Ground forces in Germany, air assets in France, maritime forces off the coast of Spain — assembling NATO’s parts into a single fighting force is complicated by distance and communication.
The events of the past year have added new challenges as the NATO command staff here prepares to assume control of the 25,000-strong NATO Response Force, which is viewed as a counterweight to expanded Russian operations in the east.
NATO Joint Forces Command Naples is in the middle of a two-week exercise testing its ability to direct the response force, a ready-to-assemble force comprised of units set aside by member states and commanded on a rotational basis by staffs in Naples and Brunssum, the Netherlands. The exercise, called Trident Juncture, is a capstone to a year of training for the smaller tactical units — the air, sea, land and special operations commands — that will become part of the reaction force in 2015 and fall under Naples’ control.
During the September NATO summit in Wales, the alliance’s member states placed more emphasis on the response force and underlined the need for it to become faster and more flexible.
Trident Juncture “places a premium on the readiness and responsiveness of the force,” said Navy Adm. Mark Ferguson, commander of JFC Naples and U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa.
The annual exercise is using simulations to test JFC Naples’ control of the subordinate units across Europe during a series of operations in a rapidly evolving crisis.
The scenario — an invasion of the Baltic nation of Estonia by a fictitious, neighboring nation-state — mirrors the concerns of nations on NATO’s eastern flank, who, like Ukraine, were once part of the Soviet Union and have considerable populations of Russian speakers.