Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO (STRIKFORNATO) and US Sixth Fleet (SIXTHFLT) concluded the NATO-led Neptune Shield 2022 (NESH22) from STRIKFORNATO’s Joint Operations Centre in Oeiras, Portugal featuring several “first-ever” events.
The exercise, which was concluded on 31 May, demonstrated NATO’s ability to integrate the command and control of multiple carrier strike groups (CSG), an amphibious ready group (ARG) and a marine expeditionary unit (MEU).
25 NATO allies, including Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, the UK, and the US, participated in the exercise.
NESH22 kicked off on 17 May from the Baltic, Adriatic, Ionian and Mediterranean Seas, and involved missions at sea, in the air and on the ground across Europe, supporting both Allied Joint Force Command (JFC) Naples and JFC Brunssum.
While STRIKFORNATO executed command and control of the USS Harry S. Truman CSG, the ITS CAVOUR CSG and the Combined Task Force 61/2, which included the USS Kearsarge ARG and the 22nd MEU, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) coordinated the activity, integrating NATO Allied Maritime Command and NATO Allied Air Command.
STRIKFORNATO led and coordinated maritime and expeditionary forces composed of four carrier strike groups from three different nations, more than 30 ships and 160 aircraft, including forces from the Harry S. Truman CSG, the Kearsarge ARG-MEU, the Italian Navy Cavour CSG, the Spanish Navy Juan Carlos I CSG and the Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 and 2. More than 200 aircraft sorties and 80 vigilance activities were executed by more than 11,000 personnel from 25 NATO and partner countries.
“NATO’s capacity to conduct integrated operations in the maritime domain ensures stability and peace throughout Europe, and validates more than seven decades of Alliance interoperability,” said Vice Adm. Gene Black, commander, STRIKFORNATO and SIXTHFLT.
Breaking new ground, NESH22 also delivered on a series of “first-ever events” on behalf of the Alliance.
The Transfer of Authority (ToA) of the Italian CAVOUR CSG is not only the first time Italy has transferred command and control of a CSG and F-35B aircraft to NATO, it is also the first time any non-U.S. CSG has flown the NATO flag.
Furthermore, NESH22 achieved the first air-to-air refueling of a Spanish AV-8B from a U.S. F-18 tanker. Also, the first air-to-air refueling of an Italian F-35B demonstrated the first-ever non-U.S. F-35B to re-fuel mid-air by a U.S. F-18 jet. The ability to do so did not exist prior to the start of NESH22 and pave the way for further integration between the US and other F-35 NATO nations, such as Canada, Australia, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, and the U.K.
Collectively, these represent the first-ever deployment of a NATO Expanded Task Force (NETF) in support of real-world vigilance activities.
“NESH made significant benchmark gains in how Allies efficiently solve dynamic problems across the Allied Command Operations (ACOs) that will enhance capabilities for real world deterrence scenarios. In addition, the Spanish JUAN CARLOS I CSG operated in close coordination with the NETF for the first time, further demonstrating Alliance cohesion, unity, and capability,” according to NATO statement.