NATO Security Force Assistance Centre of Excellence’s mission and goals: interview to the Director, Col. Massimo Di Pietro

Few weeks ago, Faro Atlantico, the Observatory on Euro-Atlantico Defense of the Center for Geopolitical Studies “Geopolitica.info”, had the opportunity to visit the NATO Security Force Assistance Centre of Excellence, to interview its Director, Col. Massimo Di Pietro, and to take a close look at the activities promoted by the Centre.

NATO Security Force Assistance Centre of Excellence’s mission and goals: interview to the Director, Col. Massimo Di Pietro - Geopolitica.info

Read the interview in Italian here

Good afternoon Director and thank you for taking the time for this interview. We would like to start with a few questions regarding the NATO Security Force Assistance Centre of Excellence (NATO SFA COE). What is a Centre of Excellence?

Centres of Excellence are nationally, or multi-nationally funded institutions accredited by NATO. They train and educate leaders and specialists from NATO member and partner countries, assist in doctrine development, identify lessons learned, improve interoperability and capabilities, and test and validate concepts through experimentation. A COE is not a part of the NATO Command Structure (NCS) or of other entities, but forms part of the wider framework that contributes to the functioning of the Alliance, with no costs for NATO.

Where did the idea of the NATO SFA COE originate from?

The idea originated from the Lisbon Summit in 2010 that marked the kickoff of the NATO Security Force Assistance Concept. During that summit all participating nations recognized the need to have a reference doctrinal framework for Security Force Assistance. In particular, NATO identified the need to develop a new capability as a means of modern warfare: to train and develop Local Forces in crisis zones and to encourage a proper degree of autonomy. For these reasons, in 2016 Italy proposed its participation, as Framework Nation, with the constitution of the NATO SFA COE, in order to fill the SFA gap among the NATO capabilities. From the beginning, Albania and Slovenia adhered to the initiative as Sponsoring Nations.

What is the Centre’s main goal?

The mission of the NATO SFA COE is to improve the effectiveness of the Alliance in promoting stability and reconstruction efforts for conflict and post-conflict scenarios through related Lessons Learned, Education and Training analysis, development of Concept and Doctrine activities. The COE is committed to providing a unique capability to the Alliance, NATO Nations and NATO Partners in the field of SFA through the sharing of expertise and knowledge, while cementing the varied skills of its personnel required in order to accomplish the numerous tasks, missions and challenges that NATO SFA COE face as a team.

How does the Centre fit in with NATO?

Our strength is based on the inseparable connection between NATO SFA COE and the heterogeneous domain, in which the Centre operates. This is the reason why we established relationships with the NATO Force Structure and the NATO Command Structure, International Organizations, COEs, think tanks and research institutes. From a doctrinal perspective, the SFA relates to other important NATO concepts, policies and operations.

Has the pandemic had an impact on SFA activities?

The pandemic outbreak deeply hampered SFA activities due to the containment measures put in place to prevent the spreading of the virus. Social distancing severely affects the interaction between the SFA operator (trainer, mentor, adviser) and the counterpart, impeding the establishment of proximity, in the relationship. In order to tackle this operational impasse, many SFA activities are conducted through virtual communication platforms or by phone. This approach tries to mitigate the physical interruptions of the relationship between the operator and the counterpart, creating a complementary tool. However, the reach-back assistance from the homeland (in virtual mode) needs to be integrated with the troops on the ground. The concept of reach-back assistance refers to the capacity of granting a continuous oversight to the SFA support from the homeland, ensuring the continuing unity of efforts despite the turn-over of task forces.

What are the Centre’s current and future activities?

The NATO SFA COE adopts a comprehensive approach in developing their projects and related activities carried out along the three lines of efforts: Policy, Human Capital and Support to the Operations. As regards Policy, we analyze all NATO concepts and best practices related to SFA while integrating them in the revision process of the existing NATO doctrine or by delivering independent research or publications. In the Human Capital line of effort, the Centre develops projects and activities concurring in shaping, training and improving knowledge. With this intent we are developing a wide educational offer with basic, intermediate and advanced courses for advisors at all levels of operations. Finally, in relation to Support to the Operations, the NATO SFA COE takes all necessary actions to support the NATO Command and Force Structures in improving their ability to plan and conduct SFA activities across NATO Operations and Missions and takes an active part during NATO exercises. 

Director, last question. We know that during these two weeks the Centre is holding the first edition of the 2021 SFA Operators Course. Can you tell us something about it?

The NATO selected course started from a training needs analysis in the field of military contribution to Stabilization in order to define and deliver an effective, efficient and affordable solution that satisfies performance gaps identified by the Alliance. The aim of the course is to improve the competency and effectiveness of SFA operators working in current and future missions on defense and related security capacity-building. The course enhances the practical understanding and application of NATO SFA operators working as part of NATO’s comprehensive and integrated approach. Course participants will be able to perform Security Force Assistance by advising, mentoring or training in order to improve the performance of designated actors.

To conclude, I would like to say that the NATO SFA COE is a growing entity that entered the international scene with positive energy and a desire to emerge. It has built a great Community of Interest and it is committed to enlarging and developing this community. The ability to think outside the box, the courage to explore uncharted territories and a proactive posture, allow the Centre to be a point of reference on SFA.