Higher Command Studies Course (HCSC) International Study Trip (IST) 2024

The Higher Command Studies Course (HCSC) 2024 students, accompanied by faculty members, conducted the International Study Trip (IST) to Helsinki and Brussels last week.

The focus of the 2024 IST was on NATO, the European Union and Allied European countries. It provided an opportunity to familiarize with the defence policies of Finland and Belgium and to explore strategy-making policies at the Alliance and national levels.

The briefings by NATO International Military Staff and the European Union Military Staff offered the HCSC students and faculty up-to-date insights about recent security developments. Students met high-level security and defence practitioners and experts in the field, who provided in-depth briefs on various aspects of EU defence policy and the EU intelligence landscape.  

Day 1, 11 March. Helsinki

On the first day of the IST, the HCSC received briefings from the Ministry of Defence of Finland members. Mr Janne Kuusela, Director General, Defence Policy Department, Ministry of Defence of Finland, delivered a brief to the HCSC on the development of Finland’s defence policy and strategy. BG Sami Nurmi, Director of the National Defence Unit, Ministry of Defence of Finland and Karoliina Honkanen, Head of Strategy, National Defence Unit, Ministry of Defence of Finland, briefed the HCSC on the Government’s Defence Report 2024.

On the afternoon of 11 March, the HCSC visited the European Centre for Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats, where they were given an overview of Hybrid CoE and hybrid threats by Tapio Pyysalo, Head of International Relations. Deputy Director of Research and Analysis Lucjan Kubica delivered a brief on Russia and China as hybrid threat actors. Henrik Praks, Senior Analyst, briefed the HCSC on hybrid threat activities in the Baltic Sea Region. Sönke Marahrens, Director of Community of Interest Strategy and Defence, gave a comprehensive overview of hybrid warfare.

Day 2, 12 March. Helsinki

On the second day of the IST, the HCSC visited the Finnish Defence Command, and MG Rami Saari, DCOS Personnel, welcomed them. Briefings on Finnish military strategy and military integration of the Finnish Defence Forces within NATO were delivered.

Day 3, 13 March. Brussels

On the third day of the IST, the HCSC visited NATO Headquarters.

The first brief was delivered by Mr James Appathurai, NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Innovation, Hybrid and Cyber, on NATO’s response to the changes in the security environment. COL Sven Knacke, Operations and Planning Division, Current Operations Branch, International Military Staff (IMS/O&P), provided the HCSC with an overview of core tasks and ongoing activities across the air, land and sea domains as well as NATO’s response to the current situation in and around Ukraine. BG Ilmārs Lejiņš, Deputy Director, Policy and Capabilities Direction, International Military Staff (IMS/P&C), provided the HCSC with a comprehensive overview of core tasks and current developments, including the Strategic Concept, DDA, NWCC & WDA.

In the afternoon, a military discussion panel was held. The panel was moderated by MG Remigijus Baltrėnas and included BGs and LTGs from Finland, Poland, Spain, and the United States.

Day 4, 14 March. Brussels

On Thursday, the HCSC spent the day at the European Union Military Staff (EUMS). The welcome address was given by MG Gabor Horvath, who discussed the role of the military in the EU. Ms Christine Mardirossian delivered a lecture on EU defence policy.

Later in the day, Mr Linas Linkevičius, Deputy Head of Unit, Chief Executive’s Policy Office, from the European Defence Agency (EDA), gave a brief on the EDA’s mission and role in the implementation of the EU defence initiatives. Having support from the EDA and Mr Linas Linkevičius was invaluable to the HCSC in providing a comprehensive understanding of the EDA's function, mission, and structure.

In the afternoon, LTC Peter Norton delivered a brief on the role of the EUMS CONCAP Directorate, followed by COL Mike Kerkhove’s brief on the role of the EUMS INT Directorate, and the day at the EUMS concluded with a brief delivered by LTC Arnoldas Vasiliauskas on the role of the EUMS OPS Directorate.

Day 5, 15 March. Brussels

On the final day of the IST, the HCSC visited the Belgian Defence Staff.

The day started with a brief by BG Xavier Deneys on Belgian Defence Policy. COL Geert Decat briefed the HCSC on integrated capability development. The final brief at the Belgian Defence Staff was delivered by CAPT Nico Cottyn, who discussed the current operations of the Belgian Armed Forces. The trip concluded with a generous lunch hosted by the Belgian Defence Staff.

The IST constitutes an essential and integral part of the HCSC curriculum and supports the learning outcomes of the course and respective modules. The study trip provided students with an excellent opportunity to meet national, regional, and global practitioners working in decision-making environments. Moreover, it provided course participants the opportunity to obtain first-hand knowledge of Allied, European, and national policies, as well as armed forces and cultural values.


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