NATO completed its largest naval exercise in five years on 26 October, with the Ukraine crisis, the end of combat operations in Afghanistan, and the outcomes of the Wales summit all driving changes in NATO training.’
Noble Justification’ was run on 13-26 October to certify the maritime component of the NATO Response Force (NRF) for 2015.
The exercise was conducted on a larger scale and with broader capabilities from member nations than earlier editions. NATO’s maritime training – when compared with previous exercises – has also shifted its focus from low-intensity counter-piracy missions to high-intensity conflict, intensifying the emphasis on joint training, said senior NATO officials during the exercise.
Speaking on board the Spanish aircraft carrier ESPS Juan Carlos I , Vice Admiral Peter Hudson, Commander of NATO Maritime Command (MARCOM), stated: “Why is this exercise important to NATO? Well, the world has changed: the incidents in Ukraine and Russian behaviour over recent months have led to a new relationship between the West and Russia, and NATO is responding accordingly.”
Vice Adm Hudson told IHS Jane’s that “as a result we’ve got a bigger force than potentially we would have had nine months ago, we’re able to do more expansive training than we might have imagined nine months ago … I think we’ll have a much tauter, better trained NRF than potentially we would have had a year ago”.
‘Noble Justification’ is, Vice Adm Hudson stated, a “sizeable maritime event. It’s one of the largest ones we’ve had in the last years, to my knowledge five years”. The alliance is further planning to increase the scale of its exercises in 2015, with the planned ‘Trident Juncture’ exercise expected to involve up to 40,000 personnel and to be the largest NATO exercise for two decades.
He added that, besides scale, “I think the main difference is the linkage … between the work up for the air element, the land element, the co-ordination with [Joint Force Command – JFC] Naples and [JFC] Brunssum is much more sophisticated this year than it has been in the past. We’re putting much greater emphasis into the integrity and the depth of the training that we do as part of the NRF as part of our response to Russian activity in Ukraine.”
In total, 23 surface warships, six submarines, 30 aircraft and 5,000 personnel from 16 nations took part in the exercise, which took place off the Spanish coast in the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. Two of NATO’s four standing maritime groups – Standing NATO Maritime Group Two (SNMG2) and Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group Two (SNMCMG2) – were involved alongside other naval, air, land and joint assets.
The commander of the exercise, Rear Admiral Juan Rodriguez Garat, noted that the shift in emphasis is not purely down to the Ukrainian crisis: “After Afghanistan, NATO is focusing on readiness, NATO is focusing on preparation, and NATO is focusing on high-intensity scenarios and Article 5 [the provision of the NATO treaty that guarantees the collective defence of NATO members] conflicts, so that makes a difference to the exercise.”