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The great manoeuvres of 2017 and 2018 - a series

„A contemplation“ (2)

Horst Pleiner

In the first part of this contemplation, the manoeuvres of NATO and Russia in the European-Arctic Northern North and Baltic Sea region in 2017 until October 2018 were described. The greatest events – albeit with differing numbers of participants – the NATO manoeuvre „Trident Juncture 2018“ as well as the Russian manoeuvre “Zapad 2017”, but also the considerable number of manoeuvres with smaller dimensions made it clear in this context that the overall military strategic situation in this significant area had changed since 2014, at least from the vantage point of the actors. Especially for the West and North European NATO members as well as the Scandinavian neutral states, an increasing interest in the demonstration of the capabilities for dealing with possible crisis situations were the result. This also became obvious in Russia’s behaviour concerning manoeuvres, whereas the narratives already existing in the Cold War - the perception of an aggression by the “other” party and of “counter measures” against this subjectively perceived threat – appeared to approach the paragons from the time of the Cold War on both sides. In this part of the contemplations, therefore, the events in the northern area until the end of 2018 as well as the activities in the central and southeast area of Europe, including the Black Sea area and the Mediterranean, are delineated. A connection, both concerning time – from 26th October until 8th November 2018 – and the strategic-operational situational assumption coming from the manoeuvre „Trident Juncture 18“, existed with the manoeuvre “Northern Coasts” taking place in the eastern Baltic Sea, which had been taking place since 2007 every year, although this manoeuvre was an exercise of its own and was not embedded in „Trident Juncture 18“. Here, the objective was keeping clear the lines of communication in the Baltic Sea, which lead to the Gulfs of Bothnia and Finland, and which would offer an alternative for transports and transferrals to Northern Norway. Thus, the „Very High Readiness Joint Task Force“ (VHRJTF), which had been established by NATO only a short time before, had to prove its rapid readiness and short-term deployability in the course of the manoeuvre „Noble Jump 2017“ according to the NATO „Readiness Action Plan“. At that time, the core element of this VHJTF consisting of a total of 3.000 soldiers was the 20th (UK) Armoured Brigade together with parts of the 11th (UK) Infantry Brigade, and additionally, units from the USA, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, and Spain. The exercise was led by the NATO Multi-National Division Southeast Command with its headquarters in Bucharest. In March and April 2017, this Command performed preparatory seminars for the supporting logistics from Greece, Bulgaria, and Romania, as well as for personnel from Albania and Latvia. Afterwards, in May, the forces participating in the VHJTF were alerted, validated and finally qualified in their actual garrisons. The large-scale manoeuvre „Saber Guardian 17“ took place with about 25.000 participants, from 22 NATO states and eight partner nations, in different areas of Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, from 5th to 23rd July, and thus was the greatest of a total of 18 NATO manoeuvres taking place in 2017 in the Balkans and Black Sea region. The USA – who deployed 14.000 soldiers - and Bulgaria were lead nations. In the military training area Grafenwörth, a large-scale manoeuvre of the „Dynamic Front“ series took place in 2018 as well, from 23rd February until 10th March. This exercise was led by the U.S. Army Europe, with 3.500 participants from 26 nations, whereas artillery companies and warplanes for close air support were contributed by American, British, German, French, Polish and Czech armed forces. The troops rotation, which began in Aril 2018 in the framework of the US-operation „Atlantic Resolve 2018“, mainly concerned the three Baltic States, Poland and Germany. Additionally, this essay offers an outline of the large-scale manoeuvres in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean in 2018.