Operational support in Afghanistan (2003 – 2010)
In 2003, TNO employees started supporting the Netherlands military forces in Afghanistan for the first time. As operational analysts, they helped the military to determine whether they were performing the right activities to achieve the mission. This support was appreciated so much that the Royal Netherlands Army created reservist positions for operational analysts. Now, the operational analysts could also be deployed during exercises and in missions abroad. Up to and including 2010, 16 TNO colleagues have been active in Afghanistan as a reservist for a total deployment period of more than 90 months.
One female reservist operational analyst went to Uruzgan and observed:
You can better identify a country when you are there. When you go on holiday to France, you look at the map. But only when you have smelled camembert cheese does the country go to live for you. With Afghanistan, it is just like that. The sand, for example, has such a fine structure that it gets into everything. Your equipment will wear superfast, you will no longer be able to clean your sunglasses, your camera will stop after three weeks. That sort of things.
A colleague reservist, who is active three days a week as an innovation manager at the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee in The Hague: “You could think quite beautiful, intelligent and smart applications, but you must also understand where and how the TNO innovations are applied. I have become a reservist to be able to empathize even more with the Dutch Armed Forces. Because I experience how the reality of what we encounter is tested, I can contribute to making our innovations in the field of – in my case – for example, cyber and hybrid conflict management even more applicable. We acquire through direct contact ideas and needs that we would otherwise not hear of.”
The reservist from the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee: “If you want the soldier to use information from a mobile device during a threatening situation, then it is not so convenient. If we provide another interface, for instance, augmented reality in the form of physical or collaborative robots (cobots), it may be a solution.
These are typical experiences, which come to you in practice. Through direct contact, we form ideas and discover new operational needs, such as the possible need of the military police for small portable laser weapons for the surveillance of objects in dense urban areas.”
The analyst continues: “When I was once outside the gate, from the roof of the governor’s compound I saw the former opium fields. Potato crops were flourishing now. I also looked at the playground of a mixed-gender primary school, which the army had helped to establish. Up to ten children were crowding each other on the stairs of a slide. It showed that the Dutch approach worked: The children went to school and enjoyed themselves.”
Part of the team
“What I liked was that cooperation between the Ministries of Development Cooperation, Defence and Foreign Affairs,” she says. “Moreover, as reservists, we participated and we felt part of the team. This was partly due to the eight-week work-up process in the Netherlands, where we got to know each other well in military exercises and planning.”
“When rockets fell on our camp in Uruzgan, it was very special indeed,” remembers one of the first reservists who went to Afghanistan. “Fully hung around (in combat fatigues and armed), we were assigned to the quick reaction force and at night we were on guard duty. At such times, you are just a serviceman. It is not without reason that we repeat the basic military skills every year on the shooting range and in the gasmask training room.”
New operational concepts
The female analyst currently supports the Army in testing new operational concepts: “We help shape these concepts as part of the existing practice and training weeks. Which variables would you like to measure? What consequences does that have for logistics, planning, or in the event of an attack? When will you operate more effectively than before and how will you measure that? We participated in a military exercise in Germany. One day a week, we take part in the consultations with the working groups at the barracks.” “But there are many more reservists functions than that of operational analyst or innovation manager”. “For example, we have a colleague who works as a scientific advisor to the staff of the Air Force one day a week. Another controls ship traffic during exercises and operations of the Navy. Another advises the Army on improvised explosive devices (IEDs). So we contribute with various TNO specialities to Defence.”
It is an advantage to be a reservist. “It has added value. Certainly, if you are deployed, you go in a pressure cooker in terms of personal development. You learn to present and report under pressure, work in a team, work long hours, and perform in a different culture. On top of that personal development, you learn a lot that you can apply back home at TNO. TNO recognises this and facilitates the reservists with specific employment conditions.”
“With a joint history, which goes back for more than seventy years, Defence and TNO are important partners of each other.”
“Exchanging staff is very useful. We see that reservists often take a role as a consultant on the border of Defence and TNO, or as programme manager or project manager. They can make the connection – in any area of research. The more we build on such a relationship now and in the future, the greater the effect we can jointly realise.”
Down to earth. For TNO reservists this notion is more than an expression. Listed on the payroll of the Army, Air Force, Navy or Maresschaussee, the reservists, each based on their specific expertise, collaborate with the men and women for whom their research is intended.
Citing the operational analyst who was one of the first TNO experts going to Afghanistan as an Army reservist in 2003: “Our task was to make the objective of the mission concrete and measurable: to create a safe and secure environment. What changes do you need to accomplish? Are there fewer attacks? Does the attitude of the population change about foreign Army units? Are we seeing economic growth? And do our efforts contribute to that?”
“We used scientific methods and tools”, he explains. “For example, with an influence diagram, we looked at which actors played a role and how they related to each other. Moreover, we interviewed the soldiers who went outside the secured camp. That way we could advise the commander and the staff: if you turn this button, it can have this impact. So are you going west or east? Are you going to fight or are you going to build a police post, build a school, or train the local armed forces? And how many people do you have to train for that? ”