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Spearhead Force
Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF)

At the NATO Summit in Warsaw in July 2016, the 28-member NATO alliance formally agreed to deploy four battalions totaling 3,000 to 4,000 troops in the Baltic states and Poland on a rotating basis to reassure eastern members. According to NATO, the troop increase is to defend them against any "Russian aggression." Obama said "Poland is going to be seeing an increase in NATO and American personnel and the most modern, capable military equipment because we will meet our Article 5 obligations to our common defense". Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland – all NATO members – have requested a permanent NATO presence, citing fears that Moscow will seek to destabilize their pro-Western governments through cyber attacks, stirring up Russian speakers, hostile broadcasting and even territorial incursions.

At the NATO Summit in Wales in September 2014, NATO’s leaders agreed on a Readiness Action Plan (or RAP). It would ensure that forces can deploy quickly to deal with any challenge. It would increase the number, size and complexity of exercises. And it would enable rapid reinforcements should they be needed, facilitated by forward-based command and control and logistics units on the territory of our Eastern allies.

At their Wales Summit in September 2014, Allies agreed to create a spearhead within the NATO Response Force [NRF] – a Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), able to deploy at very short notice, particularly at the periphery of NATO’s territory. The VJTF should consist of a land component with appropriate air, maritime and Special Operations Forces available.

Decisions made in September 2014 included setting up military facilities in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania, and establishing a new rapid-response force that could assist endangered members within two days. The force, which will consist of several thousand ground troops, with naval, air and special forces units in support, will be staffed on a rotating basis by member countries, and will be ready to deploy on a few days’ notice. On 02 December 2014, NATO Foreign Ministers announced that an interim Spearhead Force would be operational early in 2015 to improve the Alliance's readiness, and agreed to maintain a continuous NATO presence in the eastern part of the Alliance through the following year. While a final decision by NATO Defence Ministers on the Spearhead Force's size and design was not due until February 2015, with an aim of standing the unit up in 2016, plans nonetheless called for the interim Spearhead Force to be available in early 2015. That force is to be based mainly on troops from Germany, the Netherlands and Norway. The aim is for the Spearhead Force to be able to deploy within a few days.

The new force will be drawn from the existing 13,000-strong NATO Response Force, which can deploy anywhere in the world within five days. The new, smaller force will be deployable to any member state in trouble within two days. The new force will be the vanguard of the existing NATO Response Force (NRF) that began operations a decade earlier. The 25,000-strong NRF can take up to a month to deploy, by which time any military incursion can become a fait accompli.

Britain would contribute 1,000 personnel to the rapid-reaction force, Prime Minister David Cameron said [some reports said 3,500, but this must be a mis-statment]. It's unclear what other contributions from other NATO members will entail. The force will have bases ready in several NATO countries in Eastern Europe, potentially the Baltic States, Poland and Romania, with equipment and supplies in storage and a small command, planning and communications staff on site. Poland, the largest NATO state in Eastern Europe, is expected to house the headquarters.

The Founding Act is the agreement the alliance made with Russia in 1997 to assuage Moscow’s fears about former Warsaw Pact members Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic joining NATO. In the Founding Act, which alliance officials say is a "political" and not a "legal" document, NATO pledged that it would not station “permanent” or “substantial” forces on the territory of its new eastern members.

Diplomats from the Baltic states, Poland, and Romania fear that this pledge could limit NATO deployments in their countries. They argue that Moscow has breached its obligations under the Founding Act and have sought to deemphasize -- and possibly revoke -- the pledge. Such a move was staunchly opposed by Germany. In 2008 at the NATO Bucharest summit, Berlin led the opposition to Georgia and Ukraine receiving Membership Action Plans. In September 2014 a compromise was reached that kept the Founding Act intact, with NATO explicitly stating that Russia had “breached” it with its actions in Ukraine. The 1997 agreement can be circumvented by staging constant rotations of “exercises” that can in practice amount to the same thing.

