LA SPEZIA, Italy – The first NATO Special Operations Forces Maritime Conference took place in La Spezia, Italy, Mar. 29 to 30, 2022, hosted and organised by the Italian Joint Command for Special Operations, Comando Interforze per le Operazioni Speciali, in collaboration with NATO Special Operations Headquarters, Belgium.
Leaders from across the Alliance Special Operations Forces (SOF) Maritime Community of Interest discussed shared objectives, challenges and opportunities, and the way forward for credible, capable, and ready forces to deter and defend the Alliance when called upon.
The conference discussions validated the importance of this type of forum to stimulate thoughts outlining the continued development and interoperability of Maritime SOF capabilities across the Alliance.
Lieutenant General Antonio Fletcher, Commander, NATO Special Operations Headquarters (NSHQ), opened the conference by highlighting the key role Allied SOF plays in supporting the broader deterrence and defence of the Alliance, including NATO's Maritime Strategy.
Together, we will need to continue to provide stability, deter great power war, preserve peace, and maintain the open and free global commons
"My intent is to continue to build upon the expertise that exists and ensure enhanced interoperability across the Alliance when it comes to special operations in the maritime domain," said Lieutenant General Fletcher. "This is an enduring commitment ensuring we are prepared to defend NATO in the maritime domain."
This community of interest is focused on interoperable capabilities, special operations maritime doctrine, training and exercises to support maritime special operations to deter and defend the Alliance.
The Italian Joint Command for Special Operations Commander, Vice Admiral Paolo Pezzutti, shared his keen insights on the challenges and best practices for recruiting and training Maritime SOF, including training standards and mitigating high-risk training.
Lieutenant General Antonio Fletcher, Commander, NSHQ, signed the guest book at the Italian Maritime SOF museum. The first NATO Special Operations Forces Maritime Conference took place in La Spezia, Italy, Mar. 29 to 30, 2022. - Photo by the Italian Joint Command for Special Operations
"Nations have to work on developing and/or exploiting training areas and facilities. While in land environments, the past decades have been fruitful in this regard, in the Maritime SOF environment, training areas and facilities have been limited. A lot can be done to provide progressive, safe, and realistic training to operators and staffs. Both in virtual and real-world environments," said Vice Admiral Pezzutti. "NATO can help, and actually has a fundamental role setting the framework for exercise and education programmes where integration of assets and forces, and interoperability are key in modern operational scenarios both for deterrence and collective defence purposes."
A key element of the conference discussed the importance of developing Maritime SOF as a critically important tool in peacetime, crisis, and conflict to ensure SOF supports the deterrence and defence of Allied nations.
Rear Admiral Frank Bradley, who participated in an exchange programme with the Italian Special Operations earlier in his military career and currently serves as the U.S. Special Operations Command Central Commander, was the keynote speaker.
"SOF's value proposition is that we provide our nations with options across the spectrum of competition from cooperation to conflict," said Rear Admiral Bradley. "Together, we will need to continue to provide stability, deter great power war, preserve peace, and maintain the open and free global commons."
In addition to the senior military speakers, the conference also included academic discussion on Maritime SOF development, operations, exercises and training.
Established in 2009, the mission of NATO Special Operations Headquarters provides strategic special operations forces advice to NATO and coordinates the development of special operations forces capability and interoperability for Allies and Partners. Within the comprehensive framework, NSHQ balances strategic and operational planning to employ relevant, ready, integrated special operations for NATO. NSHQ is located next to SHAPE near Mons, Belgium.