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NATO Exercises

Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe is marking its 70th anniversary this year and we are celebrating with an in-depth look into the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).  We will journey back in time to the very beginning of the Alliance and week-by-week give you a new window into this Transatlantic-multinational organisation.


NATO Exercises


NATO Allied and partner nations conduct missions and exercises 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, 365 days per year. Our purely defensive exercise posture provides year-round peace and deterrence across the air, land, sea, cyber and space domains. Wherever there is a potential threat towards the stability of our Alliance, NATO has an answer.

To maintain our readiness and ability to defend the world's strongest Alliance, NATO exercises. From our Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan to NATO Air Policing in the Baltic's and Black Sea; our forces remain prepared to tackle any global threat. The 30 NATO Allies and multiple partner nations face a myriad of challenges to ensure the success of our missions and exercises. Each nation utilises different equipment, tactics and troops themselves bring different skills to the table. While this may seem daunting and challenging on the surface, the reality is that it provides one of our greatest strengths: interoperability.

One essential component of our missions and exercises is providing a platform for the multitude of nations to link together, share their knowledge, work together – interoperate. Through this process we build a more united and capable Alliance with nations and Soldiers on the ground best equipped to understand one another and achieve mission success. Exercises are the optimal stage to achieve this common goal.

Like the capabilities of the different NATO nations and partners, exercises are also very diverse because they must ensure that the best tactics and procedures can be developed for all. Therefore, they vary in length, type and domain, as well as in the number of troops participating. That means exercises take place on land, in the air, at sea, in the cyber world, and in space, often in multiple domains at once, called a joint exercise. Some focus on specific capabilities, such as casualty care, disaster relief or Chemical, Biological, Radiological or Nuclear defence.

One example of a NATO-led exercise is Steadfast Defender 2021, with over 9,000 troops from 20 NATO nations and partners this served as NATO's flagship exercise in 2021. Steadfast Defender 2021 took place in three phases implemented across different nations and multiple domains. The objectives of Steadfast Defender 2021 included training a wide range of NATO command structures, force structures, and transatlantic reinforcement by the Turkish-led Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) in Southern Europe.

Despite COVID-19, NATO executed approximately 88 planned exercises in the past year, in addition to more than 170 national and multinational exercises conducted by Allied nations. Particular attention was paid to ensuring that the health of participants was not compromised. In 2021, the number of planned exercises could even be increased again, which is why a total of 95 NATO exercises are planned or have already taken place this year. In addition, the number of nationally organised exercises has also been increased to 220.

NATO exercises aim to prepare members for the challenges they may face today, as well as in the future. Nevertheless, it is important to emphasise that all NATO exercises are defensive, meaning they are in no way directed against other countries, specific groups, or potential adversaries. They are based on purely fictitious scenarios and adversaries.

The Alliance also adheres to international obligations regarding military exercises, such as notifying the member states of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in advance and reporting troop numbers. Furthermore, NATO military exercises are open to international observers. Often, nations outside the NATO Alliance, for example, partners and international organisations, also participate in military exercises. In 2020, there were 38 exercises, in 2021 there are 37, which are open for participation, or observation, for example, for international organisations such as the European Union. NATO military exercises are also announced months in advance on our websites. 

This is episode five of the SHAPE Public Affairs' series, "Knowing NATO". Following highlights will introduce NATO-owned assets and readiness.

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