NATO Demonstrates Unity and Resolve with Steadfast Defender 24
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 03 Mar , 2024


All 31 NATO Allies and Sweden are conducting a major exercise – Steadfast Defender 2024 from January 22nd to May 31st, 2024 to test the Alliance’s ability to quickly deploy forces and defend each other in case of an attack.

Dubbed to be NATO’s largest exercise since World War II, the exercise is being held in several countries, including Finland, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

In all, over 90,000 troops, 1,100+ combat vehicles, 80+ air platforms and 50+ naval assets are participating in the multi-domain exercise across thousands of kilometers over land, air, sea, cyber, and space domain.

The land component includes more than 150 tanks, 500 infantry fighting vehicles and 400 armored personnel carriers. The air force squadrons’ comprises F-35s, FA-18s, Harriers, F-15s, helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles while the participating naval fleet includes aircraft carriers, destroyers, frigates and corvettes.

The exercise aims to achieve several key objectives:

    • The exercise serves as a powerful deterrent against potential adversaries, demonstrating NATO’s resolve and capability to defend its members. It also highlighted the Alliance’s ability to learn and adapt, incorporating lessons learned from recent events and technological advancements into its defence strategies.
    • The central idea behind STDE24 is to test and refine NATO’s deployment of troops and equipment in response to a large-scale attack.
    • The participation of over 90,000 troops from all 31 member states displays NATO’s comradery and steadfast commitment to defend each other.
    • STDE24 provides a valuable platform for joint operations by NATO members to improve their ability to work together in case of a potential conflict.

A turning point in NATO’s history the Steadfast Defender 24 primary objective is to exhibit the alliance’s collective strength, adaptability, and unwavering commitment to defending its members in a rapidly evolving security landscape.

However, STDE24’s significance goes beyond the immediate display of military prowess.  

Looking Forward:

    • STDE24 serves as a testament to NATO’s continuing relevance and adaptability amidst evolving global security challenges.
    • The sheer scale and complexity of STDE24 sent a clear message to potential aggressors about NATO’s preparedness and resolve to defend its members.
    • The exercise aims to demonstrate NATO’s ability to swiftly mobilize and deploy significant forces across the Atlantic, showcasing its capacity for decisive action.
    • The exercise seeks to foster closer cooperation and collaboration between member states’ militaries, strengthening NATO’s collective defence posture.
    • The exercise is designed to incorporates various non-traditional threats, reflecting NATO’s recognition of the evolving security.
    • The exercise will also feature a series of training scenarios designed to simulate real-world security challenges. These scenarios include the defence of NATO’s eastern and southern borders, response to cyber-attacks on critical infrastructure, and the deployment of rapid reaction forces to crisis areas. By practicing these scenarios, NATO forces are better prepared to respond effectively in a crisis.
    • Steadfast Defender 24 will play a crucial role in ensuring the alliance’s effectiveness and credibility in safeguarding peace and security in the Euro-Atlantic area and beyond.

Making of an exercise

There is a saying, “the more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war”. During an exercise, forces are asked to respond to a possible scenario that resembles what might occur in real life. Exercises cover the full range of military operations, from combat to humanitarian relief and from stabilization to reconstruction. They can last from a day to several weeks and can vary in scope from a few officers working on an isolated problem, to full-scale combat scenarios involving aircraft, navy ships, artillery pieces, armored vehicles and thousands of troops.

Each exercise has pre-specified training objectives, which drive the selection of activities. Objectives may be to build skills and knowledge, practice coordination mechanisms or validate procedures.

At the conclusion of an exercise, commanders and, in many cases, troops collectively review their performance. This process allows them to identify areas that work well (“best practices”) and areas that can be improved (“lessons learned”). In this way, exercises facilitate continuous improvement of interoperability, efficiency and performance

Exercises serve the dual purpose of refining defence plans as well as acting as a deterrent against potential aggression from near-peer adversaries. Exercises are important tools through which the Alliance tests and validates its concepts, procedures, systems and tactics. More broadly, they enable militaries and civilian organisations to test capabilities and practice working together efficiently in a demanding crisis situation.

Training and experience

Exercises are designed to practice the efficiency of structures as well as personnel. A structure consists of many components – concepts, doctrine, procedures, systems and tactics – that must function together. Supply structures, for instance, require specialized training, equipment and operating procedures, which must be combined to effectively support a mission’s objectives. Putting these structures into practice allows them to be tested and, if need be, refined.

