Next March 28th the LHD ‘Juan Carlos I’ and the F-80 frigate ‘Victoria’ are scheduled to arrive at their home port in Rota (Cádiz) after having participated in the ‘Dédalo 23’ deployment. This mission started last January 16th with the purpose of enhancing the training of the participating units and certify them for their integration into NATO’s Readiness Initiative (NRI) for the year 2024.

The Task Group, under command of Rear Admiral Gonzalo Villar, was articulated around the LHD with an embarked air unit made up of ‘Harrier’ aircraft and different helicopters as well as a 500-strong Marine Corps reinforced landing battalion. Other participating units included frigates ‘Victoria’ and ‘Blas de Lezo’ the amphibious ships ‘Galicia’ and ‘Castilla’ and the auxiliary oiler and replenishment ship ‘Cantabria’. In different stages of the deployment, the Group also operated Army forces and the submarine ‘Tramontana’.

Initial training
After their departure from Rota Naval Base a series of amphibious operations were carried out along the Spanish coast in Almería, Cartagena and Majorca. Then, the Group proceeded towards Corsica and Toulon to conduct operations with the LCM landing craft and SH-60B and F helicopters to project a strong naval power over land with around 40 vehicles and 350 marines.

The ‘Dédalo 23’ Expeditionary Group demonstrated its interoperability with other international forces exchanging helicopters with the NH-90 from the French aircraft carrier ‘Tonerre’ while joint divers groups carried out hydrographic reconnaissance drills before the landings. The Spanish warships also conducted joint exercises with the Italian ships ‘Duilio’, ‘San Giusto’ and ‘Thaon de Revel’ and the French anti-air destroyer ‘Chevalier Paul’.

Humanitarian aid in Turkey
The catastrophic consequences of the earthquake in Turkey and Syria on February 6th prompted a radical change in the schedule of events and the ‘Dédalo 23’ Group changed course and headed towards the Turkish coast ready to provide support and humanitarian aid to the affected population. Among the deployed units was the LPD ‘Galicia’, a veteran in this type of operations as she had already participated in the humanitarian aid missions in Central America in the aftermath of hurricane ‘Mitch’ in 1998 and the 2005 tsunami in Indonesia

Upon arrival to the zone, the Group dispatched LCMs with 184 marines and 13 vehicles with material and equipment. During that period, the Spanish contingent carried out search and rescue tasks of missing people rescuing a 7-year old boy and a 70-year old person under the rubble six days after the catastrophe. They also recovered 30 corpses and helped to clear of debris 4,200 square meters of terrain.

The marines also contributed to unload nearly 100 planes in the Adana airport and 1,800 tons of humanitarian aid from 2 ships in the port of Limak. They also gave 40 tons of their own provisions including water and food to be delivered through the Turkish government and NGOs. They also set up five camps.

On February 16th, once the main basic tasks were completed, the Group continued with the scheduled plan of military activities.

From 20 to 27 of February the Group participated in NATO’s reinforced surveillance task ‘Neptune Strike’. In order to test the Alliance’s cohesion and its air and naval capabilities, up to 14 nations took part in the different drills. Spain contributed with ‘Harrier’ SVTOL aircraft and helicopters, the frigate ‘Blas de Lezo’ and the MC 2nd Landing Battalion.

Other participating units included the US Navy aircraft carrier ‘George H.W. Bush’ and the Italian ‘Cavour’. The exercise ‘Neptune Strike’ was commanded from the Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO (STRIKFORNATO) in Oeiras (Portugal) with coordinated operations of the three aircraft carriers in waters and air spaces of Romania, Hungry, Croatia, Slovakia, Northern Macedonia, Albania, Italy and Greece.

Immediately afterwards, the ‘Dédalo 23’ Group took part in the French exercise ‘HEMEX ORION 2023’ along with other 29 ships and submarines from 8 allied nations. The exercise contemplated a large scale simulated engagement between Armed Forces of similar size and capabilities. It included warfare aspects in all the different domains, namely, land, air, naval, space and cybernetic with an overall participation of more than 20,000 military servicemen.

In the maritime stage of the exercise, in addition to the Spanish Expeditionary Group, the French aircraft carrier ‘Charles de Gaulle’ and the Amphibious Group with the warships ‘Tonerre’ and ‘Dixmude’ also took part. The exercise was conducted under severe weather conditions in the midst of the storm ‘Juliette’ with strong winds (100 kms/h) and 8-meter high waves.

From the 15 to the 20 of March, the Spanish Expeditionary Group led the SIAF along with ships, aircraft and Marine Corps units from Italy.

This amphibious force was set up in 1997 and is made available to the European Union, NATO, the United Nations or the OSCE whenever needed. Through a single command structure, the amphibious and MC forces of both nations can generate a response force of a size which can be adaptable, scalable and expeditionary. The command rotates and it is currently held by the Spanish Navy Rear Admiral Gonzalo Villar.

They deployed in the Italian firing ranges of ‘Torre Cavallo’, ‘Pedagne’ and ‘Massafra’. In there, more than 400 marines from the Reinforced Landing Battalion carried out a series of exercises with their Italian counterparts of the ‘San Marco’ Brigade. Both contingents shared joint combat actions testing common tactics, techniques and operational procedures to enhance the interoperability, including drills with real fire.

Other participating units included the LHD ‘Juan Carlos I’ and frigate ‘Victoria’ on the Spanish part, and the Italian amphibious ship ‘San Marco’ and the destroyer ‘Andrea Doria’. The air component included ‘Harrier’ aircraft from the ‘Juan Carlos I’ and the ‘Cavour’ and Eurofighters from the Italian Air Force.

Once all exercises were completed, the Group made a port call at the city of Naples on March 20th where it welcomed the Spanish Minister of Defense

This ambitious deployment has permitted to test the expeditionary capability of the Spanish Navy to project a naval force for prolonged periods of time away from its base operating with other navies and NATO’s task groups in different and demanding scenarios. The Force has exemplified its multi-purpose and adaptation capability in unforeseen situations like the aftermath of the earthquake in Turkey and Syria, providing the necessary aid, without hindering or affecting its operational capabilities.