Dan Parsons, Defense Daily
27 August 2015
NATO is set to launch the largest and most complex multi-nation military exercise since the end of the Cold War. The so-called Trident Juncture, set to kick off in mid-October, will involve 27 of the 28 NATO nations performing maneuver warfare, amphibious assault and other large-scale combat practice in Portugal, Spain and Italy.
The alliance has not flexed its maneuver warfare muscle since its last large-scale multi-national exercise in 2002, French Air Force Gen. Jean-Paul Palomeros, NATO supreme allied commander for transformation, told reporters Aug. 27 during a roundtable in Washington, D.C. NATO since then has been fighting a very specific counterinsurgency and nation-building war in Afghanistan, during which time skills like troop transportation, logistics and interoperability have atrophied, he said.
“We fixed to ourselves this initiative to build a major, high-intensity, crisis operation exercise,” Palomeros said. “This exercise is there to ensure the NATO command structure ... it is there as well to train our people in the most demanding environment, the kind of environment they will face in the future.
“If we want to reach the highest level of interoperability, we have to check that,” he added. “We have to stress test in a certain way, our organization, our coalition, to see if everything is in place.”
Trident Juncture will involve 36,000 troops in 230 units from nearly every NATO nation and a few others, 220
aircraft, 50 ships and nine submarines. Before the live exercise, a command-post exercise will be held to test commanders’ ability to communicate and move forces according to escalating threats.
Palomeros said the participant nations will be focusing on information sharing, threat prediction, mobility and adaptability of forces, identifying areas that need built-in resiliency, strategic communications and each nation’s security network.
While NATO was able to rapidly develop and deploy coalition forces in support of Libyan rebels during that country’s civil war and more recently against Islamic State militants, the alliance has not banded together in full-scale war in decades, Palomeros said.
The goal of the exercise is to train in maneuver warfare with massed troops, “which is an expertise which we have lost [over] the last two decades, because of the nature of operations in which we were involved.”
In the last two years, NATO has expanded its multinational exercise schedule by three, Palomeros said. Heretofore, the alliance plans to conduct such large multinational exercises at least every three years. The next one will take place in and around Norway in 2018.
“This very dynamic policy of exercises has allowed to answer the call of the assurance measure in the east, as well, in a matter of days,” he said, alluding to NATO’s ongoing position of support for Eastern European nations threatened by a resurgent, expansionist Russia.
The exercise is not specifically aimed at showing off NATO’s might before an expansionist Russia, he said. The idea was hatched at a NATO meeting in Chicago before the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The exercise was specifically hatched as practice against threats originating on NATO’s southern borders, because “the south was concerning, in a certain way,” Palomeros said.
“And we needed to balance the activities,” he said. “We had some activities in the east. That was before Ukraine. Then we concentrated and said there is a huge potential for high-intensity, very realistic complex scenario in the south in a joint environment – sea, air, land.”
Spain, Portugal and Italy eventually were arrived at as willing and able host nations, he said.
Planning for Trident Juncture took more than two years, which Palomeros acknowledged was slow in terms of its application to a real-world conflict. But the methodical planning allowed NATO and participating countries to delve deeply into their command structures and ability to communicate and coordinate a response to a given threat, he said.
Some lessons already have been learned, namely that logistics within NATO are not optimal. For a league of 28 nations to fight a war on a unified front, troop movement, supply and transportation are key, he said.
“Logistics remain a key factor,” Palomeros said. “This is not new, but it remains. Logistics is not always a top priority when it should be. We should be permanently striving to practice moving forces.”