NAPLES, Italy — U.S. and NATO forces are gearing up for the kickoff of a two-week air and sea exercise in the Ionian Sea, east of Sicily.

It’s the 30th year for the exercise, which until this year was known as Dogfish but, because of new regulations, this year will be called Noble Marlin.

Under the new rules, exercises must now consist of two words to identify the location of the commanding element and the general mission type, such as air-, land-, or sea-based, said Navy Capt. Jeff Gradeck, a NATO spokesman.

Because the upcoming exercise is controlled from the NATO regional headquarters in Naples, and is maritime in nature, the first letters needed to be “N” and “M,” hence the creation of Noble Marlin, Gradeck said.

The operation will take place between March 3 and 16. Details, such as the number of vessels and a final list of participating nations, won’t be released until the end of February, said U.S. Navy Lt. Liubov Russell, an exercise spokeswoman.

Last year, 11 nations participated in Dogfish ’04, the alliance’s largest annual anti-submarine warfare exercise. This year, 10 nations will be participating.

Combined Task Force 67, headquartered at Naval Air Station Sigonella, Sicily, will provide P3 Orions for the exercise, said U.S. Navy Capt. Robert Lally, commander of CTF-67. The task force provides tactical mission support to U.S. and NATO maritime patrol aircraft.

The operation will test anti-submarine, anti-surface and coastal surveillance operations, and sharpen communications between the allied nations’ militaries, Lally said.

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