With some 50,000 troops and tens of thousands of vehicles, ships, and aircraft, exercise Trident Juncture 2018 was NATO’s largest exercise since the end of the Cold War.
“NATO does a major exercise like this each year,” Ben Hodges, who commanded the US Army in Europe before retiring in 2017, told Business Insider earlier this year. “The scale of this one obviously is bigger than some of the past, but nonetheless, the fact that this exercise is happening is a normal part of NATO’s battle rhythm.”
In 2017, NATO conducted 108 exercises, and its members held 162 national and multinational exercises. This year, the alliance had 106 NATO exercises planned, and its members were expected to lead about 180 national and multinational exercises.
Those exercises vary in scope, duration, and form, ranging from live exercises involving thousands of troops to computer-assisted exercises in a classroom.
Below you can see just a few of the exercises NATO conducted this year with its members and partners.
Dynamic Manta, conducted March 5 through March 16, is an annual NATO exercise meant to train submarines, surface ships, and maritime patrol aircraft in submarine and anti-submarine warfare.
Led by NATO’s Allied Maritime Command, Dynamic Manta 18 took place in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Sicily.
For this year’s iteration, subs from Canada, Greece, Italy, Spain, Turkey, and the US, working under the control of NATO Submarine Command, joined nine surface ships from Belgium, France, Greece, Italy, Spain, Turkey, the UK, and the US.
Ten maritime patrol aircraft and eight helicopters from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Turkey, the UK, and the US operated out of Sigonella Air Base in support.
“As anti-submarine warfare includes all three dimensions, special attention needs to be placed upon anti-submarine warfare from the air,” said Greek navy Commodore Andreas Vettos head of Maritime Air NATO. “Because of this, it is important for aircrews from various NATO nations’ to come and train together in this truly challenging environment.”
Siil 18, or Hedgehog 18, was a national exercise led by Estonia from May 3 through May 14.
“We are trying to actually learn how to use the terrain, light infantry skills, combined arms tactics, to stop [the] enemy, to deny the terrain, and to take initiative by small forces and inflict to the mechanised opposition as much damage as we can,” said Estonian Col. Eero Rebo.
Hedgehog was the largest exercise in Estonia since the Baltic country regained its independence, according to Estonian defence forces Maj. Ulo Isberg.
“We want everything to go well, that there are no injuries, but also that everybody learns from the exercise. Lessons learned are very important, especially on an exercise of this size,” Isberg said. “Movements of bodies of units, combat situations in the terrain, anything that can go wrong or go right, either way it’s all very much appreciated in that it teaches us how to be better soldiers and allies.”
The exercise was “important because we have a huge neighbour next to us, and he might want to threaten us with his own military force, and we’ll have to be ready to defend the land we have,” said Junior Sgt. Rain, a platoon sergeant in an Estonian defence forces engineer battalion.
“It definitely needs to be held more, this kind of exercise and this magnitude,” Rain added. “Because then our higher-ups as well can have a good picture of how would larger-grade warfare would look like on Estonian soil, to try to play through the mobilization of mobilizing our 15,000 at once.”
Unified Vision 18, conducted from June 2 to June 29, was a multinational exercise meant to improve the ability of NATO’s intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets to work together.
The exercise took place in the Czech Republic, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, the US, and the North Atlantic. Jets, unmanned aerial vehicles, frigates, underwater gliders, and maritime vehicles were all involved.
“We’re simulating exercises that may happen and then pushing that video real-team to another area of operations,” said Quang Ho, an Aerostat systems senior engineer, at Yuma Proving ground. “The idea is another place can see the video live and make an informed decision.”
NATO personnel also tested unmanned maritime assets during Unified Vision 2018. Gathering information for rescue and recovery operations on land was a particular focus during the exercise.
“When you lose personnel … it is obviously very important to get an understanding of the situation out there, where the personnel is located, and in what situation they are finding themselves,” said Col. Vladimir Lang, head of reconnaissance and the electronic warfare branch at the Czech Ministry of Defence. “In order to do that, you want to leverage all possible information and all possible sources.”
“Hopefully at the end of this … we know what our challenges are, we’ve been able to connect different systems, we know where our limitations in policy and doctrine, and how that’s helping us and maybe hindering us,” a member of the exercise control staff said. “Out of that is the fact that individuals will be trained, they will work with other countries, and hopefully when we deploy on operations we’ll be much better from Day One.”
Baltic Operations, or BaltOps, is an annual US-led maritime exercise in and around the Baltic Sea. This year it took place between June 2 and June 15.
Twenty-two countries, 20 NATO members and two partners, took part, bringing more than 5,700 troops, 42 ships and two submarines, and dozens of aircraft.
“BALTOPS is an invaluable opportunity to demonstrate joint interoperability across the air, land, sea, space, and cyberspace domains,” said Lt. Col. Mike Richard, commander of the 480th Fighter Squadron from the 52nd Fighter Wing at Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany.