By relying on local proxies and unmarked Russian irregular forces, Moscow had been able to claim a degree of plausible -- or somewhat plausible -- deniability that it is involved in the Ukraine conflict. It also very effectively utilized well-organized subterfuge, diversion, and deception, a highly disciplined disinformation campaign, and coordinated economic warfare. This presents a challenge for the alliance, raising question as to when to invoke Article 5, NATO’s gold standard, which requires all alliance members to come to the defense of a member who is under attack. Czech President Milos Zeman declared at the September 2014 NATO summit that Prague had not yet seen "clear proof" of Russia's intervention in Ukraine.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said 05 February 2015 defense ministers meeting in the Belgian capital planned to boost the size of the NATO Response Force from 13,000 to 30,000. They were also to approve the establishment of a new rapid-response force of about 5,000 troops.

NATO would deploy small units in six Eastern European nations to help coordinate the spearhead force. The units in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Bulgaria and Romania would comprise a few dozen personnel to plan and organize military exercises, and provide command and control for any reinforcements the force might require. Each unit would consist of 40 to 50 troops comprised in roughly equal parts of soldiers from the host nation and those from other NATO members.

NATO assessed its alert procedures for the NATO 'Spearhead' force (Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, or VJTF) for the first time during Exercise NOBLE JUMP from 7-9 April 2015. The activity involved over 1,500 personnel from 11 Allied nations: the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, Norway, Denmark, Hungary, Lithuania, Croatia, Portugal, and Slovenia.

NATO's new high readiness 'spearhead' force deployed for the first time in June 2015, as Exercise NOBLE JUMP gets underway with forces converging in Zagan, Poland for simulated combat. Units assigned to the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) were given orders to deploy on Tuesday 9 June 2015, to exercise until 19 June. Over 2,100 troops from nine NATO nations participated in the exercise, which continued the process of testing and refining the force. A Norwegian Army unit - a contingent of 200 soldiers and 70 military vehicles - moved to the small city of Bergen, in the north-west of Germany, to practice a rapid relocation of troops by train and road within European frontiers.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced 14 June 2016 that the military alliance will deploy battalions in the east. The move came amid growing fear over Russian encroachment. Stoltenberg said NATO officials would formally approve the plan to send four multinational battalions to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. "The will send a clear signal that NATO stands ready to defend any ally," the secretary-general said on Monday during a press conference. Some 4,000 troops will be deployed as part of the new manuever. The move is likely to anger Moscow, which argues that NATO threatens its national security and has repeatedly criticized NATO's consideration of building up its military presence along the Russian border. Poland and the Baltic states, on the other hand, have pushed for a larger NATO presence in their countries ever since Russia annexed Crimea, in the Ukraine, in 2014.

German forces on 01 January 2019 took the lead for NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), providing thousands of soldiers to be on standby and ready to deploy within days. Germany takes over from Italy, which provided the VJTF lead brigade in 2018. The VJTF in 2019 is based on a German brigade, the 9th Panzerlehrbrigade. The Netherlands and Norway support the German contingent adding capabilities such as aviation and mechanised infantry. France, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Czech Republic, Latvia and Lithuania also provide forces. Together, they represent a multinational brigade of around 8,000 troops.

"The VJTF is a substantial contribution to our collective defence," said NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu. "In 2019, nine Allies will contribute to the VJTF. This is a strong display of our capabilities and our resolve to work together. Once activated, the VJTF, our Spearhead Force, is available to move immediately to defend any Ally against any threat".

The VJTF is a joint force, consisting of a land component, supported by air, maritime and special forces. It is part of the Alliance’s larger NATO Response Force (NRF) with around 40,000 troops. This year, the 1st German / Netherlands Corps is in charge of the NRF’s land forces. Admiral James Foggo commands the entire NRF from NATO’s Joint Force Command in Naples, Italy.

Exercise Trident Juncture 18, which took place in Norway last autumn, certified the NATO Response Force for 2019, with the VJTF at its core. Trident Juncture involved around 51,000 personnel, including six army brigades and Marine ground forces supported by air, maritime and Special Forces. A main exercise focus was NATO’s ability to move personnel and armour quickly across Europe.

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Page last modified: 01-08-2021 15:34:17 ZULU