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Interview with Vice Adm. Clive C.C. Johnstone, RN, CB CBE

Commander, Allied Maritime Command




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


Could you explain the scope and magnitude of Allied Maritime Command, and where it fits in for NATO and the member nations that participate?

Vice Adm. Clive Charles Carruthers Johnstone, CB CBE, Royal Navy, Commander, Allied Maritime Command: NATO has a political wing and an operational wing. Supreme Allied Commander Europe [SACEUR] and Supreme Allied Commander Transformation [SACT] head up the two strategic commands. Below them they have four component commands, and I sit as one of the four component commanders.

NATO has two joint force commands at the 4-star operational level, to fight the larger scale battles that we have been expected to fight – and one in Brunssun, Belgium and one in Naples, Italy. And within this operational branch there are two very clear forks. The first fork is the fork that is delivering standing capability, and in part, standing contingent capabilities. That gives us the ability to react quickly. On behalf of SACEUR, I have light operational and tactical control of the standing naval forces.  They operate in a different space to those forces which we allocate to a more serious conflict – predominantly an Article V conflict. And then you would get a rapid buildup of capability that would be more directly under the command and control of a joint force commander, for which I do generate the forces but I don’t have control over them.

The challenge is the fact that the world now looks, at best, competitive if not contentious. You have the ill-advised imposition of statehood in areas of quite significant tension. By that, I’m clearly meaning the Russians. But there is activity that can be both misconstrued and could be misunderstood happening all the time. And therefore we are having to think what that means and what might happen next.


So a joint force commander would be appointed, and that person would start pulling together the force to address that requirement?

We have a maritime readiness force commander within an Article V construct. I’m responsible in the first year for generating and training the forces for that commander, who becomes the maritime component commander to Joint Force Commander Brunssun, and then at the end of his on-call year, he will step down and he will be responsible to me for helping generate the next batch of guys. There’s always one on task, and another one that’s standing down and helping to train and exercise the new staff. The on-call staff must have a command ship allocated, fitted for the appropriate communication and C2 nodes, and they conduct exercises ashore and at sea so that they are certified and ready to go.


Does that preclude some nations that don’t have a command ship?

There are only five NATO nations with that capability. [The U.K., France, Spain, Italy, along with STRIKFORNATO, which provides the fifth High Readiness Forces (maritime) with a U.S. command and control platform.]


And they would embark aboard his flagship?



What about the U.S.?

Vice Adm. Jamie Foggo is Strike Force NATO. But he also has a national responsibility that allows the U.S. to keep command of the BMD [ballistic missile defense] ships and the carrier strike group, although those forces are also allocated to NATO.


So you could have a DDG participating in the NATO strike force, but his BMD reporting structure would come under national command authority?



Does NATO have a maritime BMD capability?

We’re growing it. The Brits are in the foothills. The Dutch have it, or, are buying it. I think the Germans are considering buying it and the Spanish are considering buying it. But the only nation who is an active, working BMD capability at the moment are the Americans.

Vice Adm. Foggo and I are engaged in a really interesting conversation. Quite rightly, he is protective of commanding the firing sequence and fire chain of the surface fleet BMD shooters, and everything to do with that. My responsibility, though, is to provide the supporting infrastructure and supporting forces around that ship so it can do its role. So if we were to go offensive BMD in the Eastern Med, it is likely that Jamie would command the BMD shoot, but I would command the supporting task group that looks after him. How we do that in practice rather than in principal, is very much more complex, as you might imagine. So Jamie is holding a series of workshops that I have my guys at all the time and I go to when I can so that we absolutely understand how that works. It’s so important in everything we do, that we will execute the mission sets or task sets exactly the same way, even though they might be commanded by the nations. In the case of maritime BMD, the task sets would be commanded by the nations, but the mission would be commanded by me. So we have to work in an extraordinary in sophisticated and enhanced partnership.

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