WASHINGTON — NATO will begin its largest training exercise in almost two decades later this month, with one clear observer in mind: Moscow, take note.
Exercise Trident Juncture 18 will send a “strong deterrent message” to Russia or any other nation considering rolling across continuous borders in Europe, Adm. James Foggo told Pentagon reporters Friday.
Foggo is the commander, Allied Joint Force Command Naples; the commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe, and the commander of U.S. Forces Africa. He is the lead officer for the exercise.
“This is for training. But it is real because the lessons we learn are very real… in our desire to become more resilient and stronger together as an alliance,” Foggo said.
The exercise is scheduled to run from Oct. 25 to Nov. 7. It is to involve roughly 45,000 troops from all 29 NATO nations, as well as Sweden and Finland, Foggo said. “It is a prime example of NATO allies and partners working together,” he said.
Russia has already complained that the exercise is provocative.
Foggo said the Russians have been invited as observers, along with other nations. He said they have not responded to the invitation but he expects them to attend. “I want them to be there,” he said.
Foggo did not directly address reports on Russian cyber attacks but did say that NATO is “always vigilant against attacks in cyber space” and that “I’d be a fool not to expect something (cyber) will happen” during the exercise.
“Russia is not 10 feet tall but they do have capabilities that keep me vigilant and concerned,” Foggo said. “They are trying to bifurcate and split the alliance.”
One highlight will be a demonstration of NATO’s 5,000-member rapid response force that will underscore the ability to move quickly, Foggo said.
“In order to deter, you have to be present. To be present, you have to get there,” Foggo said.
He also noted that the 700 Marines now rotating for training in Norway can “be 3,000 tomorrow.
“We can move stuff quickly,” Foggo said. “We can be dynamic in our force employment. That is the message we are going to drive home.”
On Thursday, Defense Secretary James Mattis said Moscow’s complaints about the exercise are without merit.
“This, as Russia knows full well, is a defensive exercise,” Mattis said at a press conference following a meeting of NATO defense ministers. “It is one that has tended to be in an area that they are very aware of. It’s not hidden, we have been — just the fact that you’re asking about it, we’ve released the number of ships, the number of troops, this sort of thing. We are very, very transparent about it. It will not be on Russia’s border in any way.”
Mattis said that “it would be a mischaracterization to put it in any kind of offensive or destabilizing” manner. And he also said “we don’t need any more misbehavior by anyone.”