The Russian take-over of the Crimea and continuing aggression in eastern Ukraine has put the Europeans on edge. Over the past few years NATO has taken steps to build up its deterrence posture and reassure eastern European nations in the face of the Russian actions. One of these steps is the formation of NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force or NATO VJTF. The VJTF is designed to enhance and increase NATO’s collective defense efforts in a time-sensitive environment.
In 2014 the NATO allies agreed to increase the capabilities of the existing NATO Response Force (NRF) in response to the emerging challenges presented by Russia as well as those that could occur beyond Europe’s borders in the Middle East and North Africa. The NATO Response Force (NRF) was established 2003 as a high readiness force of air, land, maritime, and special forces units that could rapidly deploy. The VJTF was established within the overall NRF structure and would have up to five maneuver battalions that would be supported by maritime, air, and special forces. The VJTF will not be permanently based and will be composed of different NATO countries on a rotating basis.
Exercises are being planned and executed, new specialized units are being formed, and troops are being forward deployed in Poland and the Baltic nations (Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia). Exercise White Sword was recently conducted in Lithuania to train up NATO’s spearhead force to rapidly react to any crisis – including one of Russian aggression against NATO countries in Eastern Europe. The Danes provided 1,400 troops and over 500 vehicles to participate in this year’s White Sword exercise. Exercise Anakonda 2016 and Brilliant Capability 2016 were both staged in Poland recently to demonstrate the ability of NATO to command and control the VJTF.
Some of the NATO nations are taking a leading role in the VJTF. Next year the British will command the VJTF – a brigade-plus size force of about 5,000 personnel. The Danish Army will provide elements of one of their brigades and will be one of the biggest contributors of personnel.
Many of the NATO nations have been heavily involved in the Afghanistan conflict where stability and counterinsurgency operations (small unit tactics) are employed. However, a fight in Eastern Europe is a different type of warfare and the NATO countries need to shift gears and develop tactics, doctrine, strategy, units, and training venues to be prepared for high-intensity conventional warfare.
NATO is running a lot of high-visibility exercises promoting its rapid-response force, airborne operations, and command and control structures. However, with the Russian tank and motorized rifle divisions just across the border within a one-day drive of the capital cities of the Baltic States and a quick drive to Poland through Belarus one has to ask just how much deterrence the VJTF offers.
NATO, Fact Sheet: NATO Response Force (NRF), Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe.
Video: Watch a video a 4-minute long video entitled Danish forces prepare to join NATO’s spearhead force, the VJTF, NATO, June 27, 2016 posted on YouTube.com.
Rogan, Tom, “Obama’s Plan to Send New Arms to Europe Isn’t Enough”, National Review, June 23, 2015.
Garmone, Jim, “NATO Sets Sizes for Spearhead, Response Forces”, U.S. DoD News Release, February 5, 2015.
MoD UK, “UK to increase contribution to NATO task force”, Ministry of Defense UK, June 8, 2015.
NUPI, Can NATO’s new Very High Readiness Joint Task Force deter?, Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, June 5, 2016.
(Image: NATO image taken from the NATO video cited above).