NATO has been conducting Alliance-level exercises since 1951. In the early years of the Alliance, NATO forces conducted exercises to strengthen their ability to practice collective defence. In other words, they were conducted to ensure that forces were prepared in the case of an attack.

The outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950 helped the Allies quickly understand the importance of an integrated force under centralized command. By December 1950, the first Supreme Allied Commander Europe, US General Dwight D. Eisenhower, was appointed and following this appointment, national forces were put under centralized command.

The Alliance’s first exercises were held in the autumn of 1951. During 1953, there were approximately 100 exercises of various kinds conducted by NATO commanders. From this point on, NATO forces were no longer a collection of national units, but were beginning to gain cohesion. A year after Allied Command Europe became operational, General Eisenhower reported that “the combat readiness of our troops has improved markedly”.

During the ’70s and the ’80s, NATO maintained a very active exercise programme to train forces in as many demanding scenarios as possible. Exercises were considered an essential part of the Alliance’s deterrence posture and helped to ensure that forces were prepared for potential aggression throughout the Cold War.

In 1994, the Alliance launched the Partnership for Peace (PfP) initiative. One of the initiative’s objectives is to promote closer military cooperation and interoperability between NATO and non-NATO countries in the Euro-Atlantic area. From that time on, PfP members were able to participate in peacekeeping field exercises.

In 2002, the NATO Response Force (NRF) was created. It is a highly ready and technologically advanced multinational force that the Alliance can deploy quickly, wherever needed. The original NRF concept was revised in 2009 and since then, the emphasis has been placed on exercises conducted in support of the NRF. This training is intended to ensure that the NRF is able to deploy quickly and operate effectively in a variety of situations.

At the 2004 Istanbul Summit, Alliance leaders elevated the Mediterranean Dialogue initiative to a genuine partnership to include increased participation in exercises and individual training at NATO institutions. At the same time, the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative was introduced, paving the way for cooperation between NATO and countries from the broader Middle East in areas such as education and training, and made provision for partners to engage in joint training for terrorism. Since the Lisbon Summit in November 2010 and the introduction of the 2010 Strategic Concept and the new partnerships policy, NATO exercises have been open to all partners.

At the Chicago Summit in 2012, NATO Leaders started talking about “expanding education, training and exercises” and introduced the Connected Forces Initiative (CFI), which aimed to ensure that the high level of interoperability Allied forces gained during their operational experience in Afghanistan, Libya, the Horn of Africa and the Balkans, was maintained. It was in February 2013 that NATO Defence Ministers endorsed plans to revitalise NATO’s exercise programme. These plans set the course for a more rigorous multi-year training schedule to ensure NATO and partner forces retain the ability to work efficiently together.

Following Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in March 2014, the number of exercises undertaken that year was increased and at the 2014 Summit in Wales, NATO Leaders made a pledge to increase the focus on collective defence scenarios. Since then, NATO Leaders have agreed on a strengthened deterrence and defence posture that draws upon all the tools at NATO’s disposal, including military exercises. At the extraordinary summit held in Brussels on 24 March 2022, just one month after Russia’s unprovoked war on Ukraine had started, NATO Leaders further stressed the importance of this principle. Later, at the Madrid Summit in June, the 2022 Strategic Concept also committed Allies to strengthening training and exercises.

Exercises continue to ensure that Allies are able to meet NATO’s level of ambition, and to demonstrate that capability for deterrence purposes.

Steadfast Defender 24 aims to test NATO’s ability to defend its members against a range of security threats. These include conventional military threats, cyber-attacks, and hybrid warfare tactics. The exercise is designed to enhance interoperability among NATO forces and to demonstrate the alliance’s readiness to respond to any aggression or crisis.

STDE24 reflects an adaptation to the evolving security landscape, characterized by the rise of hybrid threats, cyber warfare, and the increasing assertiveness of strategic competitors. By incorporating these elements into the exercise, NATO seeks to demonstrate its commitment to staying ahead of the curve and preparing for the challenges of the 21st century. Steadfast Defender 24 was more than just a military exercise; it was a powerful statement of intent. The spirit of unity and cooperation fostered by STDE24 will ensure a safe and more secure future for all its members.

However, STDE24 was not without its critics. Some observers raised concerns about the exercise’s cost and the potential for misinterpretations by Russia, viewing it as a provocative act. Others questioned the effectiveness of such large-scale exercises in the age of modern warfare, emphasizing the need to prioritize more agile and adaptable defence strategies.

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