Army Study Center: for those who want to make a difference! Interview with the president, general (reserve) Enzo Stefanini

(To Andrea Cucco)
30/12/20

If it is true that the strength of a chain is measured by the weakest link, the one that deserves more attention today is the Army. In order to provide a think tank dedicated to the terrestrial instrument, the Army Study Center was established: a free "reservoir of thought" made up of experts and professionals, on duty and on leave, coming from the military and civilian world.

To take stock of the first year of activity, we interviewed the president of the CSE, general of the army corps Enzo Stefanini.

General, after the numerous service positions that have seen her employed in Italy and abroad in key positions, such as in the position of Secretary General of Defense and National Director of Armaments, or as commander of the Army Aviation, as is do you find yourself running a Study Center now?

Over forty years of military life have taught me to face reality with the right mix of idealism and pragmatism. Furthermore, my conviction is that each of us can make a difference, regardless of the area in which we operate. It is also necessary to consider that, at this moment, it is very useful to fill the gaps in knowledge about the Army, its current role and its needs. The Armed forces and in particular the Army share the daily destiny of all state organizations created for the emergency, such as hospitals, firefighters, civil protection, etc., they are remembered only when they are useful and often when they are needed they reveal the criticalities accumulated over time due to carelessness.

A reality, that of the Army Studies Center, which replaces action with reflection?

Action and reflection should be wisely combined in every contingency of life. But certainly the Army Study Center is essentially a place for reflection and the action consists in concretizing the research activity according to formats that allow its use: production of opinions and documents, then management of the website which is our main communication vehicle. with the outside. But it is not the only one, if we take into consideration the conferences and also the testimony activity brought by some of our members to universities, in the context of political science and global strategy courses.

What are the activities of the Army Study Center?

The activities already started are numerous, if we consider that we have been established for just over a year. In January, before the Covid 19 emergency, we publicly presented, in the presence of authoritative representatives of politics, industry and the media, the study "Urgency of the transformation of the terrestrial military instrument", with specific regard to technological innovation, which today pulls all the rest. At that time, the gap in modernization emerged between the Navy and the Air Force on the one hand, which already have new generation systems, and the Army on the other, which has lagged behind.

The economic data are explicit: the Army is financed at 71% in the personnel sector: salaries, allowances, etc .; but if we consider the Maintenance we are at 7% of the total needs. Therefore, in order to function, to be able to have efficient means for operations and the reduced training that the units still manage to carry out, it is necessary to resort to the resources allocated to the Renewal. This fact results in delays in the acquisition of new systems incompatible with the necessary planning of a complex reality such as an armed force.

The solution proposed by the Chief of Staff of the Army there was a special army law, on the model of that of 1977, to start a harmonious innovative process: about a billion a year for the next 15 years. It would also be a good cure for the country system, if we consider that for every euro of added value of the Defense Industry, a further 1,6 is generated in the real economy. However, immediately after that conference, we were at the end of January, the Covid 19 emergency broke out, the look down, the fall in GDP today and the uncertainty for tomorrow. Nonetheless, we will keep the economic-financial data of that study updated, which is very detailed and usable from our website, to propose it again shortly.

On the same occasion as the Army Transformation conference we presented the study on the theme of Mission Command, which its online magazine has already dealt with (v.articolo). The function of the command also follows its evolutionary lines and that study, conducted with the contribution of the Bundeswehr for the aspects of historical criticism, contains a broad psychological treatment of the presuppositions and conditions for the exercise of decentralized / flexible command, such as referred to in national doctrine. The paper of this study is available on the CSE website.

What was the reception by the Army initially - and what is it now?

A premise: the Army Study Center was created by the will of General Salvatore Farina, the current Army Chief of Staff. By statute, we develop studies that are of interest to the Army. Being also an association of free scholars, the debate is equally free, free from a priori perspectives and makes use of the contributions coming from the world outside the Defense. Therefore, everyone brings their own contribution, only bound by the statutory requirements of apoliticality and obviously of scientific rigor.

The mission of the Center - I quote what is defined in our statute - is the development and dissemination of national military thought, with particular reference to the terrestrial component, through the analysis and development of independent historical and social studies on technological innovation, the human component and the forms of struggle emerging in modern and future operational scenarios, translating the most significant activities into communicative events.

