Published on October 6th, 2014 | by admin


“Our Personnel are our greatest resource”

Colonel Philip Brennan, Director of Operations and Plans Branch, talks to SIGNAL about the priorities for the Defence Forces in this area and how the organisation is equipped to handle the tasks as assigned by government.

Could you give a brief description of your role as
Director of Operations and what it entails?

As the Director of Operations and Plans Branch, my role is to
act as the principal staff officer to the Deputy Chief of Staff
(Operations), (DCOS (OPS)) in matters concerning military
operations and plans. As director, I maintain up to date
situational awareness of all Defence Forces operations in order
to provide timely and quality military advice to DCOS (OPS). I
support DCOS (OPS) by providing sound professional advice
in the operations domain and in particular in the deployment of
Defence Forces land, maritime and air assets and capabilities
on major domestic operations, on overseas deployments and
the deployment of Special Operations Forces (Army Ranger

The branch is responsible for directing the work of Operations and plans Branch and for co-ordination with the other directorates and branches of Operations Division, Support Division, Formation and Service Commanders and the Department of Defence. Operations and Plans Branch is a joint branch that includes staff from all three services. The branch is sub-divided into four sections. Current Operations deals with all Defence Forces domestic operations; Overseas Operations maintains situational awareness of all overseas missions; European Section deals with our engagement with the EU and NATO/PfP, including EU battle groups, and Plans and Capabilities Section prepares all DF Operational Plans and Orders, as well as retaining oversight of the Defence Forces contribution to the government’s Task force on Emergency Planning, and Operational capabilities through the management of the procurement of defensive equipment.

The Defence Forces are currently operating in a very limited financial envelope. Could you explain how functions and roles within the organisation continue to operate efficiently in such an environment and what are the major challenges?

The Defence Forces must operate within the financial resources allocated to it by Government. This annual funding allows the Defence Forces to fulfil the roles assigned to it. Key to the successful completion of these tasks and roles is prudent financial planning in order to maintain the required military capabilities. I believe that through such planning, the Defence Forces exemplify flexibility and adaptability by identifying the operational imperatives necessary to achieve our objectives, and ensuring that financial allocation is targeted accordingly. The Defence Forces benefitted when the public finances were healthy, and certainly in the years since the publication of the first Government White Paper on Defence in 2000.

We have managed to develop vital military capabilities with inter alia the procurement of a world class MOWAG Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) and Light Tactical Armoured Vehicle (LTAV) fleet, top of the range rotary wing and fixed wing aircraft, improvements in individual soldier systems and support weaponry as well as commencing the naval ship replacement programme. This period also demonstrated the Defence Forces ability to project itself to UN-mandated Peace Support Operations on three different continents, which over time saw us maintaining mechanised units in Kosovo, Liberia, Chad and lebanon. Simultaneously, the Defence Forces were actively engaged in the EU battlegroups process, which proved our interoperability with military forces of other EU member States. The challenge for the Defence Forces is now to maintain the high standards that we have set for ourselves by identifying and maintaining our key military capabilities needed to fulfil the roles handed down by Government, while prioritising those that need resourcing by taking a long-term view of financial allocation. We achieve this by adopting a realistic approach to what is achievable. There may be some capabilities that will challenge the organisation financially, but i believe that by maintaining a clear vision of our roles and how we achieve them, we can continue to do our job efficiently within the budget allocated to the Defence Forces.

In terms of on island duties, how would you assess the resources of the Defence Forces in relation to their capabilities? Do you believe that investment in key areas would drive further efficiency in terms of what the organisation can deliver for the State?

The Defence Forces is sufficiently resourced to carry out its many domestic security duties in an effective and efficient manner. One of the Defence Forces principal roles is in Aid to the Civil Power (ATCP) in providing for the security and integrity of the State. The tasks arising from this principal role are many and varied and contingent on an ever-changing and evolving security threat environment. The delivery of these services saves the State in excess of €60 million per year. One of the traditional assets of the Defence Forces is its organisational flexibility, and this has allowed it to achieve success in a range of diverse security roles in assistance to An Garda Síochána.

