German soldiers from 2 Company Multinational Engineer Battalion of NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, man an M3 Amphibious Rig while conducting river crossing training duting exercise Trident Juncture at Camp Røedsmoen in Rena, Norway on Tuesday. Photo by Sgt Marc-André Gaudreault/U.S. Army
Oct. 25 (UPI) -- NATO forces will look to flex their defense maneuvering muscle during the largest U.S.-led readiness exercise since the Cold War.
Exercise Trident Juncture 18, which runs from Oct. 25 to Nov.7, tests and evaluates logistics capabilities of all NATO members. It is expected to involve more than 50,000 personnel, 10,000 vehicles, 150 aircraft and 70 ships from 31 nations.
The exercise follows Russia's move to carry out its largest ever military readiness exercise in September.
The first Exercise Trident Juncture took place in 2015, when roughly 36,000 personnel from 30 countries engaged in activities in Italy, Portugal and Spain.
"If you can train in Norway, you can train anywhere in the world," Sgt. Robert Durham, of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit of the U.S. Marine Corps, told UPI. Durham will join approximately 7,500 U.S. Marines at Trident Juncture, more than any other U.S. military branch.
During this year's exercise, NATO forces will navigate Northern Europe, tackling air, land, maritime, special operation and amphibious forces missions that span central and eastern Norway, Iceland and the surrounding areas of the North Atlantic, along with the Baltic Sea and the airspace over Finland and Sweden.
"We're one piece of a big puzzle," Durham said.
The Marines will work directly with the Icelandic Coast Guard and the Royal Marines to provide help to rapidly move large amounts of materials from ship to shore.
"It's really a challenging environment in Norway in a variety of ways ... the temperature alone is one thing, but the geography is another," Durham said. "It's an opportunity to demonstrate our capabilities in those environments, and it's very important, especially for our younger Marines to get to experience something like that."
"The U.S., like all allied nations, has collective defense responsibilities tied to our NATO membership," Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway, USMC Director of the U.S. Joint Information Center, told UPI. "We participate in NATO exercises to enhance our interoperability and teamwork with our NATO allies and partners. We must ensure that we are ready to fight and defend, if called on to do so."
Rankine-Galloway emphasized the importance of Trident Juncture to enhance work with allied nations. He pointed to a recent trip the Marines took on the USS Iwo Jima on Oct. 18 with the Royal Marines from 40 Command Group as an example of this effort. He stressed the need for this type of coordination to help increase interoperability with NATO partners.
The exercise, however, is not only designed to test the organizational skills of the allied forces, but also their ability to perform in rough weather.
Rankine-Galloway expects temperatures in Iceland and Norway to range from 35 to 45 degrees, with possible precipitation. These conditions, Galloway said, will help prepare the Marines and sailors to act in combat mission in difficult weather.
"Exercises like this make the Alliance better prepared to counter any aggression, if necessary," Rankine-Galloway said.
U.S. Navy Admiral James Foggo -- commander of the Allied Joint Force in Naples, Italy -- echoed that sentiment during a Trident Juncture press conference. He said one of the exercise's messages was to "show NATO is capable of defending, it is capable of deterring any adversary, not anyone in particular."
He added that the exercise is "a message to anyone who might conduct any kind of aggressive act leading to an Article 5 scenario inside the NATO Alliance."
Trident Juncture 18 is modeled after an Article 5 scenario, a call to action to protect any NATO country under attack. Since NATO launched in 1949, the only Article 5 scenario to occur was in response to the Sept. 11 attack.
Some experts think the exercise is a direct response to a potential Russian threat, as tensions between it and the alliance have continued to grow since Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
During a meeting in Brussels earlier this year, NATO defense ministers presented another plan to push back against future threats. In addition to Trident Juncture, the organization will launch its new "four thirties," which prepares 30 troop battalions, 30 aircraft squadrons and 30 warships to deploy in 30 days. The plan is scheduled to be in place by 2020.
"We have decided further steps to strengthen our shared security and boost defense and deterrence against threats from any direction," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said after the Brussels meeting.