, capability, and concept development at the appropriate level in order to improve NATO’s operational readiness and interoperability.

When I got here initially, I knew that JWC delivered exercises. Obviously, I’ve been through many, many exercises in the Navy, including deployment-readiness exercises.  That’s what we do here, too, but we’re not just an exercise center. We’re a warfare center and we are able to insert lessons learned from our exercises into doctrine development, too. To provide training at the operational level, we have to control the strategic level and the tactical level, and provide input to the training audience, from above and below. So we’re constantly inputting incidents, during each exercise, to provide the training audience with stimuli to get them to make decisions and take action. We have really good people and they’re very senior, so staff management works quite well. And, while we look at staff coordination, and maneuver warfare, we’re also looking at the cyber realm and information warfare. Attacks are happening on one side, and we are engaging. So it’s very important for us to work with the training audiences – these commands – to make sure they’re thinking through that. They need to have processes to deal with strategic communication and how to employ it. We also insert experimentation into our exercises to test new or revised concepts.


And also if you’re training a multi-national staff to a NATO standard, you want to flex everybody on that standard.

We look at ourselves very much as the guardian of NATO’s doctrine and standard. If you have all of your commands rotating through an exercise using a consistent provider, all based on NATO doctrine, you should be able to say, at the end, that those staffs should be relatively consistent.


That goes for terminology, too.

When we’re thinking collective defense, and big, multi-corps, multi-battle group exercises , big stuff, every time you say something it needs to be very exact. You need to use the doctrine, and we have to use exact language. It’s even more acute when you have non-native speakers and you’re not using the doctrinal language. We really have to be sticklers on that. And that means you have the staff prepare the commander to speak doctrinally to his boss, and then back. If everybody just kind of showed up and said, “Okay, we’re ready to fight the big war,” you would spend much time just trying to figure out what people are saying.


How are your exercises created?

We have different stages of exercise development. We have strategy workshops where the overall strategy is developed, and then it goes to scripting, where the “injects” are scripted to create a whole play book which will then finally be executed during the execution phase.

JWC Exercise

The Joint Warfare Center creates and delivers joint operational-level command post exercises (CPX) in order to prepare the headquarters of the NATO command and NATO force structures to successfully meet any operational challenges they may face. Edward H. Lundquist photo


When you’re writing the scenario for the media injections, do you create situations with losses, such as a large naval ship, where you have a whole country that says “Why are we in NATO? We just gave them a ship and they let it be sunk.”

Yes, or we create a situation with a disproportionate amount of casualties on land. From a strategic communication and political standpoint, as the operational commander, you need to understand that.


You mentioned Trident Javelin. Can you tell us a little more about that?

When NATO was deeply involved with International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), we would train the incoming staffs based on real world situations that the current staffs were facing. We would have real world actions in theater, then we would apply that in the training and exercising for the next group to come through and get exposed to the newest and freshest perspective. Over time based on a changing world, our exercises have evolved.. Now, we have exercises that are designed to prepare for the collective defense of Europe. We hold these at an unclassified level – because we still want to include all the partners and coalition members — with fictional adversaries with plausible and realistic scenarios but not pointed at real world countries. We conduct the training to help deliver the skills to the staffs to make them deployment-ready, and so that SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe) can certify them. JWC is the only scenario-writing entity for NATO. And we create very complex, scenarios and geography that allows us to train and test to specific objectives. Our exercises are computer-assisted command post exercises. The Trident Javelin exercise was a “computer assisted exercise without troops on the ground”, aimed at improving command structures for major operations. These are not live, field exercises with troops shooting bullets, but simulations to help staffs ensure their command and control functions are accurate. These exercises can involve very large numbers – Trident Javelin was forty-five hundred plus participants.

We have been using the fictitious training scenario called Skolkan to evolve NATO training, in light of new threats and very complex problems, as well as redefined missions in NATO in the post-Afghanistan environment. These scenarios can be adapted to meet specific training requirements, and they are available to NATO nations so they can use them for their own exercises, too. We now use a different geography for our exercises, and a new scenario that will be used for Trident Juncture ’18 this fall and Polish exercise Anaconda later this year.


Do you certify the training audience?

We conduct Joint Task Force certification exercises where the training audience becomes competent in what they do and is then is evaluated and graded. The actual certification is conducted by the joint force operational commander. We want the staff to be able to function together to provide the commander with adequate information to make quality decisions and run an operation. We find, however, that we need to do this periodically because as a staff is going through their certification process, they get better and their readiness is very high, but over a period of time they have staff turnovers and we need to start the cycle again. And, with the collective defense of Europe becoming very important again, we did Trident Javelin and plan to do similar exercises on an annual basis going forward. We will conduct Trident Jupiter in 2019, a two-part exercise, with a somewhat limited scope for that certification of the NATO Response Force for the first part. And then we will conduct the second exercise, Jupiter II, about four or five months later, using the same staff, but a larger collective defense exercise.


