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NATO allies prepare to stage one of the biggest military exercises of its kind in Europe off the Highland coast

By Alasdair Fraser

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Joint Warrior - Biannual NATO Exercise. An Astute class nuclear submarine in company with the Type 23 frigate HMS Kent being over flown by a German Navy P3 maritime patrol aircraft.
Joint Warrior - Biannual NATO Exercise. An Astute class nuclear submarine in company with the Type 23 frigate HMS Kent being over flown by a German Navy P3 maritime patrol aircraft.

A massive UK-led multinational ‘war games’ exercise will hit Scotland’s north-west coasts next week.

The area will part-host Strike Warrior 21, one of the largest military exercises of its kind in Europe, running from May 8 to May 20.

Many of the participating vessels will be operating off Highland coastal stretches with Strike Warrior 21 forming part of final preparations for the first deployment of the UK’s Carrier Strike Group (CSG) next month.

HMS Queen Elizabeth, the Royal Navy’s fleet flagship, sits at the centre of the CSG which will deploy shortly after the completion of Strike Warrior.

Ten nations - nine NATO and one non-NATO - will take part, bringing 31 warships, three submarines, 150 aircraft and around 13,400 military personnel to military ranges across the country and to maritime exercise areas off the west and north Coasts of Scotland.

Involved in land exercises will be 1500 ground troops.

The participating NATO nations will be the UK, USA, Denmark, France, Germany, Latvia, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland.

Australia is sole non-NATO participant.

Strike Warrior 21 is integrated with exercise Joint Warrior, which takes place twice a year, in spring and autumn.

The exercises are designed, planned and delivered by the Joint Tactical Exercise Planning Staff (JTEPS) based at Northwood in London, some of which will deploy to HM naval base Clyde to coordinate events during the fortnight.

HMS Queen Elizabeth during her recent visit to Glen Mallan.
HMS Queen Elizabeth during her recent visit to Glen Mallan.

Exercise activity will include:

• Thirty-four naval units from Australia, Denmark, France, Germany, Latvia, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the UK and the USA participating around the Scottish Coast;

• Mine counter-measures operations in areas around Campbeltown and Loch Ewe;

• A total of 150 aircraft taking part in the exercise, some operating from RAF Lossiemouth, Prestwick Airport and Stornoway Airport.

• Joint firing activity at Cape Wrath weapons range, Garvie Island and the QinetiQ Hebrides range.

• Exercise activity in the North Minch, to the west of Ullapool, involving fast small boats, both civilian and military.

• GPS denial operations off the West coast of Scotland.

A Royal Navy spokesman stressed the GPS denial operations would be conducted at limited periods each day with the relevant authorities, especially maritime and aviation, involved in the planning process with relevant safeguards put in place.

The spokesman said: “Strike Warrior is linked directly to the NATO military training exercise programme and brings together all three UK armed forces – the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force – along with the other participating countries.

“The aim is to provide high quality training opportunities and improve joint operations between the UK and its allies.”

The war-gaming scenario of the exercise will mirror a broad range of crisis and conflict situations which could be experienced in real-world operations.

Over the fortnight, participants will be faced with a period of increasing political and military tensions.

Military tasks will include intelligence gathering and reconnaissance, anti-smuggling and counter-terrorism operations, humanitarian assistance and evacuation operations.

The spokesman added: “All units involved in the exercise will observe Covid-19 control measures, including a 14-day quarantine period before personnel can embark in the UK Carrier Strike Group ships.

“In addition, there will only be limited port visits by UK and allied units and then only for operational and logistical reasons.

“Exercise planning staff have liaised with a wide variety of communities and organisations ahead of Strike Warrior in order to minimise the impact of military activity.”

Organisations consulted include: The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA); National Air Traffic Services (NATS); The Highlands and Islands Airports Authority; Scottish and Northern Irish fishery organisations; and several environmental agencies and groups.

Further information on Exercise Joint Warrior, including notices to mariners and impact statements, can be found by visiting Queen’s Harbour Master Clyde’s page on the Royal Navy website.

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