“We are embarked not only for command and control, but there’s boats; there’s unmanned underwater vehicles; there’s dive equipment,” said Navy Cmdr. Oliver Herion aboard the USNS Carson City during the exercise. “The Carson City is optimal to load those assets in one port, quickly move them to another port to offload and conduct follow-on operations either ashore or afloat.”
Some 400 marines from the US and Romania conducted an amphibious landing during the exercise, carrying out combined tactical drills with Polish forces once ashore. During BaltOps 18’s first joint personnel recovery exercise, helicopters from the US, the UK, and Germany simulated rescuing four stranded individuals.
The US Air Force’s JSTARS, or Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, also got a workout at BaltOps. “All our personnel received a lot of training in the maritime arena,” said Lt. Col. Vida Roeder, 461st Air Control Wing mission crew commander. “They also received experience as ambassadors for JSTARS and the US as a whole.”
Air defence, anti-submarine warfare, maritime interdiction, mine countermeasures, and amphibious operations were all areas of focus during BaltOps 2018.
Saber Strike, which took place between June 6 and June 23, is an annual US-led field-training exercise. This year some 18,000 troops from 19 NATO countries participated in the exercise, which spread across Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland.
Like most NATO exercises, Saber Strike was meant to demonstrate the alliance’s capabilities and ability to cooperate.
This year, however, Saber Strike took place amid heightened tensions between NATO and Russia. Saber Strike 18 was “a demonstration of the commitment and solidarity of the Alliance,” the US Army said, stressing that it was “not a provocation of Russia.”
Logistics and mobility were an area of emphasis during this year’s Saber Strike, as NATO seeks to enhance its ability to deploy quickly and in force around Europe.
As a part of that effort, the US Army carried out a road march with Stryker armoured vehicles from the 2nd Cavalry Regiment before the exercise. That display was marred, however, when four Strykers ran off the road in Lithuania, injuring 15 soldiers.
Saber Strike 18 also included one of the enhanced forward presence battle groups deployed by NATO in the wake of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. “Exercises like this help build relationships,” said Capt. Rihards Zalitis, a Latvian military range control officer. With the battle group and other nations present, “We see how they work, they see how we work, and it makes us better every day.”
Ramstein Alloy 18-1, which took place from April 17 to April 19, and Ramstein Alloy 18-2, which was conducted from June 26 to June 27, were meant to improve cooperation and coordination between NATO countries and Partnership for Peace countries in the Baltic region. The exercise has been done since 2008.
Partnership for Peace, established in 1994, is a set of bilateral relationships between the NATO alliance and non-member countries in Europe and the Atlantic region. Among its members are a number of former Soviet republics as well as Sweden and Finland, which both work closely with NATO, much to Russia’s chagrin.
During Ramstein Alloy 18-1, fighter jets, light fighter aircraft, a helicopter, and a tanker from Denmark, Italy, Lithuania, Latvia, Norway, Poland, the US, and Finland and Sweden conducted air-combat training and practiced loss of communication, search and rescue, and aerial refuelling procedures.
During Ramstein Alloy 18-2, fighter jets from the three Baltic Air Policing detachments of Portugal, Spain and France, currently based in Lithuania and Estonia, participated alongside jets from Norway and Poland and Sweden and Finland. Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia contributed command and control personnel.
Srbija 2018 was organised by the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Center and took place in Serbia from October 8 to October 11.
The exercise focused on disaster response and included water rescue, urban search and rescue, an earthquake scenario, and chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) detection.
“Serbia 2018 is not a military exercise, but a platform for civilian first responders and the military, from allied and partner countries, to learn from each other how they can save lives,” said NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg, who attended the opening ceremony. “This is a testing exercise that will show our strengths and weaknesses, enable us to learn together, and to get better together.”
Members of the Ohio National Guard also participated. “These are exactly the kind of things we try to find for our guardsmen,” said said Lt. Col. Timothy Grady, commander of the 121st Air Refuelling Wing Civil Engineering Squadron. “From a training perspective, and to an overall growth perspective, these relationships are invaluable.”
“It’s been awesome to see the experts here. They may not always speak the same language but when it comes to saving lives, they’ve been able to bridge the language barrier,” said Senior Master Sgt. Joshua Chapman, a 179th Airlift Wing installation emergency manager.
Anakonda 2018 was hosted by Poland between November 8 and November 17, and it involved some 17,000 troops from 10 NATO countries.
This year’s iteration was the seventh time the exercise has been held, and for the first time in its history, it was extended to include Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia.
AN-18 also introduced mechanised artillery, and it was the first time in history that the US Army’s M109 Paladin self-propelled howitzers had been fired so far eastward.
The exercise drew on NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence, military capabilities, air defence, infantry, field artillery, tanks, and forward observers. It was also a certification venue aimed at achieving goals set during the 2016 Warsaw NATO Summit.
“During Anakonda, myself and the other American snipers were used as dismount and reconnaissance,” said US Army Sgt. Forrest Layton, a sniper assigned to Battle Group Poland. “We were placed in strategic locations by the British command and were utilised to deliver real time battlefield information.”
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