International: The NATO Resolve
Jul 15, 2015

A large scale military display took place in June near the town of Zagan, Poland, during which NATO forces demonstrated heightened military strength and political resolve in response to new threats facing the alliance following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the rise of Islamic extremism in North Africa and the Middle East.

NATO Secretary Genera meets soldiers
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg meets soldiers a Exercise Noble Jump 2015. (NATO PHOTO)

Exercise Noble Jump follows the renewed resolve and unity that was agreed upon by political leaders of NATO’s respective 28-member countries during the Wales Summit in September 2014.

The event also served to highlight the development of the organization’s operational and strategic capacity to respond to the hybrid and unconventional warfare deployed by Russian and allied rebel forces in Ukraine over the last 12 months.

Following the emergence of a more overtly assertive and revanchist foreign policy from President Vladimir Putin’s Moscow regime, former Warsaw Pact countries of Eastern Europe, notably the three Baltic states and Poland, have voiced particularly strong concerns over the threat this may pose to both national borders and regional security.

Speaking to journalists and VIPs on the evening before Exercise Noble Jump began, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg outlined the new and more challenging security environment now facing the alliance following “the behaviour of a more assertive Russia, which has used force to change borders to annex Crimea, and to destabilize Eastern Ukraine. NATO has to respond,” he asserted.

“We are responding, and implementing the biggest reinforcement of our collective defences since the end of the Cold War”, he said, dismissing concerns that the build up in NATO forces is needlessly antagonizing Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin.

“There can be no doubt that what we are doing is defensive, proportionate, and fully in line with our international commitments”, added Stoltenberg.

June’s flexing of military muscle specifically focused on a major deployment of NATO’s ‘Very High Readiness Joint Task Force’ (VJTF), a new and highly mobile unit that is currently commanded by Dutch Brigadier General C.J. Matthijssen.

The elite VJTF unit, comprising 5,000 soldiers, will form the spearhead of the larger NATO Response Force (NRF) – which has more than doubled in size to 30,000 – incorporating land, maritime, air and special forces.

With the capacity to mobilize within just 48 hours, the establishment of the VJTF is targeted to defend Europe’s eastern and southern flanks at first warning of potential threats, and to act as a deterrent against any escalation towards a full-blown military crisis.

A total of 2,100 troops from nine NATO member states took part in the VJTF week-long training and subsequent June 18 live exercise testing the capacity of units to deploy and conduct tactical manœuvers. While the largest troop contributions came from Germany, Norway, and the Netherlands, other participants included Norway, Poland, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Belgium, and the United States.

In addition to the soldiers themselves, Exercise Noble Jump involved deployment of more than 440 tanks and armored vehicles, 30 military convoys, 17 flights, and over 100 containers.

From left: General Philip Breedlove, Supreme Allied Commander of Europe; Admiral Mark Ferguson III, Commander, Allied Joint Force Command Naples; LtGen Volker Halbauer, Commander 1 (German/Netherlands) Corps; NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg; Defence Minster of Poland, Tomasz Siemoniak; Defence Minister of Germany, Ursula von der Leyen; and Minister of Defence of the Netherlands, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert at the  Noble Jump 2015 Exercise training session. (NATO Photo)

After a week’s training, the June 18 live fire war game was conducted on a bleak, windswept, sand-and-shrubs type training ground surrounded by dense pine forest before an audience of high ranking political and military officials. VIP attendees included Defence Ministers from Germany, Poland, Norway, and the Netherlands, as well as NATO's supreme commander for Europe, U.S. General Philip M. Breedlove.  

The 90-minute, 3-phase exercise entailed a scenario symbolically reminiscent of the type of hybrid warfare taking place in eastern Ukraine during the last 12 months, with the spearhead NATO unit sent in to neutralize a group of irregular forces equipped with modern military vehicles, and stabilize the surrounding region.

The initial stage saw Dutch, Polish, and Lithuanian Special Forces detain the leader of irregular enemy combatants, with the assistance of sniper fire, two F16s and Belgian artillery.

Phase two was an air assault to take out the principle enemy command post, with Dutch Airborne companies, supported by Czech paratroopers, dropped off by U.S. Blackhawk helicopters, before later extraction with wounded enemy forces.

Next, German and Norwegian Mechanized Infantry companies were deployed to block a counterstrike from enemy militia. The Norwegian Company consisted of two platoons, one equipped with CV90 and the other the battle tank Leopard 2A4. The German Company was made up of three platoons with 4 Armored Infantry Fighting Vehicles each, and one vehicle for the company commander.

The exercise was completed by a counter attack deployment of the Polish Tank Company, which executed a forward passage between the Norwegian Mechanized Forces. This final push to neutralize enemy military in the surrounding regions was supported by Polish and Belgian F-16 fighter-bombers, Polish Howitzers 2S1, and Polish MI 24 attack helicopters.

Speaking after the event, military and political leaders emphasized that the new security threats facing Eastern Europe will require further vigilance and military training from NATO members.

“After tens of years of peace, that peaceful period after the Second World War is now over. We cannot defend our European way of life if we don’t do more for our defense”, declared Poland’s defense minister Tomasz Siemoniak.

Exercise Noble Jump 2015
Exercise Noble Jump 2015. (NIDS/NATO Multimedia Library)

The extent of the supra-national integration during Noble Jump was of a level not normally witnessed at a NATO brigade-level exercise. While nine nations contributed to the Polish exercise, the composition of the VJTF will frequently change, and incorporate all 28 Alliance members from time to time.

The VJTF therefore highlights the increased interdependency between member state forces that has become necessary with the changes that have taken place in NATO over the last year, including the dramatically enlarged NRF, and efforts to enhance interoperability, readiness and responsiveness among members of the Alliance.

To this extent, the German/Netherlands Corp, which was established in 1995 to facilitate increased cooperation and the sharing of resources between the two respective national armies may be a harbinger for the future of the wider NATO Alliance. “This could and should be a model for the future”, said Lieutenant General Volker Halbauer, Commander of the German/Netherland Corps.

Exercise Noble Jump is one of a series of training events referred to as ALLIED SHIELD that took place during June 2015, as part of the reorganization of NATO that was agreed at last year’s Wales Summit. Approximately 15,000 troops from 19 different Allies and 3 partner nations took part in those military drills.

According to a NATO spokesperson, further refinement of the VJTF spearhead is scheduled for 2015 and 2016, through increasingly complex exercises, trials and evaluations to develop, refine and implement the spearhead into the wider framework of the NRF.

This will include taking part in Exercise Trident Juncture in October and November 2015, in which more than 25,000 troops will participate in military drills and training at multiple locations across the Alliance including Italy, Portugal and Spain.

Additional developments to ensure the smooth operation of the VJTF include the establishment of small command and control facilities that will identify required logistical networks, transportation nodes, and supporting infrastructure in the event of mobilization. These facilities are initially being established in Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania.

Exercise Noble Jump 2015
Exercise Noble Jump 2015. (NIDS/NATO Multimedia Library)

All of this is clear evidence that NATO is intent on maintaining an active role in defending the security of its many member states.

Mark Willis is a FrontLine journalist based in Berlin.
© FrontLine Defence 2015