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Tactical English

Since multinational operations are one of the most important tasks of the Austrian Armed Forces, the preparation for them is very important. The English language is one of the major aspects needed to achieve the necessary interoperability. The Section for Tactical English of the Austrian Armed Forces Language Institute is one of the elements facilitating this.

You know that the German language and the Austrian Armed Forces confine tactics to the tactical level and operations to the operational level, with the brigades corresponding to the tactical level and the Joint Forces Command representing the operational level. But do you know that in military English they are not bound to any level and that even platoons and companies employ tactics and conduct operations? This is one of the many differences between German and English military culture. And to further complicate matters differences also exist between the respective German-speaking and English-speaking military establishments. In these times of increased multinational cooperation and combined operations this is the reason that the Austrian Armed Forces need a capacity to deal with these differences, to avoid misunderstandings and to support multinational efforts. This capacity is represented by the Section for Tactical English (Referat Taktisches Englisch) in the Austrian Armed Forces Language Institute at the National Defense Academy in Vienna. This article is meant to give you an overview over the Section for Tactical English, its activities and the possibilities to support the troops.

English in the Austrian Armed Forces

Both the Theresian Military Academy and the NCO and Warrant Officer Academy have their own English teachers, and J7/Joint Forces Command coordinates the language trainers within the battalions. These elements however deal with regular civilian English, and with military English only on a very basic level. The situation in the Austrian Armed Forces Language Institute is similar: Of the three sections directly concerned with English, and of the three sections also dealing, among other languages, with English, only one, the Section for Tactical English is solely responsible for military English.

The designation "Referat Taktisches Englisch” must be understood in the English sense: Since it is the only organization within the Austrian Armed Forces specifically dealing with military English at a higher level the tasks range from combat techniques even up to the strategic level. Due to the fact that the Section only consists of two officers (Lieutenant Colonel Herwig Preining and Major Philipp Heger) it is not possible to cover this whole spectrum. Therefore the main effort consists of the following tasks:

  • tactical English training
  • participation in the production of Austrian Armed Forces doctrine and terminology
  • training, tuition and support of the Language Trainers English
  • participation in multinational efforts to enhance interoperability
  • direct support for multinational activities.

Tactical English Training

The Tactical English Course (TEC) takes place twice a year, usually in April and September, either at the Language Institute or in Reichenau or Seebenstein and lasts for two weeks. The aim of this course is to give the participants (officers and non-commissioned officers) a basis for working in a multinational environment, e.g. operations or exercises. The problem of different military cultures is addressed by the philosophy of the Tactical English Course, as defined by the head of the Language Institute, Brigadier Walther: One of the aims of the course is to give the participants an idea of another military culture. As time restraints allow only one to be discussed, the choice fell upon the U.S. tradition. The reason for this decision is the fact that American military English can be considered the lingua franca of global military language usage since the Americans are the only English speaking military establishment who actively try to spread their military culture by making U.S. manuals, guidelines and regulations openly available and providing U.S. personnel as instructors for other foreign military forces.

The working language during the course is of course English (the requirement for participation is NATO level 2, formerly B) and students come from all over the world, e. g. the Balkans, Jordan, China or the former Soviet Union. The main effort is to enable the students to participate in an English military decision making process (MDMP). Since no multinational format exists, due to the aforementioned reason the U.S. process is used. The instructor for this is provided by the US Military, e. g. a Foreign Area Officer from the US embassy or a staff officer from the NATO school in Oberammergau, and thus a high level of expertise is achieved. The process is taught using a mixture of theory and hands on approach. Theory is important as a basis, since the American decision making process is much more complex and formalized than the Austrian way. This knowledge is then employed to solve tactical tasks on the basis of genuine American operation orders or by playing tactical decision games (TDGs are short scenarios detailing some problem or task for which a solution must be found). Two examples for this would be "Operation Olaf” or the tactical decision game "Forging Steel”. The former saw the participants working as a battalion staff drafting an operation order for isolating a group of insurgents during a stabilization operation. The latter made them assess and plan the attack of a mechanized task force to secure a bridge to exploit the success of a brigade.

