Written by Jacopo Maria Bosica
Edited by Miguel Andres Reyes Castro
From 10 to 14 July 2023, NATO carried out the enhanced vigilance activity Neptune Strike 23-2, (NEST 23.2). Participating states engaged in joint training and exercises across several maritime areas to integrate NATO’s naval strike and air power capabilities (Haider, 2023). NEST 23.2 marked the second iteration of the Project Neptune cycle of exercises in 2023, allowing participating military forces to boost deterrence and assurance in the Euro-Atlantic area by executing a wide range of sea, air and land activities (StrikForNATO, 2023).
On the one hand, the previous iterations contributed to integrate states’ assets to boost NATO’s assurance, deterrence and collective defence. On the other hand, the Project Neptune series facilitated the harmonisation of the NATO planning teams’ naval forces under the supervision of Strike Force NATO (hereinafter StrikForNATO) (NATO AIRCOM, 2023). Based in Oeiras, Portugal, StrikForNATO acts as Supreme Allied Commander Europe’s (SACEUR) premier headquarters to plan and execute joint maritime operations (StrikForNATO, 2023).
NEST 23.2 marked a further step towards enhancing the Alliance’s ability to command and control forces across SACEUR’s area of responsibility, since it displayed a significant capability improvement in conducting multi-domain operations (US Navy, 2023). Overall, 15 allies and partners completed 32 enhanced vigilance activities across the European continent (US Naval Forces Europe and Africa, 2023). These activities saw involved 105 aircraft sorties and dual-carrier strike operations (US Naval Forces Europe and Africa, 2023), 23 ships and more than 7,000 servicemembers (StrikForNATO, 2023). These forces engaged in joint exercises across the Baltic, Black, Mediterranean and Adriatic Seas to showcase NATO’s combat prowess and promote joint training (Haider, 2023).
The most noteworthy developments included the integration of special maritime operations forces, NATO Land Command’s inclusion through the integration of Multinational Corps-Northeast elements and French FREMM frigate FS Languedoc’s transfer of authority to StrikForNATO (StrikForNATO, 2023). In the Mediterranean and Adriatic Seas, the Languedoc frigate was joined by the US Navy’s USS Gerald R. Ford and the Italian ITS Giuseppe Garibaldi aircraft carriers (StrikForNATO, 2023). Furthermore, thanks to its strategic location, Croatia hosted naval exercises while partaking in joint exercises and drills with local US forces (Haider, 2023).
In the Baltic Sea, the US Navy’s Arleigh Burke-guided missile destroyer USS Roosevelt, alongside the Swedish Navy’s HSwMS Härnösand and SNMG (Standing NATO Maritime Group) units, led joint vigilance activities along NATO’s Northern Flank (StrikForNATO, 2023). In parallel, Allied Joint Force Commands agreed on an accelerated crisis planning and approval process through NATO’s Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) (US Naval Forces Europe and Africa [NAVEUR-NAVAF], 2023). These frameworks tested their capability to conduct simulated strikes across the region at unprecedented speed (NAVEUR-NAVAF, 2023).
On balance, Allies took advantage of this exercise to refine tactics, techniques and procedures (Haider, 2023), This dynamic was useful to emphasise NATO’s crisis response efforts, reinforce communication channels, enhance interoperability and promote a unified approach vis-à-vis potential threats (Haider, 2023). Most importantly, though, NEST 23.2 displayed Allies’ mutual cohesion and trust, which are necessary conditions for NATO to maintain a high-level readiness to face any threat and, if required, defend the Alliance’s territory (NATO AIRCOM, 2023).
Haider, M. (2023, 10 July). NATO’s Neptune Strike 23.2: Joint Exercises in Croatia and Beyond, BNN. https://bnn.network/world/croatia/natos-neptune-strike-23-2-joint-exercises-in-croatia-and-beyond/.
NATO AIRCOM. (2023, 10 July). Neptune Strike trains allied air and maritime forces. NATO Allied Air Command. https://ac.nato.int/archive/2023/neptune-strike-trains-allied-air-and-maritime-forces-.
StrikForNATO. (2023, 15 July). Allies mark completion of Neptune Strike 23-2. STRIKFORNATO. https://sfn.nato.int/newsroom/news-archive/2023/allies-mark-completion-of-neptune-strike-232.
U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa. (2023, 14 July). Allies mark completion of Neptune Strike 2023-2. U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa / U.S. Sixth Fleet. https://www.c6f.navy.mil/Press-Room/News/News-Display/Article/3459023/allies-mark-completion-of-neptune-strike-2023-2/.
U.S. Navy. (2023, 10 July). U.S. Sixth Fleet, Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO Kick Off Neptune Strike 2023-2. US Navy. https://www.navy.mil/Press-Office/News-Stories/Article/3453116/us-sixth-fleet-naval-striking-and-support-forces-nato-kick-off-neptune-strike-2/.