Steadfast Defender, the principal NATO multi-domain exercise of 2021, is a large-scale multinational collective defence exercise conducted in three parts across various geographical locations in SACEUR’s area of responsibility. It is the first in a new series of long-planned exercises to ensure that NATO’s land, sea and air forces are well-trained, highly interoperable and at a heightened state of readiness to respond quickly and effectively to potential threats from any direction.
The scale, scope and variety of maritime capabilities and platforms involved, reflect NATO’s unwavering resolve to deter and defend
Two of NATO’s Standing Naval Forces (SNF), SNMG1 and SNMG2, participated in the Maritime Live Exercise (LIVEX) part of Steadfast Defender in the waters off Lisbon, Portugal. It involved around 20 ships and submarines, 60 aircraft and 9,000 service members from 20 NATO Allies and partners who worked together in a dynamic maritime environment in preparation for challenging, high-end operations against near-peer competitors.
SNMG1 ships HMCS Halifax, HDMS Absalon, FS Normandie and their consort NRP Alvarés Cabral were joined by SNMG2 ships ESPS Méndez Núñez and HMS Kent along with their consorts ITS Andrea Doria and FGS Brandenburg. Steadfast Defender was the first time that both SNMGs had an opportunity to interact with each other this semester.
The Maritime LIVEX focused primarily on NATO’s ability to protect and defend essential Sea Lines of Communication (i.e. primary maritime routes) that enable transatlantic reinforcement if NATO needed to defend a member of the Alliance in an Article 5 situation. Article 5 outlines that if a NATO member is the victim of an armed attack, each and every other member of the Alliance will consider it as an armed attack against all members and will take any actions it deems necessary to assist the Ally attacked. This principle of collective defence is at the very heart of NATO’s founding treaty and binds its members together, committing them to protect each other and establishing a shared spirit of solidarity within the Alliance.
Maritime LIVEX highlights included a brief Combat Enhancement/Force Integration Training (CET/FIT) phase to ensure that all participating units were fully integrated and ready to conduct various high-intensity operations and assume specific roles/responsibilities as part of the exercise. Following the CET/FIT phase, NATO Groups participated in an ENCOUNTEREX free-play phase where they opposed the UK Carrier Strike Group led by HMS Queen Elizabeth. This was the second time in less than a month that one of NATO’s SNFs had interacted with the UK Carrier Strike Group as it prepares for its imminent seven-month deployment to the Indo-Pacific.
“Exercise Steadfast Defender 21 improved NATO Standing Naval Forces’ capability to respond collectively and decisively to an attack from various potential threats to NATO citizens, territorial integrity, shared interests and democratic values,” said Commodore Peats. “The scale, scope and variety of maritime capabilities and platforms involved, reflect NATO’s unwavering resolve to deter and defend in the Euro-Atlantic area. Exercise Steadfast Defender 21 demonstrated the value of North America and Europe working closely and seamlessly together to keep our nations safe in a constantly evolving and challenging global security environment.”
“Keeping the Alliance strong and ready is nowadays more important than it was ever. Steadfast Defender 21 provides an outstanding opportunity for SNMG1 and SNMG2 to operate in the same task group for the first time in this year 2021,” said Rear Admiral Manuel Aguirre Aldereguía, Commander SNMG2. “Working together and coordinating efforts in a synergistic way is a force multiplier and contributes decisively to show NATO strength and increase its deterrence and posture.”
Several Allied aircraft carriers, under national command, are deploying into SACEUR area of responsibility during these months, demonstrating Allied unity and commitment to effectively deliver multi-domain effects. The carrier strike activity demonstrates power projection over large distances with its unparalleled combat capability, and are a critical element of NATO deterrence.