To make the Tactical English Course into a comprehensive experience a broad spectrum of additional topics is also presented. Some examples are Colonels General Staff Platzer and Ortner who give very interesting briefs on current developments of NATO and EU security policy, or Colonel Gnaser from the Institute for Military Geography. NATO voice procedures (radio communication) also play a prominent role in the course. The U.S. embassy usually contributes further personnel, e. g. the air attaché for briefing on air operations or non-commissioned officers or warrant officers as instructors for U.S. Army physical training, including running with cadences. The understanding of other military cultures is deepened by lectures on US military tradition and briefs by the multinational participants on their forces. These different components enable the course to provide an idea of how multinational staff work functions and gives a solid basis for it. Interested Austrian Armed Forces personnel can find the Tactical English Course within the Kursis-Database.

One of the plans for the future is the implementation of a prequel course for the Tactical English Course. This would mean the platoon- and company level and would focus on the troop leading procedures (TLP) for these echelons and on low level tactics, instead of staff work.

An additional three-week Tactical English Course is held every three years for the incoming General Staff Course at the National Defense Academy. Some elements of the Tactical English Course are also taught at the 3B-Courses (formerly 2C) at the Austrian Armed Forces Language Institute. The Section for Tactical English also provides language support for exercises with English as the working language being conducted at the Institute for Higher Military Command (IHMF) for the various courses.

Austrian Armed Forces doctrine and terminology

Austrian Armed Forces doctrine and terminology is directly influenced by multinational English documents. This is especially true for NATO documents, since the UN is not producing many military publications and the EU is just beginning to implement its security policy on the working level. Since Austria, as a NATO-PfP member, has agreed to participate in the effort to enhance interoperability, English NATO terminology and concepts (and to a lesser degree French) have to be incorporated into Austrian documents and doctrine.

A very good example for this is ACP (Allied Communications Publication) 125(F), the NATO voice procedure manual, which was used as the basis for the new Austrian voice procedure manual (Der standardisierte Funksprechverkehr) by the Command Support School (FüUS). The adoption of NATO doctrine goes so far, that from now on the English Prowords are to be used in German-language radio communications within the Austrian Armed Forces. Procedure Words: standard words or phrases used in place of whole sentences to keep voice transmissions as brief and clear as possible, e. g. this is, over, radio check, say again, … . Another good example for NATO influence are the task verbs used in the Austrian manual Operational Graphics (Taktische Zeichen). They are defined by NATO STANAG (Standardization Agreement) 2287 and they bring some changes to our basic terminology and military thinking. The table on the right site demonstrates that the Austrian terms often do not correspond with NATO terminology, that double meanings exist and that combinations have to be used to for correct understanding.

To understand what happens when a common basis of understanding is missing think about one of the incidents during the race riots in Los Angeles in 1992: A joint team of police officers and U.S. Marines were about to enter the building when they were fired upon. A Police officer shouted at the Marines to "cover” him while he entered the building. What he wanted was for the Marines to provide overwatch and only engage identified targets. But according to USMC doctrine in 1992 "cover” meant providing covering fire to suppress a hostile position. And thus they opened fire and shot over 200 rounds indiscriminately into the whole building. This shows, besides a somewhat lacking flexibility of the Marine Corps, what happens when different agencies from the same nation don’t use common terminology when operating in a joint (different services, e. g. land forces, air force, navy, operating together) environment. And when you add the combined (different nations working together) aspect with its multiple languages you can see the absolute necessity for using common terms, especially when conducting multinational combat operations, as for example is now taking place in Afghanistan. And although Austria is refusing to participate in this operation (even the neutral or non-aligned nations Sweden and Finland contribute troops to ISAF) it can only be hoped that Austria is going to honor European solidarity someday in the future and play a more active role in the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP).

