Written by Jacopo Maria Bosica
Edited by Stef Clement
On 27 July, seven NATO warships from the UK, Italy, Türkiye and the United States took part in a mine countermeasures exercise in the Central Mediterranean Sea. The drill was under the combined leadership of NATO Maritime Group 2 (SNMG2) and Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group 2 (SNMCMG2) (Royal Navy, 2023; NATO MARCOM, 2023). Participating allied forces had to deal with a minefield across a simulated narrow maritime chokepoint (i.e., a strategic water passage between important destinations) (Allison, 2023). Such constrained passage could become a relevant obstacle for merchant shipping traffic, especially if associated with the risk of attacks from hostile aircrafts or surface vessels (NATO MARCOM, 2023). The warships successfully overcame the challenge using specialist equipment and expertise to clear a safe passage through the minefield (Forces News, 2023). Given the high-level risk of aggressors using sea mines or coastal forces to obstruct merchant shipping traffic worldwide (Allison, 2023), the exercise wished to test NATO naval forces’ shape and make them ready to preserve freedom of navigation on the world’s most vital routes (Forces News, 2023).
The vessels on the exercise’s frontline comprised minehunters and a command-and-support ship, specifically the Turkish TCG Erdek and Italian ITS Stromboli and Viareggio (Allison, 2023). These are part of the SNMCMG2, one of NATO’s multinational and integrated maritime forces. It can deploy up to eight mine-hunting vessels and a support ship for activities such as mine clearance exercises and maritime security patrols across the Mediterranean Sea and surrounding regions (Royal Navy, n.d.). SNMCMG2 warships were supported by their SNMG2 counterparts, namely the TCG Gökçeada from Türkiye, the ITS Carabiniere from Italy and the destroyer USS Ramage from the United States (Allison, 2023). Led by the flagship HMS Duncan from the United Kingdom, they guaranteed protection from simulated air and surface attacks with short- and long-range missile systems and, in parallel, fast-attack craft with 30 or 50-mm calibre machine guns (Forces News, 2023).
Both the Mine Countermeasures and the Standing Maritime Groups qualify as Standing Naval Forces (SNF), which aim to ensure NATO’s continuous naval presence through a multinational deterrent force carrying out exercises, manoeuvres and port visits while being available for crisis deployment (Spanish Defence Ministry, n.d.). These groups are integrated into the NATO Response Force (NRF), the Alliance’s rapid reaction force (Spanish Defence Ministry, n.d.). However, SNMGs and SNMCMGs differ in their scope and modus operandi. The former, falling under the Allied Maritime Command’s (MARCOM) authority, is permanently available to NATO for exercises or operations and supports the Alliance through diplomatic visits, partner engagement and military capabilities to ongoing missions (Spanish Defence Ministry, n.d.). By contrast, the Mine Countermeasures Groups are primarily involved in search and explosive ordnance disposal operations and the deployment at short notice, often acting in the prelude to sea operations (Spanish Defence Ministry, n.d.).
Allison, G. (2023, 1 August). HMS Duncan leads NATO drill to counter minefield threats. UK Defence Journal. https://ukdefencejournal.org.uk/hms-duncan-leads-nato-drill-to-counter-minefield-threats/.
Forces News (2023, 2 August). HMS Duncan leads Nato task groups through Mediterranean minefield scenario. https://www.forces.net/services/navy/hms-duncan-leads-nato-task-groups-through-mediterranean-minefield-scenario.
NATO Allied Maritime Command. (n.d.). NATO Standing Naval Forces. NATO MARCOM. https://mc.nato.int/missions/NATO-standing-naval-forces.
NATO Allied Maritime Command. (2023, 31 July). NATO Task Groups unite for multi-threat mine counter measures exercise in the Mediterranean Sea. NATO MARCOM. https://mc.nato.int/media-centre/news/2023/nato-task-groups-unite-for-multithreat-mine-counter-measures-exercise-in-the-mediterranean-sea.
Royal Navy. (n.d.). Standing NATO Mine Counter Measures Group 2. https://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/news-and-latest-activity/operations/mediterranean-and-black-sea/snmcmg-2.
Royal Navy. (2023, 1 August). HMS Duncan’s NATO task group clears through simulated minefield. https://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/news-and-latest-activity/news/2023/august/01/230801-minefields-in-the-med.
Spanish Defence Ministry. (n.d.). NATO standing naval forces. https://emad.defensa.gob.es/en/operaciones/operaciones-en-el-exterior/35-SNMG-SNMCMG2/index.html?__locale=en.