The USS Donald Cook detected, tracked and successfully intercepted a medium-range ballistic missile, officials said -- part of "Formidable Shield 17," a three week-long NATO military exercise. Photo courtesy of U.S. Navy Europe-Africa
Oct. 16 (UPI) -- NATO countries on Monday kicked off its annual nuclear drill at two bases in Western Europe -- part of a three-week event to test defenses.
Military leaders conducted the nuclear defense drill, called "Steadfast Noon," at Kleine Brogel in Belgium and Buchel in Germany -- two bases where the U.S. military stores nuclear weapons.
Details of the exercise were not made public but NATO officials privately said it was the military alliance's primary nuclear deterrent drill.
The three week NATO event, "Formidable Shield 17," started last month and will conclude Wednesday.
The U.S. Navy said that NATO's involvement in the annual exercise included the successful interception of medium-range ballistic missiles -- fired from Spanish and Dutch ships -- by the USS Donald Cook. It marked the first time that NATO's smart defense concept was demonstrated, with ships used as air defense units to protect naval ballistic missile units.
While NATO did not identify participating countries, the U.S. Navy said ships from the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands and Britain were involved in the drills. More than 14 ships, 10 aircraft and about 3,000 personnel were involved on Scotland's Western Isles.
Russia conducted similar military exercises last month on the western borders of Russia and Belarus, which included a nuclear deterrent drill and the firing of a ballistic missile.
"This exercise is planned to be a recurring, biennial event, and is designed to assure allies, deter adversaries, and demonstrate our commitment to collective defense of the NATO alliance," a statement from U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa said.
This year's drill took on an added significance with the new administration of President Donald Trump, who has expressed disappointment this year with member states not contributing sufficient funds toward their own defenses.
"This is why it is so important that NATO continues with its classic nuclear planning structure, including these exercises," Jan Techau, director of the Holbrooke Forum for the Study of Diplomacy in Berlin, told The Wall Street Journal. "It is important to send out the message of continuity and reliability, because that is what deterrence is based on."