Since 2021, NATO has been demonstrating its ability to work from the Mediterranean to the Alliance’s north-eastern flank in the Baltic Sea region. Above all, US aircraft carriers are involved, supported by allied naval forces – including the German Navy.

On February 28, NATO completed the nine-day vigilance activity Neptune Strike 2023.1 . 31 ships, 135 airplanes and helicopters and over 8,000 soldiers from 21 countries were involved. What was special about this phase of the so-called Neptune project was the cooperation of an American aircraft carrier with other carriers from European allies.

This execution phase of the large-scale project was under the command of Vice Admiral Thomas Ishee, commander of the 6th US United States-Fleet and at the same time commander of STRIKFORNATO. The staff of this Allied naval headquarters had also planned and directed the project. “I’m proud of the accomplishments of this team, who have demonstrated their agility in delivering extremely complex, high- end activities,” said Ishee.

Neptune Strike is executing a series of actions NATO and United States Navy had conceived three years ago. The task of the overall project is the complicated integration of a US United States- Implement aircraft carrier combat group in NATO structures.

Measures taken so far by the Neptune series in 2021 initially included purely table-top exercises at the headquarters of the 6th US United States-fleet in Naples and an embarkation of STRIKFORNATO personnel from Lisbon aboard the flagship of the 6th US United States-Fleet, the USS “Mount Whitney”. This part of the project was called the Neptune Challenge. For this purpose, the staffs of the two headquarters were integrated on the American lead ship. They developed necessary procedures for the practical implementation of the project: such as for the US United States- Naval aviators, the conversion from American rules of engagement to the different NATO rules of engagement.

The aim of the project and its practical military exercises is for NATO to use the capabilities of United States-Aircraft carriers can have. This also includes the deployment of American Navy fighter jets deep inland on the continent. Therefore, in the execution phases of Neptune Strike , not only partner naval forces are involved, but also various air forces and command and control of the alliance.

Neptune Strike in January and February 2022 had implemented the previous theoretical preparations with the actual involvement of the aircraft carrier USS “Harry S. Truman” and its escort formation. The 6th U.S Fleet had handed over command of this Carrier Strike Group to STRIKFORNATO.

The operation began on January 24 from the Adriatic Sea and included sea and air sorties across most of Europe. Therefore, the two Joint Forces Commands Brunssum and Naples were also involved. JFC Joint Force Command Brunssum and JFC Joint Force Command Naples are both cross-service headquarters, which would command both army and air force and naval units of NATO in an emergency. This first execution phase, called Neptune Strike 2022.1 , ended after almost two weeks on February 4th.

Just over three weeks later, the conflict in Ukraine came to a head with the full-scale invasion of the country by Russia. Since then, NATO has viewed them as part of its enhanced vigilance activities , particularly on the Alliance’s eastern flank.

A month later, in March, the Harry S. Truman, again under direct command of the 6th US, was practicing United States-Fleet, with the French aircraft carrier “Charles de Gaulle” and the Italian carrier “Cavour”. The American ship and its entire association benefited from the experience already gained during Neptune Strike 2022.1 .

Neptune Shield in May 2022 was the next exercise in the series. The “Harry S. Truman”, located further in the Mediterranean, returned temporarily under NATO control. Also involved this time was a US amphibious assault group United States Navy around the helicopter carrier USS ” Kearsarge”, which operated mainly in the Baltic Sea.

Neptune Strike 2022.2 in October was the third practical implementation of the Neptune project in the past year. Individual exercise missions associated with this were again carried out at sea, in the air and on the ground throughout Europe.

Finally, Neptune Strike 2023.1 in February 2023 focused on three aircraft carrier battlegroups in the Mediterranean: the USS George HW Bush, the Italian Cavour and the Spanish Juan Carlos I. They deployed various fighter aircraft, including Italian F-35B, American F/A-18E, F and G variants, and Spanish AV-8B. Further support came from Greece, Turkey, Croatia, Hungary, the Netherlands, Albania, Great Britain – and from Germany.

“Activities like Neptune Strike are great opportunities to deepen Alliance interoperability,” said Captain Dave Pollard, commander of the George HW Bush. “Showcasing the strength of the alliance to regional adversaries offers diplomats an opportunity to act from a position of strength.”

In the Baltic Sea, the German frigate Hessen and the destroyer USS Arleigh Burke took part in simulated target practice. They thus demonstrated NATO’s ability to coordinate over long distances and in different environments. A sister ship of the “Hessen”, the “Saxony”, meanwhile represented an assumed opponent at times.

In total, during Neptune Strike 2023.1 there were almost 200 aircraft sorties, two joint exercises for the recovery of personnel and two simulated attack operations with the three carriers. It was the first time that three NATO-flagged aircraft carriers had practiced attacks of this type.

For a few days they were joined by the French “Charles de Gaulle” with their Rafale fighter jets. The four carrier groups practiced attacking and defending their formations together.

According to the STRIKFORNATO headquarters, Neptune Strike 2023.1 is the “natural progression” to integrate the modern maritime attack capabilities of the Allied aircraft carrier battle groups for defense purposes.

“The security environment is uncertain, NATO’s capabilities and will are not,” concluded Admiral Ishee. “The ingenuity and tenacity shown by our sailors, marines and naval aviators deter aggression. They show that we are ready to defend the alliance.”