The conflict had been on the edge of breaking for weeks. A rogue government had been threatening military action against its neighbor, even using social media to show the decapitations of prisoners. In response to the potential invasion, the smaller southern country had been bolstering its defenses, preparing for the onslaught. The brewing battle stemmed from a competition for resources, as well as greed; it also had ethnic and religious dimensions. Finally, it happened. “East Cerasia” had become a war zone. The larger nation invaded its smaller neighbor, dominating the weaker adversary and taking control in some 17 hours. But the conflict did not end there, as the aggressor did what everyone feared: they threatened to invade yet another country. The implications were global, and officials feared this might spark bigger problems—from maritime navigation to energy security; terrorism to cyber-attacks. It was time to act.



In response to this fictitious scenario—one that could easily become reality—the United Nations Security Council authorized a NATO international support-assistance mission. Known as Trident Juncture (TJ15), the mission was designed to train and enhance the ability of NATO military forces and partners to deploy in any direction to meet present and future security challenges. TJ15 tested the NATO Response Force (NRF) on its deployability, inter-operability and sustainability.

Officials said this exercise showcased NATO’s increased level of ambition in joint modern warfare, and demonstrated a capable, forward-leading alliance, equipped with the appropriate capability and capacity to meet those security challenges. It was the biggest and most ambitious NATO exercise in more than a decade. The mission ranged from live exercises involving thousands of troops to computer-assisted exercises that took place in a classroom. It featured 36,000 military personnel from more than 30 nations (27 NATO allies, plus partners), some 140 aircraft and more than 60 ships. As the culminating event, TJ15 provided an opportunity for them to refine their operational capabilities. Air, land, maritime and Special Forces trained simultaneously in several complex environments to improve the alliance’s full spectrum of capabilities. This training exercise, which occurred recently, took place throughout Italy, Portugal, Spain, the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, Canada, Norway, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.



The exercise trained the functions of the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF)—or Spearhead Force—ahead of it becoming fully operational this year. NATO and partner forces—working with international agencies, governments, and organizations—were challenged with complex threats across a massive exercise area that included three host nations (Portugal, Spain and Italy), the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. The commanding officer for the exercise was General Hans-Lothar Domröse, Commander of JFC Brunssum.

“This exercise was planned as a clear statement, demonstrating NATO’s newly increased level of ambition in joint modern warfare … ”

TJ15 was conducted in two stages. Part I was a Command Post Exercise (CPX) designated to certify the Command and Control (C2) element of the NRF and showcase NATO’s ability to work with external “actors.” Part II was a live exercise (LIVEX), hosted by Italy, Portugal and Spain. During the LIVEX phase in Portugal, the forces included elements of the Keasarge (KSG), Amphibious Readiness Group (ARG), the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), the USS Arlington (LPD-24) from the U.S. Maritime Prepositioning Force (MPF) and the Task Force Iron Horse (TF IH). Among other units, there was also a company of U.S. and Portuguese Marines representing the KSG ARG/MEU within Portugal and its territorial waters.

To secure and mark landing spots, the Reconnaissance Units from the Portuguese Marines (Corpo de Fuzileiros) and the United States Marines Corps made the first landings. The main forces from the same units followed. This exercise featured CH-53s placing men and equipment in key points. Landing Craft Air Cushions (LCAC) moved heavy equipment directly on the beach while MV-22 Ospreys transported U.S., Spanish and Portuguese Marines deep inland to destroy enemy communications antennas. After establishing a deep-water port, British, Portuguese and U.S. Marines came to shore from the HMS Bullwark; at the same time, Portuguese and Polish Navy Special Operations Forces took over a dangerous enemy ship carrying smuggled weapons of mass destruction. During this exercise, Portuguese Air Force, U.S. Marines and Spanish Navy airplanes provided air cover. Portuguese Air Force JTACs played a major role in guiding air strikes.

An F-16 from the Portuguese Air Force provides air muscle.

An F-16 from the Portuguese Air Force provides air muscle.

