Feb. 22 (UPI) -- Multi-nation anti-submarine warfare exercises, this year including a French aircraft carrier strike group, are underway in Italy, NATO announced on Monday.
The Dynamic Manta 2021 drills, designed to enhance interoperability and proficiency in anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare skills, conclude on March 5.
The largest participant is the strike group led by the 858-foot long aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, with its crew of 1,350 sailors and air wing of 600 personnel.
The exercise also involves submarines, surface ships, maritime patrol ships and addition support vessels from Belgium, France, Greece, Italy, Spain, Turkey and the United States.
"The strength of NATO military forces is found in our command, control and communication structures, which can best be practiced during live exercises such as Dynamic Manta 2021," Vice Admiral Keith Blount, commander of NATO's Allied Maritime Command, said in a press release.
"Developing and maintaining highly trained, ready forces that integrate seamlessly is the bedrock of our collective deterrence and defense," Blount said.
The schedule calls for each surface ship to conduct operations in tandem with submarines, and each submarine will achieve practice in serving as the hunter and as the hunted in the exercises.
Operations for the exercise, hosted by Italy, are centered at bases on the Mediterranean island of Siciliy -- included its harbor and helicopter base at Catania, naval air station at Sigonella and Augusta naval base.
While multi-national exercises are common for NATO member nations, Dynamic Manta 2021 is notable for its lack of planned interaction between individuals because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We're going ahead and conducting this exercise, with no material impact on the operation or the exercise. It shows how well the NATO alliance and the countries have adapted to this new reality and travel-restricted environment," U.S. Navy Rear Adm. E. Andrew Burcher, submarine exercise director, told Seapower Magazine.
"What's lost are the personal connections that make the alliance stronger," Burcher said. "Our center of gravity of NATO is alliance cohesion, and the reason alliance cohesion exits is because of the friendships and partnerships exist when we meet personally on ships and shake hands with each other."