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Personnel Recovery: A strong safety net for deployed personnel

Ensuring swift and safe recovery of personnel isolated, missing, detained or captured in a hostile territory has become a high-priority component of all EU-led Crisis Management Operations. Through its dedicated “Project Team Personnel Recovery”, the European Defence Agency (EDA) actively supports its participating Member States to enhance Personnel Recovery capabilities and improve interoperability - with tangible results.


The article below appeared in the 10th edition of European Defence Matters, the EDA’s official magazine, which you can read by clicking here.


European Defence Matters 10

Any Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) military operation or civilian mission carries the risk of deployed personnel being trapped, isolated, captured and/or maltreated by enemy forces. If it occurs, such an incident can have an adverse impact not only the operation’s security but also the troops’ morale as well as general public support. It is therefore imperative to ensure the effective and quick recovery and reintegration of isolated personnel. In this regard, all possible diplomatic, civil and military options should be combined and utilised. “Keeping personnel recovery high on the EU’s agenda conveys the right signal to our soldiers on the ground”, EDA’s Capability, Armament & Technology Director, Air Commodore Peter Round stressed. He further stated that “It is our responsibility to make sure that robust and effective personnel recovery capabilities and tools are in place and available, as an integral part of any deployment”.

Since 2007 EDA’s Project Team Personnel Recovery (PT PR) has been working in support of its participating Member States (pMS) in order to enhance their Personnel Recovery (PR) capabilities and to effectively address these challenges. Under the German chairmanship and with the active participation of its 14 pMS, the PT has delivered tangible results and valuable studies. In its activities the PT is also supported by the European External Action Service’s bodies; the European Union Military Staff and the Crisis Management and Planning Directorate as well as of the newly established European Personnel Recovery Centre (EPRC), a close partner of the Agency.

As CSDP Crisis Management Operations (CMO) involve many different Member States, Third States and other partner Organisations there is a growing need for ensuring common PR principles, practices, standards and capabilities that are interoperable. As Major Constantinos Hadjisavvas, EDA’s Project Officer on PR, underlines “developing a common personnel recovery culture supported by the relevant capabilities is vital in ensuring that an effective safety net is in place for those in need in the theatre of operations”.

 From conceptual framework to operational PR support

Personnel recovery is a complex process involving five main tasks: reporting, locating, supporting, recovering, and reintegrating. The first task, reporting, includes the recognition and notification that personnel have or may have become isolated. This information can be generated by an accountability mechanism, visual sightings, intelligence, and reconnaissance or even through direct contact with the isolated personnel themselves. The second step, the locating task, includes actions to find and geo-locate the isolated personnel, immediately followed by the supporting task aimed at providing them with mental, physical and emotional support. It is only once these essential preparatory steps have been taken that the core part of any PR mission, the actual physical recovery, can be launched. PR operations are finally concluded with the reintegrating task of the recovered personnel through medical assessments and debriefings before returning them back to duty and/or their families.

Situational awareness, information management, command and control aspects as well as appropriate capabilities are thus absolutely crucial for any successful PR operation. However, as Major Hadjisavvas stresses, “even with the most cutting-edge technology, personnel recovery cannot be successful unless you have trained and motivated personnel”. Working on four different but interrelated work strands (Concept, Command & Control, Equipment and Training), the PT aims at addressing the full spectrum of PR; from the cultural and conceptual context through training aspects to the development of advanced technologies.

 PR FAS ATD: an operational output of EDA

PR provides the capability to safely recover isolated personnel. However, it was identified that an operational technical solution to plan, launch and monitor personnel recovery missions was missing. To close this critical gap, EDA has developed a conceptual framework which led to the successful development of the Personnel Recovery Functional Area Service Advanced Technology Demonstrator (PR FAS ATD), one of the most important operational outputs of PT PR so far.

This ATD is an information management and Command & Control (C2) system designed to increase the efficiency of PR missions and operations. In fact, PR FAS ATD supports planners and controllers with numerous functionalities and a significantly improved situational awareness.

The system is portable and works on a ‘plug and play’ basis, so it can be used by directly connecting to a number of laptops or integrating into existing networks in command posts or headquarters. Significantly, the ATD does not need any additional client software due to access via internet browser. This minimises the rollout effort and increases Information Technology (IT) security.

The demonstrator was successfully evaluated and tested during multinational courses in 2015. In mid-2016, an important milestone was reached when PR FAS ATD was finally distributed to all pMS. They can now use the tool as a web based and stand-alone system during national or multinational trainings and exercises.

 Deployment Support, Training, New Projects

At this stage, the PR FAS ATD is still only a demonstrator, albeit an advanced demonstrator. In order to achieve operational capability additional organisational and technical measures have to be taken. Most important tasks include interfacing existing air command and control systems as well as the provision of service support. EDA is leading these tasks by providing deployment support to pMS, addressing the various aspects of the through-life management of the tool and ensuring its viability.

Furthermore, the Personnel Recovery Controller and Planner Courses (PRCPC), run by the six contributing Member States (Austria, Belgium, Germany, Hungary, The Netherlands, Sweden) as an EDA project ensures that trained personnel are available to support any future PR activities under CSDP. Seven editions of PRCPCs have taken place so far, the most recent in April at the EPRC in Poggio Renatico Air Base (Italy).

Additionally, by the end of 2016, pMS will also obtain a web-based e-learning tool for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE), based on the existing Swedish e-training tool. The SERE project aims to provide pMS with PR training for their military personnel before being deployed. Instead of developing a new tool, EDA was authorised by the Swedish Armed Forces to translate the Swedish tool into English and disseminate it to all pMS. “SERE is a model of how pooling & sharing of assets and best practices can save time, resources and money”, Major Hadjisavvas explains. This tool could also be useful for the personnel deployed in the context of CSDP civilian or other humanitarian missions.

Way Ahead

The need for enhancing interoperability of European Armed Forces’ PR capabilities will be further enhanced by the increasing multinational character of CSDP operations and the volatile environment that the EU is operating in. Topics currently under consideration in the EDA to further advance this important work includes among others, the contribution to the possible revision of the EU’s conceptual framework for PR in support of CSDP and enhancing the PR efficiency with the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) support.

Finally in November 2016 the Agency in cooperation with the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) will organise a PR Conference in order to enhance awareness of the importance of PR in saving lives and protecting the EU’s reputation.