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Permanent On Call Joint Maritime Battle Force

The NATO Alliance is more relevant today in its core mission of collective security than it has been for over two decades.   To face the challenges East and South identified at the Wales Summit NATO must use all of its capabilities.  At the high-end of maritime maneuver and expeditionary striking power is the unique organization called STRIKFORNATO; the Alliance’s only permanently on call joint maritime Battle Force.  STRIKFORNATO’s unique value to the Alliance is its service as the only integration mechanism for U.S. Navy and Marine Corps combat power.  The STRIKFORNATO Battle Force is NATO’s only permanently available, trained and proven high-end joint maritime force.

Directly under Operational Command of SACEUR, STRIKFORNATO is ready to deploy at five days notice.   STRIKFORNATO is an experienced, three-star led, Battle Force Staff of joint warriors that stand ready to command and integrate U.S. Carrier or Expeditionary Strike Groups into a wider NATO Battle Force for the Alliance.  The Commander of STRIKFORNATO is dual-hatted as Commander U.S. Sixth Fleet resulting in seamless integration when the strike groups shift from U.S. or coalition operations to those under NATO. The combined power of the 6thFleet and STRIKFORNATO staffs delivers a formidable capability.

STRIKFORNATO is a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) organization supported by 11 member nations; France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.  It is able to take advantage of the flexibility and agility inherent in a small organization.  STRIKFORNATO’s raison détreis the link with the United States and its ability to bring U.S. high-end capabilities, such as Carrier and Expeditionary Strike Groups, into NATO operations.  

A role as Joint Force Maritime Component Commander (JFMCC) operating below an Expanded Task Force (ETF) is the most likely for STRIKFORNATO peacetime deployment.  Taking its turn in a 5 year rotation, along with European High Readiness Maritime Forces from France, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom, the command serves as the Maritime Component Commander (MCC) for the NATO Response Force (NRF).  This involves commanding NATO maritime forces as assigned, which may not include U.S. Forces.  The next planned NRF rotation will be in 2017. This responsibility can be met by permanent members of the Battle Staff with some augmentation and is commanded at the two star level by the UK Deputy Commander.  There is a significant overlap with higher level roles also undertaken by the HQ which means that lessons learned in the preparation and execution for this role also help prepare STRIKFORNATO for its primary role to command as an Expanded Task Force Maritime Component Commander (ETF JFMCC) at three star level.

STRIKFORNATO’s primary role is as the deployable three star Maritime Component Commander integrating major U.S. forces into a NATO operation.  With renewed interest in NATO Collective Defence and Deterrence it is time to fully exploit the ETF JFMCC capability.  The importance of JFMCC ETF to the development of NATO’s Assurance Measures is demonstrated by the fact that STRIKFORNATO is the only NATO command involved in all of NATOs contingency plans, with SFN directly under command of SACEUR. In the event of a Major Joint Operation conducted by NATO the STRIKFORNATO Battle Force would fulfil this larger role as Joint Task Force Maritime Component Commander commanding multiple carrier and amphibious strike groups.  This capability is reinforced in exercises such as BOLD STEP (support to US JTFEX, FSTJ and COMPTUEX) and through interactions with deploying carrier and expeditionary strike groups transiting the NATO AOR.  

STRIKFORNATO’s newest certified role is as Joint Headquarters for a Maritime Expeditionary operation, JHQ (M/E).  This fills a significant gap in NATO expeditionary capability and again SFN is at five days notice to move.   NATO defines Maritime Expeditionary Operations (MEO) as comprising "NATO’s ability to project maritime forces at up to strategic distance that can deliver decisive joint effects from the sea on land, at sea, in the air, space and cyberspace, with little or no host nation support.  This immediate response capability is built on rapidly deployable and interoperable maritime forces including sea-based strike, initial entry and amphibious assets, sustained by embedded logistics and communications.  It provides an agile and flexible Allied response across the full range of the crisis spectrum.”  In its role as JHQ (M/E) STRIKFORNATO is the only certified NATO Battle Force able to synergize across domains of Sea, Air, Land, Space, and Cyber to deliver joint effects on land from the sea.

A deployable maritime headquarters requires an afloat command platform.  As the lead nation for STRIKFORNATO, and in accordance with the MOU, the United States is responsible for providing the command ship.  STRIKFORNATO utilizes the USS MOUNT WHITNEY with its superb and unique US and NATO C4I systems giving the Commander unequalled situational awareness and command and control capabilities.  During exercises and operations MOUNT WHITNEY has demonstrated the capability to support both STRIKFORNATO and U.S. Sixth Fleet for different events simultaneously.  

The ability of the STRIKFORNATO Battle Force to accomplish its assigned tasks relies heavily on a small, talented international staff where each member’s efforts are vital.  As the lead nation the U.S. provides over forty per cent of the manpower and much of the senior leadership including the Commander, currently Vice Admiral James Foggo III who is dual-hatted as the U.S. Sixth Fleet Commander.  The Commander maintains a headquarters in Naples, Italy so the daily management of STRIKFORNATO is performed by the Deputy Commander, currently Rear Admiral Tim Lowe, Royal Navy.  

The ability to leverage other organizations capabilities and expertise is essential to effectiveness for a small staff.  STRIKFORNATO is a lynchpin for interoperability and experimentation across the Atlantic due to its relationships with NATO’s Allied Command Transformation and U.S. Fleet Forces Command.  Strong links to Combined Joint Operations from the Sea Center of Excellence in Norfolk, Virginia have resulted in cross pollination between work on sea-basing and development of maritime expeditionary operations.  STRIKFORNATO also develops linkages across the NATO Command and Force Structure.  As a Joint proactive Battle Force one will invariably find a member of the team supporting SHAPE, the Joint Force Commands in Naples and Brunssum, the NATO Command Structure single service components and the Force Structure commands such as the Headquarters for the Allied rapid Reaction Corps.  

In summary, STRIKFORNATO maintains several key competencies for the Alliance and remains NATO’s primary linkage in integrating U.S. Naval Forces into Alliance Operations.  The acknowledged experts at delivering high-end striking power through an Expanded Task Force of multiple carrier and expeditionary strike groups, STRIKFORNATO is a proven high readiness, flexible and agile battle force.   STRIKFORNATO is closely involved in ongoing efforts to reinvigorate the NRF and establish the newly created Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), and remains a viable command option directly available to SACEUR.  STRIKFORNATO is more than a hammer, it is a multi-faceted tool with as many uses as a Swiss army knife.  STRIKFORNATO stands ready to deploy immediately and deliver sea based effects across the full range of NATO missions, through certification and experience as Joint Headquarters for Maritime Expeditionary operations, its role as Maritime Component Commander for the NATO Response Force or any future role commanding the maritime element of the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force.
Events in Ukraine and the Middle East which caused 2014 to be an Annus Horribilis are still ongoing in 2015 with no easy solutions.  It will require long term united actions by the international community, including NATO, to defend the freedoms which are the basis of European civilization and provide stability to the world order.  Determination and commitment are needed to restore a system based on rule of law and peaceful negotiation.  NATO will have its political and military role to carry out in this process.  SACEUR will need all the forces at his disposal to Reassure, Deter and Defend when required.  When SACEUR calls STRIKFORNATO will respond as his ready Maritime 911 Battle Force.

By Captain James L. "Red” Smith, U.S. Navy (Retired)

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