Special Edition Interview with NATO Allied Maritime Command (SERIES-1)

Special Edition Interview with NATO Allied Maritime Command Spokesperson,    conducted by Editor in Chief, Catherine S. Schmidt

Q 1: Could you please walk us through the landscape of Allied Maritime Command (MARCOM) – the structure, the missions, and the importance of MARCOM’s Maritime Security, 360° Deterrence and Defence at Sea?

NATO Allied Maritime Command Spokesperson: NATO Allied Maritime Command (MARCOM) is the central command of all NATO’s standing maritime forces. The Commander of MARCOM is the principal maritime advisor to the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) and for a decade we have been the sole Maritime Component Command for the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE).

Located in Northwood, United Kingdom, MARCOM is a multinational headquarters manned by over 400 officers, petty officers and civilians from NATO countries and representatives from NATO partner nations.  MARCOM’s area of responsibility ranges from the Arctic, to the North Atlantic, to the Baltic, Mediterranean and Black Seas.

There are four permanent Task Groups under its command – Standing NATO Maritime Group One and Two (SNMG1 and SNMG2) and Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group One and Two (SNMCMG1 and SNMCMG2). These four Maritime Groups are NATO’s integrated maritime force, made up of Allied Nations’ contributions. Under continuous full NATO operational command, these warships are assigned a variety of tasks; from compiling and maintaining a comprehensive maritime picture and situational awareness, to operational missions and and vigilance activities to ensure Alliance readiness to respond if needed.

In addition, under Operation Sea Guardian, an operation that has been stood up to enhance security in the Mediterranean, MARCOM is contributing to capacity building for partner nations and conducts six focused operations each year with a specific focus on areas of interest in the Mediterranean Sea.

Under direction of the Commander, three one-star Admirals/Commodores command NATO Maritime assets. The Commander Surface Forces NATO coordinates the overall operational effort. In peacetime, they are the Commander of the Standing NATO Naval Forces. Through the NATO Shipping Centre, they directly liaise with the commercial shipping community and maritime security agencies.

Commander Submarines NATO commands submarines under NATO operational control. Commander Maritime Air NATO commands the activities of Maritime Patrol Aircraft under NATO operational control. Through Command of NATO forces, and coordination with Allied navies, MARCOM ensures NATO maintains its operational superiority at sea, protecting the Alliance. MARCOM is eternally vigilant, helping secure our world at sea.

Alongside counterparts in Land Command and Air Command, the three Joint Forces Commands ensure that NATO is ready to anticipate threats and respond to any situation in any environment. Together, they implement Deterrence and Defence in the Euro-Atlantic Area (DDA).  DDA is a new concept adopted by NATO Allies in response to a myriad of complex challenges. It represents a significant breakthrough in the level of integration and planning of Allied military activities. It seeks to counter threats by providing a common framework for deterrence and defence in peace, crisis, and war.

The increased integration of national and NATO maritime plans, alongside constant coordination between national and MARCOM maritime operational centres, leads to synchronised effects, which are amplified across the seas.

This clear demonstration of Alliance cohesion, capability, and resolve seeks to deter challengers from spreading destabilization, widening disorder, or accruing decisive military advantage that would damage Euro-Atlantic security. The ‘deter and defend’ concept reflects the alliance’s defensive nature, its war prevention aims, and its commitment to a rules-based international order.

Q 2: How the naval operations and exercises between MARCOM, SNMG1 and SNMG2 are coordinated?

NATO Allied Maritime Command Spokesperson: Exercises led by MARCOM either focus on a specific area of warfare, or test NATO assets’ capacity to execute NATO plans throughout the whole spectrum of maritime operations. All the main competencies are covered by the current exercise menu, maintaining the right level of proficiency across every skillset.

They are designed to allow personnel to train in collective competencies so they achieve readiness for operations. Exercises send strong messages on Alliance capability and resolve, and they’re transformative to support the establishment of new capabilities.

For exercise coordination between MARCOM and SNMGs, there is always an Exercise Director (EXDIR) at MARCOM HQ. They have significant freedom to use Exercise Control (EXCON) structures to control how the exercise is executed, in order to set the conditions to achieve the approved objectives.

