Over 90,000 Military Personnel Participate in NATO’s Largest Exercise in 75 Years

Launched on the east coast in January, NATO Exercise Steadfast Defender 24 has CAF personnel joining 31 NATO Allies and invitee Sweden.

Three years in the making, the exercise has over 90,000 military personnel training across multiple domains from January to May.

A Dutch Marine watches over the beach at Sandstrand, Norway as a landing craft nears shore as part of Exercise Nordic Response 24. The exercise is one part of Exercise Steadfast Defender 2024. Image courtesy of NATO.

Demonstrate Unity, Strength, and Determination

“Steadfast Defender 2024 will be a clear demonstration of our unity, strength and determination to protect each other, our values and the rules based on international order,” said General Christopher G. Cavoli, Supreme Allied Commander Europe.

According to NATO, the exercise is the alliance’s largest military exercise since the Cold War. Steadfast Defender 24 will highlight the unbreakable bond between NATO Allies in Europe and North America, who have kept over one billion people safe for 75 years.

Members of Canadian Special Operations Fores Command conduct pre-mission training for Exercise Steadfast Defender 24 in Petawawa, Ontario, on January 16, 2024. Image courtesy of Canadian Armed Forces.

Canadian Participation

Approximately 1,000 CAF sailors, soldiers, aviators, and special forces members will participate in Steadfast Defender.

According to the CAF, the personnel will demonstrate NATO’s ability to conduct sustained, multi-domain defensive operations over a period of several months, simulating an Article 5 attack by an adversary with similar capabilities.

According to NATO, “Article 5 provides that if a NATO Ally is the victim of an armed attack, each and every other member of the Alliance will consider this act of violence as an armed attack against all members and will take the actions it deems necessary to assist the Ally attacked.”

The Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) General Wayne Eyre, CMM, MSC, CD addresses Ukrainian recruits during Operation UNIFIER-UK on 28 October 2022 in the United Kingdom. Photo by: Corporal Eric Greico, Canadian Armed Forces Photo.

Important Milestone for Canadian Army

Steadfast Defender 24 will also serve as an important milestone for the Canadian Army’s future Forward Land Forces Multinational Brigade Latvia, as the second part of the exercise will see the future command team integrate with their higher NATO command in the planning and execution of defensive combat operations.

“The deployment of CAF personnel and assets alongside NATO and Allied forces in Alliance territory serves as a powerful and unmistakable message of deterrence to potential adversaries and reassurance to Allies. This collective display of strength and readiness reinforces our commitment to safeguarding the security and stability of the region, sending a clear signal that any threat to our shared values and interests will be met with a unified and resolute response,” General Wayne Eyre, Chief of the Defence Staff.

Two Part Mission

Exercise Steadfast Defender’s mission is to demonstrate NATO’s ability to defend every inch of its territory, plus to show the commitment of NATO Allies to protect each other from any threat.

The exercise will see military personnel exercised across multiple domains: maritime, land, air, space and cyber, through a series of integrated plans, overseen by an enhanced command structure.

Consisting of two parts, the first part of the exercise focuses on securing the Atlantic up to the Arctic. The second part focuses on moving troops across Europe, from the High North to Central and Eastern Europe.

The exercise includes:

  • 80-plus air platforms
  • 50 Naval assets
  • 1,100 combat vehicles
  • 90,000 plus military personnel
Charlottetown departed today for Exercise Steadfast Defender, joined by its embarked CH-148 Cyclone Helicopter (call-sign Osprey). This is the largest NATO exercise in decades and Canada’s maritime contribution to NATO’s deterrence plans to counter threats in the Euro-Atlantic area. Image courtesy of RCN Facebook page.

Part One: Transatlantic Reinforcement

Beginning on January 24, 2024, the first part of the mission had His Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Charlottetown deploy from Halifax, along with USS Gunston Hall departing from Norfolk, Virginia.

“The next few months will see our sailors, soldiers, and aviators engage in rigorous training and operational activities in diverse and challenging environments. This period will not only test their skills and capabilities but also provide an opportunity to forge strong and valuable partnerships with our NATO allies and partners, further enhancing our collective readiness and interoperability,” Vice-Admiral Bob Auchterlonie, Commander Canadian Joint Operations Command.

HMCS Charlottetown will deploy for a period of roughly seven weeks, participating in the live exercises designed to provide tactical training for the NATO Standing Maritime Groups.

The Whidbey Island-class dock landing ship USS Gunston Hall (LSD 44), departed Naval Station Norfolk, Jan. 24, 2024 commencing operations for Steadfast Defender 2024, NATO’s largest excercise in decades. Steadfast Defender will demonstrate NATO’s ability to deploy forces rapidly from across the Alliance to reinforce the defense of Europe. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Manvir Gill).

Part Two: Multi-Domain Exercises Across Europe

The second part of Steadfast Defender 24 focuses on moving military personnel across Europe from High North to Central and Eastern Europe.

During the second half of the exercise, the Canadian Army will deploy over 100 additional vehicles, including Light Armoured Vehicles (LAV) 6.0 and Tactical Armoured Patrol Vehicles (TAPV), to Latvia as part of the commitment to scale the existing Battle Group in Latvia to a combat-capable Multinational Brigade Latvia.

This summer, Canada will also deploy four CH-146 Griffon helicopters to Latvia and periodically deploy CH-147 Chinooks, starting in Fall 2025.

Canadian Participation

According to the Canadian Armed Forces, Canadian Army personnel will participate in Exercise Crystal Arrow in Latvia in March and Exercise Spring Storm in Estonia in May.

Additionally, Canadian Special Operation Forces Command members will participate in Exercise Nordic Response in Norway in March. The exercises fall under the broader umbrella of Steadfast Defender 24.

The exercises “are opportunities for soldiers to closely work with our NATO allies,” according to the CAF.

“Canada’s participation in Exercise Steadfast Defender sends a strong message about our ability to operate with NATO Allies and our continued contribution to the defence of Europe. Canada remains unwavering in its commitments to defend our shared values and interests, and to be a reliable partner in peace and security,” said Bill Blair, Minister of National Defence.

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