Naples command trains to lead NATO response force

Canadian Forces Lt. Gen. D. Michael Day, left, speaks to reporters at a news conference for the NATO command exercise Trident Juncture in Naples, Italy, on Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014. Day, the deputy commander of Joint Forces Command Naples, was joined by Navy Adm. Mark Ferguson, center, commander of JFC Naples, and Italian Army Lt. Gen. Leonardo di Marco, chief of staff for JFC Naples.


By STEVEN BEARDSLEY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 13, 2014

NAPLES, Italy — Ground forces in Germany, air assets in France, maritime forces off the coast of Spain — assembling NATO’s parts into a single fighting force is complicated by distance and communication.

The events of the past year have added new challenges as the NATO command staff here prepares to assume control of the 25,000-strong NATO Response Force, which is viewed as a counterweight to expanded Russian operations in the east.

NATO Joint Forces Command Naples is in the middle of a two-week exercise testing its ability to direct the response force, a ready-to-assemble force comprised of units set aside by member states and commanded on a rotational basis by staffs in Naples and Brunssum, the Netherlands. The exercise, called Trident Juncture, is a capstone to a year of training for the smaller tactical units — the air, sea, land and special operations commands — that will become part of the reaction force in 2015 and fall under Naples’ control.

During the September NATO summit in Wales, the alliance’s member states placed more emphasis on the response force and underlined the need for it to become faster and more flexible.

Trident Juncture “places a premium on the readiness and responsiveness of the force,” said Navy Adm. Mark Ferguson, commander of JFC Naples and U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa.

The annual exercise is using simulations to test JFC Naples’ control of the subordinate units across Europe during a series of operations in a rapidly evolving crisis.

The scenario — an invasion of the Baltic nation of Estonia by a fictitious, neighboring nation-state — mirrors the concerns of nations on NATO’s eastern flank, who, like Ukraine, were once part of the Soviet Union and have considerable populations of Russian speakers.

The conflict evolves over time, officials say, changing from a large-scale ground war to stability operations and irregular warfare. Threats will often overlap or reinforce one another, mimicking the kind of hybrid warfare seen in Ukraine, where NATO officials have said Russia employs special operations, cyberwar and information operations.

“It’s not just 10 individual threat streams,” said Canadian Forces Lt. Gen. D. Michael Day, deputy commander of JFC Naples and head of the command staff for the exercise. “It’s 10 of them facing us together at one time.”

Complicating matters is the act of managing incoming reports from, and disseminating outgoing orders to, six subordinate commands across Europe, ranging from a shipboard command of a Spanish maritime force to a Polish staff in Krakow in charge of special operations.

“There are many, many, many moving parts and there is a great deal of uncertainty,” said British Army Lt. Gen. Robert Weighill, deputy chief of staff for operations at JFC Naples. “So exercising command in this type of environment is very challenging.”

Staff at NATO’s Joint Warfare Center in Stavanger, Norway, will role-play the forward headquarters and logistical arm of the effort, taking all traffic from component commands to provide a clear battlefield picture to Naples.

An evaluation team from the JWC will also grade the performance of the Naples command staff, submitting its report to Ferguson, who will decide whether to certify his team for the next year.

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