For exercise coordination between MARCOM and participating assets the procedures, staff (under the assigned Exercise Director – EXDIR) and structures are always in place to control how the exercise is executed, in order to set the conditions to achieve the approved objectives, and identify lessons and areas for improvement. The role of coordination between the teams responsible for training, experimentation, analysis and evaluation rests with the Exercise Direction as the overarching execution coordinating authority.

Exercises have value because they bring together personnel from different backgrounds and nations to learn from each other, and by training together they become more than the sum of their parts. The returns are far greater compared with exercising as a standalone nation. They also lead to increased coordination and interoperability, and the ships in the Standing NATO Forces learn to operate efficiently together. NATO Maritime exercises support DDA vigilance activities by demonstrating NATO naval forces’ interoperability and readiness in the full spectrum of naval operations, therefore supporting NATO’s collective defense.

Q 3: The multi-domain exercise of ‘Neptune Strike 22’ was executed in January 2022 in the Mediterranean Sea. How that exercise helped NATO allies and partners to enhance their integration ability at the operational level? Could you also tell us about Neptune Strike 2022.2, which took place in October last year?

NATO Allied Maritime Command Spokesperson: Neptune Strike 2022 highlights NATO’s ability to integrate the high-end maritime capabilities of a carrier strike group, ensuring high operational readiness across the Alliance and the defence and protection of all Allies.

Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO (STRIKFORNATO) and U.S. Sixth Fleet (SIXTHFLT) carried out Neptune Strike in February 2022. It was a vigilance activity exercise in the Adriatic Sea, involving missions at sea and in the air across most of Europe, supporting both Allied Joint Force Command Naples and Brunssum.

It included the long-planned transfer of command and control of the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group (CSG) to the NATO Alliance – thereby demonstrating NATO’s ability to integrate the high-end maritime warfare capabilities of a carrier strike group to support the defense of the Alliance.

STRIKFORNATO led a maritime force composed of two carriers, 15 ships and approximately 90 aircraft, including forces from the Harry S. Truman CSG, the Italian Navy CAVOUR CSG, Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 and Mine Counter Measure Group 2.

Neptune Strike 22 levered the combat power of a U.S. carrier strike group, promoted interoperability with Allies and allowed operators to train on NATO networks, train to NATO procedures and become familiar with operating in the European Theatre. Overall, forces and personnel from 28 NATO countries participated in Neptune Strike. 

The Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe coordinated the activity, integrating NATO Allied Maritime Command and NATO Allied Air Command, while STRIKFORNATO executed command and control of Neptune Strike 22 from USS Mount Whitney (LCC 20), the SIXTHFLT and Commander STRIKFORNATO’s flagship.

In October 2022 and February 2023, the eighth and ninth phases respectively of NATO’s long-planned Project Neptune series were carried out. They were built on previous phases including Neptune Challenge in October and November 2021, Neptune Strike activities and Neptune Shield in May 2022. As in previous phases of Project Neptune, NEST 22.2 brought NATO commands throughout the Alliance together to plan and execute multi-domain real-world vigilance activities.

During Neptune Strike 22.2, SIXTHFLT conducted a transfer of authority of the George H.W. Bush CSG to STRIKFORNATO. While under STRIKFORNATO command and control, the CSG and other allied units delivered effects in Allied Joint Forces Command (JFC) Naples and JFC Brunssum joint operating areas, demonstrating Alliance cohesion and the ability to simultaneously operate throughout European waters. The latest iteration, Neptune Strike 23.1, was centered on the George H.W. Bush Carrier Strike Group, Italian aircraft carrier ITS Cavour, and Spanish amphibious assault ship ESPS Juan Carlos I, all operating in the Mediterranean Sea. Supporting units from Greece, Türkiye, Croatia, Hungary, the Netherlands, and Albania all contributed forces, underscoring cohesive alliance integration.

The Neptune Series of peacetime vigilance activities, integrating carrier strike and amphibious strike capability into NATO operations, has become routine work for this battle staff – generating effects in the maritime, air and land domains, providing deterrence and reassurance, and offering powerful opportunities for Allied interoperability.