However, we need to be future-focused when it comes to investment in equipment and facilities. The capability life cycle is constantly moving, and we need to keep ahead of the curve in terms of managing our capabilities to avoid the risk of capability loss. Therefore, the Defence Forces have embarked on a ship replacement programme for the Naval Service, which will require focused investment in bigger and stronger vessels to cope with increasingly rougher seas across one of the biggest maritime areas of any European nation. Likewise, our aircraft fleet will need to be renewed over time and this needs to be budgeted for. Our transport fleet affords us flexibility for on-island duties, but we have to look at the requirements for military transport in a flexible and holistic manner. We encourage different perspectives and constantly develop new ideas of how to achieve our mission. It is not simply a question of ‘doing more with less’, but more a question of maximising the benefit of limited resources by playing to our strengths, and leveraging the combined efforts of our greatest resource, and that is our personnel.

Another principal role of the Defence Forces is in aid to the civil authorities. This role necessitates the Defence Forces to assist where and when required in ensuring resilience in times of national or regional crises such as extreme weather events or other major emergencies. The Defence Forces are represented at the highest level through the Government Task Force on Emergency Planning, and likewise at national and regional level to ensure that our services and range of capabilities are available to the local authorities in times of crisis. The severe winters of 2010/2011, the extensive gorse and forest fires of 2011 and the winter storms of 2014 were examples of occasions when the Defence Forces contributed significantly in aid to the civil authorities. This role is invaluable as it enables the Defence Forces to demonstrate its utility to the public, and creates a positive image of the organisation as a national resource.

The Defence Forces possess a range of military capabilities, many of which can be dual-purpose for use in natural crises. Our capability development planning continuously looks at opportunities where military equipment can be used to assist in maintaining national resilience when required. Our over-arching aim is to serve the State and the Irish people to the best of our ability. This is what drives our capability planning, our training and our operational outlook. I think it is very important that we continue to engage with civil society at every level possible. We could be more proactive in this regard. Many of our people can and do contribute a lot in terms of providing organisational and leadership skills and I would welcome any initiative which would deepen our connection with any relevant elements of society.

Also, in relation to our international commitments, how well do you believe the organisation is resourced to continue to deliver effectively on these missions? How would you like to see the international operations of the DF continue to evolve in the medium to long term?

I think it is fair to say that the Defence Forces do not have an issue when it comes to resourcing for current overseas missions. Our deployments overseas are a manifestation of Ireland’s continuing commitment to assist in maintaining international peace and security. UNDOF , on the Golan Heights has been our most challenging mission in years, where a civil war is ‘superimposed on top of a traditional legacy separation demarcation observer’ type UN mission.

This is the nature of future conflict: where there will be many sides to any conflict and the contemporary operating environment is all at once complex, congested, cluttered, contested and connected. We would not be able to operate in UNDOF without our current resourcing, and the events since we deployed in that mission in 2013 provide ample evidence of this. The Defence Forces ability to play a meaningful role in this and other UN -mandated peace support operations is vital. First and foremost, overseas service keeps the organisation fresh, energised and focused; secondly, peace support operations provide the Defence Forces with the ability to bench-mark our training, our skills and our equipment against other military organisations and thus greatly enhances our interoperability; finally, by flying the Irish flag in upwards of 16 missions across the globe, the Defence Forces provide a tangible and very valuable example of Ireland’s extensive commitment to international peacekeeping.

In missions such as that in Afghanistan, where the ISAF mission will soon become the ‘Resolute Support Mission’, our continuing presence has been requested, and other nations want us to participate. We are capable, effective and make a meaningful contribution to these missions. The flag of Ireland is appreciated on international missions and I think the results that we have achieved over the decades are a testament to that. This involvement can only be achieved by the financial commitment of the government. We tailor our involvement to roles that maximise our capabilities and in turn maximise our training and operational returns. The Defence Forces remains cognisant of its strengths but also of its limitations when it comes to commitments to missions abroad. Our record of projecting and sustaining forces to distant mission areas is proven. Our ability to continue to maintain this track record depends on the quality of our personnel, but equally on the quality of our equipment. Our APC fleet has now seen operational service in seven different missions and will shortly undergo a mid-life extension to ensure that we have adequate armoured force protection for the foreseeable future. Likewise, our Steyr rifle has been upgraded to increase its flexibility and life expectancy. We continuously examine other vital equipment types to ensure that we have what we need when deploying overseas.

