Nato to launch biggest military exercise since cold war

Alliance plans to assemble 41,000 troops next year to test readiness to repel a Russian invasion

Nato is preparing its biggest live joint command exercise since the cold war next year, assembling more than 40,000 troops to practise how the alliance would attempt to repel Russian aggression against one of its members.

The Steadfast Defender exercise comes as part of Nato’s rapid push to transform from crisis response to a war-fighting alliance, prompted by the invasion of Ukraine.

It will start in spring next year and is expected to involve between 500 and 700 air combat missions, more than 50 ships, and about 41,000 troops, Nato officials said. It is designed to model potential manoeuvres against an enemy modelled on a coalition led by Russia, named Occasus for the purposes of the drill.

The exercise is also a first in terms of technical capability, using real world geographical data to create more realistic scenarios for troops.


Sweden, whose Nato bid is yet to be ratified by Turkey and Hungary, will also be included, bringing the total number of nations involved to 32.

The drill will take place across Germany, Poland and the Baltics in February and March and forms part of a new training strategy that will see the military alliance carry out two big exercises every year, instead of one. Nato will also train to counter terrorist threats outside its immediate borders.

Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said in June last year that the alliance would increase the number of its high-readiness forces from 40,000 to “well over 300,000″. It forms part of a historic overhaul to shift the alliance towards heavy military capabilities as opposed to the light and mobile forces deployed in the Balkans and Afghanistan.

Following that statement, Nato leaders agreed at a summit in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius in July to new regional defence plans and the creation of the so-called Allied Reaction Force, a multinational force able to respond rapidly to threats.

Baltic countries have been particularly vocal in calling for Nato to bolster its eastern flank as troops have built up on the Belarusian border. Russia’s president Vladimir Putin said nuclear weapons would be moved into Belarus in early July, although their presence is unconfirmed.

Nato has positioned multinational battalions in the Baltic states to slow the progress of any aggressor in the event of an invasion. Germany said in June it would keep 4,000 troops in Lithuania permanently.

Exercises are also seen as a key part of demonstrating to Moscow that the alliance is prepared to fight, Nato officials said. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2023