Therefore, to ensure that all these new aspects of thinking and communicating are understood and properly incorporated into Austrian doctrine and terminology the Section for Tactical English is among other things working together with, and supporting both the Institute for Higher Military Command and the Doctrine and Terminology Division (Vor), and is also involved in the evaluation phase for the new voice procedure manual.

Language Trainers English

As mentioned before, J7/Joint Forces Command employs Language Trainers Englisch (Sprachtrainer Englisch) within the battalions (J7 is also coordinating the language trainers of the schools, academies and the support forces) to assist the civilian English teachers with military English during language courses, to school the soldiers of their battalions and to provide their battalion commanders with support and expertise regarding English language matters. The aim of Joint Forces Command is to have at least two Language Trainer English in every battalion or corresponding unit. Regretfully, this aim has not been achieved yet: Currently there are 34 fully trained Language Trainers English and another 27 in training in the Austrian Armed Forces. So, if after reading this article you feel inclined to become one of them, please do not hesitate to start your training to become one of the specialists for English language. Speaking of the training, this is where the Section for Tactical English comes into the picture: If you have an English level of 3 (the former C) or above you can attend the two modules needed to become a fully fledged Language Trainer English at the Austrian Armed Forces Language Institute. Each module lasts for one week, with one usually taking place in February or March, and the other one in September or October. The contents of Module 1 range from linguistic and didactic basics to preparing individual teaching material for basic military topics like live firing, barracks or field craft. Module 2 adds practical exercises with recruits acting as students, giving the trainee language trainers the chance to actually conduct training, e. g. check point, drill or weapons handling.

The Section for Tactical English is not only responsible for training the Language Trainers English, but also supports and supervises them. At least once a year a seminar is conducted to provide them with new material and inputs, and to give them the chance to get together and share experiences. The aim of the Section is also to go out to the troops and supervise and support the Language Trainers English during the courses and projects. This is however proving difficult due to the already mentioned fact that the Section consists of only two officers with their vast scope of tasks. Added to this comes the fact that the Section for Tactical English frequently has to assist in other tasks of the Language Institute, e.g. examinations, translating or proofreading.

Multinational efforts to enhance interoperability

The problems for interoperability resulting from the different languages have of course been noticed and efforts are under way to remedy this. The most efficient player for this is NATO, since the UN is apparently too divided to agree on a common military culture and the EU is just beginning to implement its Common Security and Defense Policy. NATO has already compiled a vast amount of terminology related to military and security matters in English and French. Although some terms are not entirely accepted, since many nations use caveats because the term does not fit in with their respective military culture or tradition, it is a good beginning for an improved multinational cooperation. But the problem now is that the various actors and agencies have generated such a huge amount of terminology in various areas and publications, that it has become nearly impossible to keep an overview.

The Bureau for International Language Coordination (BILC), a NATO consultative and advisory body for language training matters, has therefore initiated a project to produce a comprehensive yet manageable document, listing the important and necessary terminology. The real challenge will be the compilation of a list which will be acceptable to all participating NATO and NATO-PfP nations, since the priorities differ because of the already often mentioned different military cultures. But when this succeeds, it should prove to be a good reference book for multinational military terminology. Austria plays quite a prominent role in this process, since Brigadier Walter was one of the driving powers starting it. Therefore, the Section for Tactical English is also participating in this project to improve the basis for combined operations.

But one must not forget that common terminology is only one part of efficient and successful multinational cooperation. The other one is using mutual processes and techniques. NATO made a very important step in this direction by releasing the Comprehensive Operations Planning Directive (COPD), which is applicable to all operations planning activities at the strategic and operational levels of command. Although it can also be adapted to the tactical level in order to enhance the efficiency of planning activities, it is not a proper military decision making process, as it is used on the battalion- and brigade level. As mentioned before, such a multinational format does not exist, since this would probably bring with it too many deviations from the respective military cultures. This means, that during combined operations and exercises the military decision making process of the respective lead nation is used, and the multinational participants have to adapt to this. The European military establishments should therefore think about giving up some of their respective cultures and start a process to generate a combined and common military decision making process. This would be a great chance to enhance European military integration and would also make EU operations more efficient.