The threat to international peace and security is constantly evolving and has become more unpredictable. The threat from inter-state conflict has been superseded by the trans-national threat from global terrorism, a threat from which Ireland is not immune. Ireland’s future commitments to overseas missions will likely be in the context of UN -mandated peace support operations, but could also be in the context of our engagement with the European Union, and our commitments to its security. Although it is hard to predict the future, history has taught us that we can be certain of one thing, and that is that there will always be threats to global security that ultimately lead to conflict. That is why we need a Defence Forces that is capable, flexible, adaptable and deployable to respond to any task by government.

The forthcoming White Paper on Defence represents a
major opportunity for the Defence Forces to plan for the
medium to long term. The previous Minister for Defence
suggested in an interview with SIGNAL that the White
Paper could present an opportunity for a public debate
on the role of the military and issues such as neutrality.
Do you foresee a role for such debate in the shaping of
the White Paper?

The White Paper does present an opportunity for Ireland to reflect on the totality of internal and external issues which impact on Ireland’s defence policy. However the issue of neutrality is ultimately a matter for Government and the DF will conduct its business within whatever policy construct is decided. There will undoubtedly be a great many considerations which will impact on future policy including our traditional stance of military neutrality, our evolving relationships with and within Europe and the impact that the changing paradigm of war will have on defence and security into the future. The White Paper is an opportunity to reflect on all of these matters and I look forward to the certainty that the Paper will provide to the DF over the next decade.

I would like the White Paper to emphasise the quality of our leaders where every member of the Defence Forces is a leader. Defence Forces leaders must be cognisant of the wider defence, economic and geopolitical context. The focus of modern operations will shift, which will place a premium on our leaders, small unit operations and interaction ‘outside the barrack wall’. Domestically this will necessitate making a greater contribution in emergency planning and response as our more traditional ATCP roles decline. We will need new initiatives and they will not come from outside the organisation. Overseas success will increasingly depend on resolving the political issues at the heart of conflict, winning ‘hearts and minds’ and putting the structures in place for a long-term resolution to a conflict.

This will require leaders who understand the comprehensive approach to problem solving involving national, regional and government departments, NGO s, the media and civil representatives along with military partners. Leaders are indeed required at any one time to be ‘warriors, diplomats and giants’ and ‘historians, teachers, counsellors, mentors, town planners and philanthropists’ too. The effects of the digital revolution on humans are unknown. The pessimistic suggest that the web has created a ‘hive’ mentality that emphasises the crowd over the individual, where the practise of fragmentary, impersonal communications [including email and text] has demeaned interpersonal interaction. (Tapscott and Williams: 2010: 370). This doesn’t augur well for any part of society. Operational leaders must be aware of how organisations interact and think and the Defence Forces must train for the known and educate for the unknown. The smart leader takes initiatives to foster collaboration, shared thinking and learning to innovate in a technology rich world.

Colonel Philip Brennan is Director of Operations and Plans Branch at Defence Forces HQ. Colonel Brennan is a native of Paulstown, County Kilkenny and joined the Defence Forces in 1976. His previous appointments include service with 12 Infantry Battalion, the Military College, 3 Infantry Battalion and Executive Officer, Directorate of Operations and Plans and Defence Forces HQ, Dublin. Before taking up his current appointment he was Deputy Commander, Joint Task Force Sector West, UNIFIL in Lebanon. He has previous overseas service with the United Nations in Lebanon and Angola, and Brussels, seconded to the European Union Council as part of the EU’s military staff. He was Commander of 105 Infantry Battalion, UNIFIL. Colonel Brennan is a graduate of NUIG, NUIM and Oscail. His military training includes Command and Staff Courses in the Military College, Curragh and with the United States Army at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Philip, who resides in Kilkenny City, is married to Maura and they have three children Nicola, Adam and Cathal.

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