Q 4: The Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 conducted an exercise with Finland and Sweden in the Baltic Sea in late November 2022. Stated by MARCOM: the exercise aimed to strengthen and improve the interoperability between the NATO Allies’ Maritime Forces. In your view how far that maritime goal has been achieved? And how crucial do you see the roles that Finland and Sweden have in NATO’s Maritime Forces particularly at the Baltic Sea region?

NATO Allied Maritime Command Spokesperson: The Baltic Sea region is of great strategic importance to all bordering nations. Co-operation in the area is of particular interest for NATO, as six Allied and two Partner Nations border the Baltic Sea. NATO deploys maritime forces in the Baltic Sea in order to maintain a credible and capable defensive capability in accordance with treaty obligations.

In November 2022, Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 (SNMG1) conducted maritime operations at sea and port visits with NATO partner nations Finland and Sweden to improve interoperability and understanding between maritime forces.

On Nov. 7, Finnish Navy missile boat FNS Tornio sailed with SNMG1 and participated in maneuvering, air defence, and force protection exercises. After exercising with the Finnish Navy SNMG1 met at sea with Swedish Navy corvette HSwMS Malmo. They conducted intensive training including replenishment-at-sea approaches, high-speed maneuvering, anti-surface warfare, force protection, and hoisting exercises. The last training was part of a medical evacuation exercise, during which a helicopter retrieved patients without actually landing on the ship. Medics transferred the simulated patients to the hospital facility on board HNoMS Maud, adding to a mutual understanding of tactics and methods as well as interoperability.

In late November, SNMG1 and Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group 1 (SNMCMG1) joined 12 nations for Finnish Navy exercise Freezing Winds in the Baltic Sea. The exercise focused on interoperability between the multinational joint forces. Twenty-three vessels and nearly 5,000 troops participated in different scenarios throughout the exercise in the Gulf of Finland and Archipelago Sea areas. This provided participants a challenging program in a broad range of maritime warfare skillsets from air defense to mine countermeasures, and submarine warfare to counter-surface measures. Regional topography and seasonal weather conditions also provided intense training opportunities from a maritime navigational perspective.

Finland, Sweden and NATO Allies share the same values and face many of the same challenges. They are two of NATO’s closest partners, with considerable military capabilities. Our forces have trained together for many years and are already fully interoperable.

Q 5: One of the MARCOM-led annual exercises is ‘Dynamic Mercy’ designated for Atlantic Ocean as well as the Baltic Sea. Could you please brief us about this exercise?

NATO Allied Maritime Command Spokesperson: Exercise Dynamic Mercy is an annual multinational maritime search and rescue (SAR) exercise held in the Atlantic or Baltic Sea. Throughout the exercise, the personnel and units from the participating countries train together, in compliance with the procedures and standards in the International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue (IAMSAR) manual.

It consists of several one-day aeronautical and maritime training scenarios.
SAR agencies (joint, maritime and air Rescue Coordination Centres), SAR units both military and civilian, a number of national authorities such as police forces, and commercial agencies all participate in the exercise. Scenarios might include helicopter at sea rescue, sea rescue and a simulated casualty clearing area, as well as simulated casualties being treated by various medical personnel.

The Dynamic Mercy exercise is an opportunity for the participating nations to develop cross-boundary and inter-regional cooperation between the Rescue Coordination Centres of NATO’s allies in the Northern region, also strengthening the coordination between NATO and regional partners.

Acknowledgments: Image 1, Ships from Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 8, Standing NATO Maritime Group (SNMG) 2, the Italian Navy Cavour-class aircraft carrier ITS Cavour (CVH 550),the Andrea Doria-class air defense destroyer ITS Andrea Doria (D 553), and the Blue Ridge-class command and control ship USS Mount Whitney (LCC 20) transit the Adriatic Sea in support of Neptune Strike 22, Feb. 2, 2022. ©DoD/U.S Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Tate Cardinal. Interview is subject to copyright @NATO/MARCOM/ U.S Navy/U.S Europe World Affairs.com