Nordic Response wraps up maritime component of NATO Steadfast Defender exercise

NATO naval forces gather off Norway for ‘Nordic Response’, which completed the maritime element of the alliance-wide ‘Steadfast Defender’ exercise.

NATO has completed the maritime component of ‘Steadfast Defender’ – its major exercise for developing and demonstrating the capability and capacity to surge reinforcements across the Euro-Atlantic theatre – with the conduct of the Norway-hosted exercise ‘Nordic Response 24’.

‘Steadfast Defender’ is designed to exercise the delivery of reinforcements across the Atlantic Ocean from North America and into the European theatre, including (in the 2024 iteration) across NATO’s Northern flank. Integrating a number of national and NATO exercises under the ‘Steadfast Defender’ umbrella, the three exercise phases encompass: the delivery of these reinforcements across the Atlantic; deploying them ashore; and then building a sustained land campaign to defend and secure NATO territories.

For ‘Steadfast Defender 2024’, the maritime component concluded with ‘Nordic Response’ and the deployment of the reinforcement forces ashore in and around Alta, northern Norway. A 15-ship flotilla of NATO ships was assembled, including: the UK Royal Navy’s (RN’s) HMS Prince of Wales carrier strike group (CSG); an amphibious task group that incorporated the US Navy (USN) Whidbey Island-class assault ship USS Gunston Hall along with Royal Netherlands Navy and Italian Navy amphibious units; Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 (SMNG1); several Royal Norwegian Navy vessels; USN and French Navy surface ships; and several submarines.

For ‘Nordic Response’, US, UK, Dutch, French, and Italian amphibious units (amongst others) were inserted ashore, covered by close air support and strike operations from F-35B Lightning II joint strike fighter aircraft flown from HMS Prince of Wales. The RN’s Littoral Response Group (North) [LRG(N)] deployed Royal Marines Commandos (from 45 Commando) ashore to conduct intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance (ISR) operations and to take out anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) assets to shape the battlespace for the main landing force.

‘Steadfast Defender’, which began in February with the transit and escort of the reinforcement forces across the Atlantic, is now moving on to the land-based component of the campaign. Here, NATO ground forces – supported by alliance air power – will conduct offensive operations until mid-June, on a front reaching from the High North down to the Baltic Sea. Ground forces deployed under ‘Nordic Response’ are set to thrust into Finland and Sweden as part of these offensive operations.

Finland and Sweden are NATO’s two newest members, with Sweden’s accession finally confirmed formally on 7 March, once ‘Steadfast Defender’ was under way.

by Dr. Lee Willett