Therefore, we wish to be well rooted in the evolutionary reality of the Army, and always connected with the real world, that of civil society and industry. Remaining in the perspective of the Italian Army, where most of us were formed, we observe the phenomena, we analyze them and if necessary we make them the subject of an extended study, involving through special events the interlocutors that we consider profitable to consider. Maybe we contribute to the formation of opinions on defense issues, but always starting from careful studies, as far as possible. Which we make available in our events and using the aforementioned website. Finally, we seek the involvement of strategic and political decision makers when it seems useful to have to offer our point of view.

In the first work developed at the end of last year and presented in January this way of proceeding worked.

Has the CSE stopped in this year of restrictions for Covid 19?

We are under the influence of Covid 19 and we cannot derogate from the security measures, which require us not to physically bring together the working groups. So, let's stay indoors and use Webinar methodologies. So, to answer your question, we never stopped. However, we regret not being able to publicly present the study "The development of the Army's cyber capabilities" (v.link). We would thus have created an important moment of reflection to raise awareness of the risks of cyber attacks and make known the organizational arrangements and the very significant innovations introduced in the Armed Force.

You will know that the VI Department of the Army General Staff has been set up, which has the task of planning the evolution of the information systems at the service of all processes, management as well as operational ones. This department also includes the cyber defense component, which then branches off to the organization responsible for command, control, communication and computer functions (C4) and which also relates to the organizational structures of the civil sector. But the matter is complex, there is still little perception of risks and threats and we would have liked better to share the sense of urgency of a Cyber ​​Common Operational Picture, to have shared information data and thus create synergies in the event of an attack. This would also allow for the growth of the skills of specialists. Nonetheless, the research and reflection activity took place regularly via videoconference and so was the final presentation event of the study.

The same thing is happening with the remaining activities, some still in progress, such as the "Study on the typology of land forces", the study on "Reserve Forces" and the one on "Military participation in the mission in Afghanistan in the light of national interests strategic in the area ", all treated at a distance.

On the other hand, videoconferencing systems have been adopted for many years in the Armed Force in order to avoid travel. Do you think that the first video connection systems for teleconferencing date back to the eighties of the last century, when information technology was the domain of a few specialists, and the Army already had a proprietary data transmission network, on which numerous vital applications were running, such as Lever System.

Large-scale works relating to the Army system as a whole. Do you also pay attention to personnel problems? In particular the Volunteers?

Thank you for this question which allows me to also recall a strong concept, of which the Army Chief of Staff is a firm believer. Man is at the center of the army system, in his physical and spiritual dimension. The military spirit - of Clausewitzian memory - is an essential quality. And first of all I would like to highlight that the well-being of the staff and the quality of life in the infrastructures, if on the one hand they depend on the economic treatment, the hours of service, the housing availability and the standards of the buildings, on the other hand satisfaction that each soldier has with regard to their needs for self-realization. Therefore, the operational efficiency of the units is a basic condition of the quality of life because it is from it that every single component of the military units derives the awareness that their commitment is well spent. Therefore, soldiers must be able to train and create conditions of individual and collective efficiency; then conducting missions competently and safely: the two are connected. So we converge on the financial aspects of the problem, because without resources there can be neither training nor efficiency.

The answer to your question, therefore, is that the CSE pays a lot of attention to the sociological and psychological aspects of military life and I would like to point out to you and your readers the study, already available on our website, on the topic - new for our Armed Forces. - military organizational culture (v.link). This is an extensive document, but easy to read, which provides scientific interpretative keys to military values ​​and characteristics. In this way, those values ​​and typical characteristics find new raison d'être in the comparison with the fashions that are imposed, even when these would be to the detriment of military specificity. The point is that we live in the era of late modernity, pervaded by nihilism and reductionism. Therefore, while having to continually revise our culture, to keep it current, the paradigm that configures it must remain intact in comparison with other cultures in order to safeguard essential values.

In summary: in just over a year you have exposed the critical issues arising from the underfunding of the Defense, which, as readers well know, is now chronic; you then conducted a study on military culture. And what are your plans for the future?