These Navy, Marine and Air Force units were able to demonstrate cooperation and interoperability as they conducted combined amphibious assaults in Portugal, said officials. Meanwhile, the massive military base of Santa Margarida in Portugal was the setting for more than 3,000 troops. The Canadians took command of the brigade, which included various units, personnel, and equipment from Portuguese, American, Italian and German units. River crossing was given a special importance; simply destroying bridges can stop rapid reinforcements of key areas.


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In one specific exercise, paratroopers from Canada and Portugal were dropped behind “enemy” lines, and the Italian Lagunari Regiment quickly secured the two sides of a river, allowing Portuguese, Canadian and German engineering units to deploy military bridges for the rest of the heavy forces. Portuguese and U.S. F-16s, Canadian and Finnish F-18s and Swedish JAS 39 Gripens, among others, provided air support.

“In today’s world, crisis response is becoming increasingly demanding … ”



Officials said large-scale training is essential to a modern military alliance, and that these types of exercises ensure the alliance is prepared and capable of working together in response to any potential crisis or threat. NATO also innovated and learned during the exercise. New concepts such as the VJTF (Very High Readiness Joint Task Force) were tested, and lessons from previous operations were integrated into procedures. At the conclusion of TJ15, the headquarters staff from Joint Force Command Brunssum was officially certified to lead the NATO Response Force, if activated, throughout 2016.

NATO is ready.


What the Exercise Demonstrated

4 Key Factors



In today’s world, crisis response is becoming increasingly demanding, and the speed at which forces are required to deploy has also increased significantly. TJ15 demonstrated that a substantial force was ready on a five-day notice.




The flexibility, high readiness and expertise of NATO forces in this exercise illustrated unique and agile characteristics that are amongst the most capable in the world.




The size, capabilities and number of forces involved in exercise TJ15 were noteworthy in comparison to exercises of similar nature that have taken place in the last few decades. This demonstration by the alliance members and partners was a clear sign of its cohesiveness, interoperability, military capability and collective will to uphold and defend the values behind which it stands.




NATO’s intent for transparency and predictability was demonstrated from the beginning of the planning phases of Exercise Trident Juncture 15. Observers from all OSCE countries, including Russia, were invited.


Inside the Weaponry


The Portuguese Navy SOF has used the Heckler & Koch G36K assault rifle since the mid-1990s, making them one of the early adopters of this weapon. The “K” designates this rifle as a Kurz” (German for “short”) SBR variant, designed for enhanced mobility for special operators. Used in every deployment in its 13 years of service, the Portuguese have found this short-stroke, gas-piston platform very reliable. It is, however, scheduled for replacement with the G36-derived HK416 leading the pack.


G36K Technical Data

  • Caliber: 5.56 mm x 45 NATO
  • Operating Principle: Short-stroke gas piston, rotating bolt
  • Rate of Fire: 750 rounds per minute
  • Muzzle Velocity: 2,788 fps
  • Effective Range: 200 to 800 yards
  • Overall Length: 32.80 inches (stock extended); 24.13 inches (stock folded)
  • Barrel Length: 12.52 inches
  • Width: 2.48 inches
  • Height: 10.91 inches

Rheinmetall MG3

The Rheinmetall MG3 General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG) is the go-to, rapid-fire platform for Portuguese Navy Fuzileiros. Spitting out over one thousand 7.62 x 51 mm rounds per minute, the MG3 is a standardized derivation of the WWII-era MG42, which was chambered in 7.92 Mauser.

With over 40 years or service, this belt-fed monster is scheduled to be replaced. The top contender to step into the position is the HK MG5.

Rheinmettal MG3 Technical Data

  • Caliber: 7.62 x 51mm NATO
  • Operating Principle: Recoil-operated, roller locked
  • Rate of Fire: 1,000-1,300 rounds per minute
  • Muzzle Velocity: 2,690 fps
  • Effective Range: 200 to 1,200 yards
  • Overall Length: 48.23 inches
  • Barrel Length: 22.24 inches
  • Width: N/A
  • Weight: 23 pounds (61 pounds with tripod)


Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in a print issue of World of Firepower Magazine.