Support for multinational activities

This is also a very important aspect for the Section of Tactical English. Whenever Austrian units participate in multinational exercises or combined operations they can request assistance from the Austrian Armed Forces Language Institute for the preparation. The support can range from English training, like for example for the UNIFIL deployment, help with the production of orders and documents, preparation seminars, up to direct language support during an exercise.

The exercise VIKING 11 gives a good example for the scope of possible support by the Section for Tactical English. VIKING 11 was a multinational command post exercise (CPX) with Sweden as the lead nation and took place in April 2011. Exercise control, the operational headquarters and the component commands (LCC [land forces], ACC [air force], MCC [maritime forces] and SFCC [special operations forces]) were located in Sweden, and several brigade headquarters were spread all around Europe, with the Austrian 3rd Mechanized Infantry Brigade operating from the Seetaler Alpe. The brigade headquarters was enhanced by staff officers from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Sweden, Tadzhikistan and the USA. The battalions, which had their companies simulated on the command simulator (FüSim), came, aside from the regular units of 3rd Brigade, from Germany and Tadzhikistan.

The scenario was a standard peace support operation (PSO), seeing a multinational force stabilizing a post-conflict region together with civilian players in a comprehensive approach. Adhering to this scenario the threat was not primarily a classical military one, but resulted rather from political and religious extremism, organized crime, humanitarian crises and a catastrophic economic situation. Although the primary training audience (PTA) was the operational headquarters and the component commands, the exercise gave 3rd Mechanized Infantry Brigade, as secondary training audience (STA), a good possibility to train multinational staff work in a very intensive and realistic environment. The support for this exercise from the Section of Tactical English was twofold: During the preparation a three-day staff seminar was conducted for the staff of 3rd Mechanized Infantry Brigade to prepare the officers and NCOs for their respective tasks and responsibilities and to give them a basis for communicating within their branches in a multinational environment. The seminar saw them working in their respective exercise functions and preparing and conducting briefs on various topics to acquire the relevant terminology and to improve their oral skills.

The first topic was general information about their respective branches and areas of expertise, and the capabilities and doctrine of the forces they were responsible for. The second topic was the exercise scenario itself and was aimed at the participants gaining situational awareness (SA) in English, with the officers and NCOs briefing on the respective situation within their responsibility. The third part was actual staff work, with the staff members solving tactical decision games and briefing on the situation and intent. And after the participation in the preparation of the exercise, the Section for Tactical English supported 3rd Brigade in the exercise itself by providing language support. This was done by a member of the Section working as the G2 Production Officer and thus assisting with the production of the various intelligence products (INTREP, INTSUM, briefs, … ). From an Austrian point of view VIKING11 was assessed as a complete success, since the high quality of the work of 3rd Mechanized Infantry Brigade was repeatedly praised by exercise control.


The Austrian Armed Forces are trying to enhance multinational compatibility for combined exercises and operations. The Section for Tactical English of the Austrian Armed Forces Language Institute plays an important role in this endeavor by participating in the effort to fuse national and multinational, especially NATO, terminology and doctrine, and by giving support where needed.

This is done by providing training in tactical English, participating in the production of Austrian Armed Forces doctrine and terminology, training and supporting the Language Trainers English, participating in multinational efforts to enhance interoperability and through direct support for multinational activities of the Austrian Armed Forces.

Author: MAJ Philipp Heger graduated from the Theresian Military Academy as an officer of the mechanized forces. Additionally he is currently undergoing training to become a RECON officer. His assignment is the Desk Officer for Tactical English at the Austrian Armed Forces Language Institute; his operational function is in the Intel Branch of 3MECHINFBDE. His international operations include UNDOF as a COMCEN Operator, KFOR as a Deputy Platoon Leader and EUFOR ALTHEA as the Deputy Chief G2 of MNTF/N.

Eigentümer und Herausgeber: Bundesministerium für Landesverteidigung | Roßauer Lände 1, 1090 Wien
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