NATO will hold its largest amphibious exercise in more than a decade this fall with more than 30 nations and 36,000 allied troops participating, including robust support from U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.
Trident Juncture, set to unfold across Western Europe from Oct. 3 to Nov. 6, will take place as tensions continue to escalate between Russia and some Eastern European NATO members who are shaken by saber-rattling in the region and continued Russian intervention in Ukraine.
While the host nations — Spain, Portugal and Italy — don't necessarily consider Russia to be a major threat, their NATO allies in Eastern Europe do, said Luke Coffey, a former Army captain who's now a fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington, D.C., think tank.
"The reality is NATO is a defensive alliance, meaning Estonia is defended the same way as Spain or D.C.," Coffey said. "An attack on Estonia is an attack on Spain, whether Spain likes it or not."
What you need to know about this massive exercise.
Joint ops. During the exercise, thousands of U.S. troops, including 2,200 soldiers and more than 800 Marines, will conduct operations ashore and afloat in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. Navy officials declined to provide details about their service's role in the exercise, but all the military branches are expected to have a heavy presence.
Highlights. In early November, Marines will test the concept of basing a crisis response force aboard a Spanish ship, said Marine Capt. Richard Ulsh, a spokesman for Marine Corps Forces Europe and Africa. The idea is to keep infantry Marines and MV-22B Ospreys close to potential flash points amid U.S. amphibious ship shortages.
The Army will conduct a Joint Land Heavy Military Demonstration on Nov. 4, said Donald Wrenn, a spokesman for U.S. Army Europe. That will include a jump by airborne troops and maneuvers with armor assets such as tanks.
Sea basing. The Navy and Marine Corps will put several new ideas to the test during Trident Juncture.
Marines with 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion out of Camp Pendleton, California, will use the Navy's maritime prepositioning ship USNS Sgt. William R. Button to stage gear afloat. The Marines will maneuver the ship into port in Rota, Spain, before docking, unloading and maneuvering nearly 300 miles inland for another exercise.
The movement is intended to test the feasibility of positioning gear aboard ships around the globe, which is central to the Marine Corps' vision of future crisis response operations.
Non-military partners. The exercise will not be limited to NATO militaries. To bolster interoperability with nongovernmental organizations that are critical to disaster relief operations, Trident Juncture will include more than 12 major aid agencies and NGOs.
Timing. Since the U.S. and its allies are no longer occupied with large-scale operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, military partners likely want to develop an exercise that will help maintain interoperability honed in combat, Coffey said.
While many are quick to look to Russia as the major regional threat, some Western European nations are actually using the exercise to convince their populations that their militaries are countering mass immigration and terrorism threats from Africa. That rhetoric is flawed, Coffey said, but it doesn't matter much. Regardless, the end result will be better trained NATO troops, he said.