After arriving at Naval Station Norfolk on August 17, ships from NATO’s Standing Maritime Group One (SNMG1) have completed their first evolutions in US waters as part of a novel concept of training and operations.
First discussed in April 2018 at the MARCOM hosted Maritime Operational Commanders Conference, Maritime Express saw its implementation in 2019 during SNMG1’s first semester deployment.
The concept is a twin-tracked approach bringing an increased emphasis on actively integrating allied nations in SNMG operations directly or through associated support under national or NATO operational control.
“The overarching principle of Maritime Express is that it’s not an exercise in its own right,” said Royal Navy Lt. Cmdr. Joe Logan, SNMG1 Staff Operations Officer. “It’s more of a theme and policy for the Standing Maritime NATO Group deployment. By deploying, SNMG1 is going to areas near NATO Allies, whereby the units, whether civilian or military, are available for us to interact with,” he continued. “This is different from us staying in the areas we would normally operate in, such as the eastern side of the Atlantic, and expecting others to come to us.”
The second track of Maritime Express is actively identifying opportunities for more joint and civilian interaction by taking advantage of the inherent flexibility and agility of maritime forces.
“For NATO, Maritime Express is meant to look into other options of using the standing naval forces,” said Danish Navy Cmdr. Peter Jansberg, SNMG1 Staff Planning Officer. “It also allows us to look at opportunities to exercise together, while also improving relationships and developments between the countries and the Standing NATO Maritime Groups, ships and units. The biggest benefit here is that NATO can get closer together and spread the message to a further audience than just NATO and MARCOM.”
“As NATO continues to adapt to meet the challenges of a changing international security situation, its strength is the ability to adopt new methods to improve and demonstrate the alliance’s interoperability, flexibility and agility,” said Rear Adm. Edward Cashman, commander, SNMG1. “SNMG1’s operations in the Maritime Express construct stands at the forefront of executing new and innovative ways of operating that benefit all of the allies and that demonstrates our continuing commitment to our common values and collective defense.”
While allied maritime forces may comprise the majority of NATO operations, Maritime Express will see cooperation between military vessels and the commercial shipping community to examine questions related to the protection of the sea lines of communication.
“Protecting the freedom of navigation is one of our core tasks as more than 80 percent of all consumer goods travel via maritime routes to our shops,” said Belgian Navy Cmdr. s.g. Frederick Vandekerckhove, commanding officer, Belgian Navy Karel Doorman-class frigate Leopold I (F930). “If there’s no shipping, then there’s no shopping. Maritime Express is all about renewing our relationship with merchant ships. We exchange information, seek opportunities to train together, and experiment with new tactics.”
“By doing so, we build trust that is necessary to be able to work together in areas where free navigation is threatened,” he continued. “Our job is to protect the sea lines of communication. SNMG1 ships, supported by the NATO shipping center, have started engaging with civilian traffic whilst crossing the North Atlantic. This first step is necessary to start the confidence building, enhance mutual understanding and initiate a new way of working with the merchant navy.”
Through Maritime Express, NATO is leading change to meet new security challenges and gain efficiencies. Maritime Express is a new way of looking at the Standing Naval Force program and allows for the maximum effectiveness of time at sea to build and maintain the readiness required to be part of NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force.