So now you’ve got the staff that is trained and certified as competent, you present them with a bigger problem.

Yes. We’ll do the deployment readiness exercise and demonstrate they’re competent, and then we’ll exercise the same staff a few months later, without a lot of turnover, and we start moving towards proficiency. We can actually start getting better. It will be very exciting at this command to develop this. The center has evolved over the last 15 years to be able to deliver these big exercises in a very exquisite way.

Joint Warfare Center building

The Joint Warfare Center headquarters in Stavanger, Norway. Edward H. Lundquist photo


What are some of your impressions of Stavanger?

When I told people I was going to an assignment with NATO in Stavanger, Norway, they would say “Where the heck is that???” As I found out, this was a very strategic location during World War II. The Germans had a big command center built into the rock, a port and two airports here. Most places in Norway have fjords and rocks, but they have beaches, here, too, and the Germans had to mine the approaches because they feared the Allies would conduct an amphibious assault on the beaches here. So the beaches were heavily mined. They still find mines here. Last year, after storms churned everything up, 50 mines came to the surface. After the war, Norway liked the bunker idea and started digging it out. And then it evolved, over a period of time, to become their national joint headquarters building. In the 1980s they built the large bunker, which was their national headquarters for another 30 years. And then NATO North was here. We took over when NATO North was being disestablished, and NATO was being transformed into something that could do more than just collective defense but also move out and do expeditionary operations. 9/11 changed the focus. NATO needed a warfare center to train joint task force headquarters, and so that’s why this organization was created in 2003. NATO took the lead of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan in 2003, and we trained those staffs here. We didn’t really use the bunker that much because we didn’t need the capacity. But in the last three or four exercises we are using the bunker again. We can put a training audience in there or we can set up an exercise control element to run big exercises. We have the capacity for 1,200 people, or even more if needed.


How has your career as SWO prepared you for this job?

The type of exercises we do have historically been very land-focused. And when you’re talking about joint expeditionary operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, those are very land-focused exercises. You have joint enablers of maritime and air, but those operations are mostly about how an army is doing their job in coordinating and working with the nation. Now we are moving back into collective defense of Europe, and in the last two years that shift has taken on a very heavy requirement for maritime focus. To have a sailor here has provided the ability to add more depth and complexity to the maritime play that we do, and the focus that we need to have on that now. My boss, as a general in the Polish Army, completely gets the fact that the war in Europe will not be won at sea, but it can be lost at sea. So, having a SWO here has been helpful as we see an expansion of maritime goals and requirements. And I should add that I’m an amphib guy who’s going to command an Expeditionary Strike Group.


Have you always been on amphibs?

I did a cruiser initially, and then eight amphibs. I’ve commanded three LPDs – I was the precommissioning CO on New Orleans, and I had Ponce for a couple of months as well as San Antonio for a couple months – and a PHIBRON. The beautiful thing about a SWO is we have to know everything about all of the domains; we have to know undersea, surface, air. And because of my background with expeditionary forces I’ve worked with Marines. I’m part of an Amphibious Leaders’ Expeditionary Symposium – ALES – which was kicked off almost two years ago now, that’s really looking to resurrect all those relationships between the multi-national amphibious forces.

It’s been helpful. If the ALES wants to try something to change the C2 organization of amphibious ops we can work it into an exercise here, and they can participate and we can find out what works. We won’t be looking at a U.S. ARG-MEU, but we’ll have multiple amphibious task forces, with Marines from different countries, and you have to figure out what your command and control is.


How will this experience prepare you for your next assignment?

I’m going to be the commander of ESG-2 in Norfolk. We’re actually going to be engaged in the Trident Juncture 2018 live exercise in Norway in October. So I take all of this with me. It’s sort of like “We actually trained somebody to do their next job.”


How does your work at JWC have an impact on the US Navy?

It will have a direct impact this fall during Trident Juncture. I’ve talked to a lot of U.S. Navy flag officers that had no idea this command existed. And I’ve had a chance to explain that this is what we do, and this is how we do it, and why. Also, being here has given me a broader sense of warfighting. I know more about land warfare than probably any of my Navy flag brethren. It got to the point where I would be thinking, “Hey! He committed his strategic reserve! He didn’t tell his boss about that! That’s a problem!” Everybody looked at me and realized, “Yeah, Okay, you’ve been here a while.” So it’s been very broadening and eye-opening. Our Navy has spent many years going through Gibraltar, the Med, and through Suez, and not really being heavily engaged in Europe. That’s changing. Naval Striking and Support Forces have really changed. We have BMD ships over here that are permanently assigned. BALTOPS is a big exercise every year that we participate in. We’re re-calibrating what we do in Europe. So I bring back an understanding of what NATO is doing and have great contacts and relationships with not only the Navy guys, but all the Army guys as well. I know more Army guys than you could possibly imagine.


Capt. Edward H. Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.) is a senior-level communications professional with more than...