Allow me to clarify: not military culture, but military organizational culture; it includes the organization and its functioning, the technological systems, the infrastructures and therefore the aspects most pertinent to man: his expectations, his anxieties and the values ​​that inspire his behavior in the various contingencies; even in combat.

Returning to the activities of the Center, the future is already present. The Army Chief of Staff invited us to the 2020 Army Conference, a symposium in which the armed force, well represented in all its articulations, discussed future scenarios and development prospects based on enabling technologies, which enhance operational capabilities of the military instrument. A reflection that I wanted to share with the audience on this occasion is that the new systems: automated command and control systems, remotely piloted vehicles, computerized weapon systems and whatever else technology makes available today, however, leave man at the center of the organization and that moreover the technology is subject to being degraded, by wear or by the action of the adversary. And, therefore, man must keep his abilities and must continue to know how to operate even in difficult situations from an environmental point of view. Heat, cold, rain, dust and sand, snow, mud, brambles that tear the uniform and fatigue remain the challenges with which the army soldier must know how to live.

Technology enables and empowers, but it has its vulnerabilities. It is implicit in the concept of multi domain operations that in the future the maneuver will extend to the cybernetic and physical space, to the stratosphere, where the infrastructures that today give us orientation and allow us to communicate are operational, for example the Global Positioning System. An action aimed at degrading these systems could neutralize even vital components of the defense apparatus and for this it is necessary to take care of the ability to operate in the traditional way: knowing how to read the topographic map, designating a point quickly, orienting oneself on the ground, even without compass.

Well, it is necessary to know how to be children of the opulent West, and yet remain frugal, in order to be resilient when deployed on the ground: this is a cornerstone of the education and training of today's soldiers; a mindset to inculcate. Hence the need for virtual training, based on the use of computers (as in videogames), unanimously recognized to be very effective, must always be accompanied by the live one, where you measure yourself with fatigue, sweat, sleep, hunger and thirst if, for example, when maneuvering on the battlefield you have changed your position and the ration is slow to reach us.

Starting from this reflection, I asked the governing body of the Army Study Center to start a reflection on this specific theme, to be materialized in a future analytical and scientific work.

Do you think that the activity you are carrying out will be able to effectively sensitize the policy on the urgencies and needs of the Armed Force?

At this time the sociological indicators describe a public opinion favorable to the Armed Forces. However, people today are attentive to issues of more immediate interest: the lack of work, healthcare under the attack of the pandemic, the enormous public debt. And there is also a widespread desire to escape from the problematic nature of contingency. Thus, in all of this, strategic and national security issues remain relegated to the sidelines.

This, despite the geographical location of our country, which exposes it to the instability that the enlarged Mediterranean is crossing, including migration, and its international role in alliances, which entails precise responsibilities.

There is little knowledge of the global strategy, of the fact that Italy is placed in a complex and rapidly evolving framework of international relations and, consequently, there is little consideration of the primary role of the Armed Forces: warfighting.

The first derivative of this state of affairs is an improper use of the military, who here do everything, except methodical training, continued and repeated, for all possible scenarios of use; training necessary to keep the units efficient and ready.

The second derivative of this mentality is the low consensus on military spending, and we see the effects.

Therefore, raising public awareness on these issues would be a useful service for creating a better awareness of important phenomena within the military world. However, this is the responsibility of opinion makers and communication agencies.

As for our role, it would be naive to think of modifying the prevailing mainstream thinking on issues of this complexity and scope, far from stereotypes and which, to be understood, require intellectual application and a critical sense free from ideologies. We are on the internet with our site, but the aim is not to influence, but to make our works accessible to those interested. Nonetheless, we propose them to strategic decision-makers, whom we hope to be able to reunite in our symposia soon.

How do you join and who can join the CSE?

By e-mailing the application whose format is on the Centre's website at the address www.centrostudiesraq.it. But in the application it is necessary to indicate your field of interest because we are free scholars, who wish to make their own freely available skills, sharing the vision and mission of the association. Of these you can find the statement on the same site, on the home page, but those who have read the interview so far have already understood their meaning.

Photo: Italian Army / Online Defense / Army Study Center