During the last two major exercises which Serbia has held with the NATO member states (“REGEX 2018” and “Serbia 2018”), the media have conveyed officials’ assessments and institutions’ press releases in which “building interoperability” was named as the greatest benefit of such and all future exercises.
The concept of interoperability is well known in security circles, but the term itself is not well known to the public. Despite the fact that interoperability is highly valued among the priorities of the Serbian Armed Forces (SAF), it is necessary to further highlight what it represents, how it is being built and how international exercises help Serbian Army’s readiness to participate in multinational operations.
NATO strives for unhindered cooperation between the military forces of member states and other partner countries, and therefore emphasizes the building of interoperability, which the Alliance defines as “the ability to coherently, efficiently and effectively cooperate in order to achieve tactical, operational and strategic goals”.
One of the most important mechanisms for improving interoperability is participation in military exercises with other countries. Since joining the Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme, SAF has participated in around 150 military exercises with NATO and PfP countries.
The missions and tasks of the Serbian Armed Forces are defined by the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia in accordance with the Constitution, and as one of the three missions in the strategic documents “participation in building and preserving peace in the region and the world” is also recognized.
The Armed Forces accomplish this mission by participating in international military cooperation and participation in multinational operations. As one of the most important conditions for participation in any international missions, the achievement of interoperability with the military forces most commonly involved in them is inevitable.
Interoperability does not necessarily require the same or mutual military equipment. What is important is that the equipment can interact, complement, connect and communicate, exchange data or services with other equipment.
Interoperability can is not achieved only through the use of military technology which is mutually compatible, but, more importantly, through the effective application of standardization, training, exercises, sharing experiences and testing of armed forces’ members or units.
As a member of the PfP, Serbia has access to an interoperability building mechanism called the Concept of Operational Capabilities, within which military exercises are conducted to assess the units involved in the program.
The Concept of Operational Capabilities is a programme or a practical tool that builds-up, achieves and verifies the interoperability and operational capability of the declared units for NATO participation in crisis operations.
The goals of the PfP for Serbia were made on the basis of a Ministerial Instruction, in accordance with the Presentational document submitted by Serbia to NATO in 2008. Their focus is on developing interoperability, operational capabilities for the needs of NATO-led PfP operations, the capabilities needed to respond to the risks of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the defense against terrorism.
In addition to developing the operational capabilities necessary for the coherent functioning of multinational operations and classical combat capabilities, the exercises can build the interoperability needed to respond to civil challenges.
The concept of operational capabilities is divided into two levels, through which the declared units ae tested within a period of about four years, until they receive the combat readiness certificates: two levels of self-evaluation (SEL) and two levels of NATO evaluation (NEL).
The need for interoperability was not recognized only by NATO member states and Serbia, so, for example, the European Union is increasingly recognizing the need for building joint conflict prevention and peacebuilding capabilities.
Benefits of interoperability of SAF with other PfP countries is multiple and represents, in fact, a feedback loop: participating in bilateral and multinational exercises with NATO and PfP members, SAF builds interoperable capacities, acquires and exchange experiences that are necessary for successful operations in international missions and, at the same time, focusing on interoperability increases the capacity for future more extensive participation in international exercises or missions, which contribute to increasing the influence and reputation of Serbia in the world.
Every year, SAF participates in a number of bilateral and multinational exercises with NATO and PfP members. These exercises contribute to building interoperability, given that they provide the opportunity for SAF members to participate in a multinational environment and improve the skills they need to participate in missions
The previous experience of participating in peacekeeping missions shows that the SAF has developed the level of operational capabilities needed for those missions. Additionally, high ratings and successful realized evaluations according to the Operational Capabilities Concept, showed interoperability and readiness of SAF units to integrate capacities and equipment for the needs of participation in multinational operations.