Video by German Air Force Master Sergeant Dennis Tappe
Story by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Mark Patton
NAPLES, Italy – With Exercise Trident Juncture 2018 coming up this fall, personnel at Allied Joint Force Command Naples have turned their sights to what promises to be one of the largest exercises NATO has ever conducted.
Just how massive will it be?
More than 40,000 participants from all 29 NATO members and partner nations Sweden and Finland, among others, are expected to take part. Around 120 aircraft, as many as 70 ships and up to 10,000 vehicles are slated to be utilized during the exercise. Contributing nations are firming up numbers in coming months.
German Air Force Lt. Col. Stephan Dirr serves as the officer at JFC Naples with primary responsibility of Trident Juncture 18. With experience at the national level and previously serving as the primary exercise planner for the European Union, Dirr is no stranger to coordinating and organizing exercises.
"After the Cold War, we forgot a little bit to do this kind of exercise, and as you realize, Trident Juncture 18 is one of the most complex exercises NATO has done really in the last 30 years,” said Dirr.
Event organizers say that air, land, maritime, special operation and amphibious forces will participate in Trident Juncture 18. The major portions of the exercise will take place in Norway and the surrounding areas of the North Atlantic and Baltic Sea.
Whether it’s U.S. Marines doing a rehearsal in Iceland before conducting an amphibious landing in Norway or airplay involving Swedish and Finnish airspace, there’s really something to test everybody in this exercise.
"We have this big ground play,” said Dirr, citing another piece of the Trident Juncture 18 puzzle. "Six brigades fighting each other in the center of Norway…which is on one hand a minute-to-minute scripted thing, on the other hand, you have to be flexible to react if something is going wrong.”
Dirr said planning for an exercise of this scale begins more than two years prior to the start and a challenge is to come up with suggestions for main themes and guidance when most people aren’t as interested at that point or won’t be involved themselves.
Trident Juncture 18 is designed to test NATO’s ability to plan and conduct a major collective defence operation, which runs the gamut from training troops on the ground to commanding large forces. Planners say it’s the largest in a series of deliberately-planned exercises scheduled over several years to ensure that NATO forces are trained, able to operate together and ready to respond to a threat from any direction.
It’s not just NATO that is being put to the test during Trident Juncture 18.
Norwegian Chief of Defence Admiral Haakon Bruun-Hanssen said not only will the exercise test the country’s ability to receive and handle additional troops and equipment, but it will be an opportunity for its military to test Norway’s Total Defence Concept, which involves military forces and a wide range of civilian departments and authorities.
"If we do well and show that we got what it takes, it will strengthen the credibility of Norwegian defence and NATO cooperation,” said Bruun-Hanssen in February. "We hope that this exercise will demonstrate the solidarity and strength within NATO, and thus prevent that we will ever need this help in real life.”
Dirr highlighted one aspect that makes Trident Juncture 18 unique in the NATO system.
"It’s not only as we always think about a military exercise, it’s a comprehensive all-dimensions exercise,” said Dirr. "From medical services, firefighters, civilian defence, railroad, everybody is included in this exercise, and this is a lot of coordination, but also, it makes this exercise so special.”
The exercise is comprised of two parts: a live exercise conducted in and around Norway and a command post exercise conducted mostly in the southern Italy-based headquarters of JFC Naples. The live exercise is scheduled to begin during the last week of October and run through early November. The command post portion of the exercise will take place shortly after.
"My personal hope is at the end of Trident Juncture 18, everybody can say I improved my professional knowledge…I know how to do things under very difficult circumstances, and I was challenged in each area to say I can improve or to realize where I have to improve for the future,” said Dirr.
The Trident Juncture 18 live exercise officially begins Oct. 25 and ends Nov. 7, in and around Norway. Troops and equipment will begin arriving weeks prior, and returning home weeks afterward.
A command post exercise portion of Trident Juncture 18 will take place largely in Naples. It will test and certify JFC Naples as the 2019 NATO Response Force command headquarters, and runs Nov. 14 through 23.