Nato has successfully concluded a cold-weather training exercise, Exercise Cold Response 2016 (CDR 16), which involved 12 member nations and partner countries.
The exercise involved the land, maritime and aerial assets of 12 Nato and partner countries, more than 3,000 US service members and 6,500 members of the Norwegian armed forces.
The Norwegian-led CDR 16 aimed at training a multi-national force by engaging them into a joint and combined setting under challenging conditions and subsequently enhancing their interoperability and joint action.
During the exercise, the US crew joined forces with their Dutch and Norwegian counterparts and became a member of the Order of the Royal Blue Noses by crossing the Arctic Circle and witnessing the Northern Lights.
US Navy Whidbey Island-class dock landing ship USS Fort McHenry commanding officer commander Michael Johnson said: “It’s always beneficial to know and understand how another country operates, especially in its own backyard.
“The coming together of nations to support a higher strategic alliance is always beneficial during an exercise that covers so many different operations.”
The 186m-long vessel, Fort McHenry, with a displacement of approximately 16,000t, was deployed to the Cold Response Amphibious Task Group (ATG), led by the Dutch amphibious staff Royal Netherlands Marine Forces.
The vessel was carrying US Marines and equipment, including 16 amphibious assault vehicles, a landing craft utility, and various other support vehicles.
The ATG had also included two Dutch landing dock ships, the HNLMS (L801) Johan de Witt and HNLMS (L800) Rotterdam.
According to a piece published February 23, 2016 by Sgt. Kirstin Merrimarahajara, II Marine Expeditionary Force:
RENA, Norway –
Seven months ago, planning began for Exercise Cold Response 16, a cold-weather training exercise involving 12 NATO and partner countries and approximately 16,000 troops.
Norway extended an invitation to the U.S. Marines, which was graciously accepted, and the two countries put their heads together to make this year’s exercise one of the largest, in terms of Marine participation, in recent years.
One key element of the exercise’s success has been close coordination between Norway and U.S. planners, who have tackled the monumental task of trying to envision the future of this large-scale exercise, anticipate problems ahead of the game and brainstorm potential solutions.
A Norwegian recovery vehicle hooks up to a U.S. Marine Corps Amphibious Assault Vehicle prior to the start of a live-fire range in Rena, Norway, as part of their pre-exercise training Feb. 17, 2016. The Marines and Norwegian Army are working together as part of Exercise Cold Response, a joint NATO and allied country exercise comprised of 12 countries and approximately 16,000 troops. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Master Sgt. Chad McMeen/Released)
Norwegian Lt. Col Erik Bjørnstadbråten and U.S. Marine Maj. Marcus Mainz have been communicating throughout the planning process and have been attached at the hip and focused on that task since 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade personnel began arriving in Norway nearly a month ago.
“What we said to each other from the very beginning is ‘Let’s make this as real as possible. What if we really had to do this as a team? Let’s find all those little things that you would have to do, things you would never think of until you’re there,’” said Mainz, 2nd MEB future operations planner for the exercise.
“We said every system we pull from the caves, we will go test. We will drive it, we will shoot it, we will move it along roads; we don’t want to just get there and pretend. I think that was the big difference – that we were willing to do it the hard way to get all the lessons learned.”
Cold Response will incorporate air, land, maritime and cyber domains.This year’s addition of a Combined Joint Task Force, which will integrate international military personnel into a single headquarters element coordinating the actions of an aggregated force.
Under this structure, Norway’s Brigade North will participate as a tactical brigade rather than on its more customary role as a Land Component Command according to Bjørnstadbråten, 2nd MEB future operations officer for the exercise.
“The interoperability part of it – all nations and all their sub-units have to link up and establish common procedures, both during the integration phase and improving upon this during the exercise. I think it’s good for the MEB as well for all other participant nations,” said Bjørnstadbråten.
Though the exercise will commence later this month, Marines have been in Norway since January testing equipment and really getting a feel for how to operate in this environment to get the absolute most out of the training.
According to Mainz, U.S. personnel are presented with a unique opportunity by training in Norway: nothing is off-limits. Participants will not be confined to military bases and will train over a large swath of the country with very little restriction on tactical movements.
“This is a tough experience to replicate, not just with the cold weather, but with the way the Norwegians are allowing us to operate; I think we’re going to get one of the most unique experiences that a brigade has had in a really long time,” said Mainz. “It’s what a war in this region could really be like.”
Norwegians and Americans have spent several months, side-by-side, planning an exercise projected to last only 10 days, but knowing that the two nations will have grown immensely as a powerful force by the end of it.
“We talk a lot about trust and I think our countries – on a military level – trust each other more now than they have in decades. I think that’s probably the most important thing that we’ve built, along with all the interoperability,” said Mainz.
“I absolutely believe that we have to keep doing this kind of collaboration, and we have to keep doing these kinds of exercises that put strains on the systems, that find errors and that just make us better and stronger.”
The Canadians provided Approximately 300 Canadian Army soldiers from 2 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group (2 CMBG) and 3rd Battalion.
The Royal Canadian Regiment (3 RCR) from Garrison Petawawa have completed a high intensity force-on-force cold weather war fighting exercise.
The Dutch engagement is highlighted in the following Dutch video:
For a Finnish take on their involvement in Cold Response 2016:
And for a look at Norwegian forces in Cold Response 2016, see the following:
For our piece on the Johan de Witt and the Osprey landing during Trident Juncture 2015, see the following:
For our interview with the Commander of the HDMS Niels Juel on the Osprey landing on his ship, see the following:
Editor’s Note: For anyone who does not think the Finns take the Russians seriously, it is good to remember that they have the largest mobilizable ground forces in Europe, other than Russia.
In a Newsweek article published 5/1/15, the Finnish approach was highlighted.
The Finnish Defence Forces are to send letters to all 900,000 of the country’s reservists at the beginning of this month, informing them what their role would be in a “crisis situation”, causing a row over whether such a move is necessary.
Finland, with its population of 5.2 million, has a small professional army of 16,000. Yet in the event of mobilisation, Finland could call on its former conscripts to fight. Finland’s wartime military strength is 230,000.
According to local media reports, the decision was announced via a television advert, telling the nation’s reservists “We want to have a word with you”, and warning former conscripts that “Conscription is the cornerstone of Finland’s defence capability.”
The letter will reportedly inform reservists between the ages of 20-60 what their role would be in a “crisis situation”. The letter also asks them to send up-to-date details of their whereabouts.
The director of communications of the Finnish Defence Forces, Mika Kalliomaa, denied any link to a threat from Russia, with whom Finland shares a 1,300km (800 mile) border. “The sending out of these letters to our reservists has no connection to the security situation around Finland,” he said. “We are simply keeping ties with our reservists and asking them what their role would be in an instance of war, and asking them if there is new knowledge we should know about. There is no link to any threat from Russia.”
Last year, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said in an interview with theWashington Post: “We have a long history with Russia — not that peaceful all the time. So everything the Russians are doing, surely the Finns notice and think very carefully about what that might mean.”
In the case of the recent air incursions, he said, the message was clear: “They were testing how we’d react.” Finland boosted the readiness of its airforce following an increase in Russian incursions into its airspace.
According to Peter Iiskola, a former Finnish district court judge and journalist, it is the first time such a letter has been sent out. “It is extraordinary and is clearly intended to make people feel there is a Russian threat and that ‘pre-mobilization’ steps must be taken,” he says. Yet Iiskola believes that rather than responding to a genuine threat from Russia, the Finnish military is hoping to instigate panic and encourage the soon-to-be-formed government to spend more on defence.