Marines Participate in Trio of Exercises from Norway to Thailand

March 1, 2024 5:11 PM
U.S. Marine Corps Pfc. Triston Gryniewski, left, a native of Minnesota and a low-altitude air-defense (LAAD) gunner, and Sgt. Colin Rowan, right, a native of Maryland and a LAAD gunner, both with 2nd LAAD Battalion, Marine Air Control Group 28, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, prepare to fire a stinger-launch simulator during a live-fire range in preparation for Exercise Nordic Response 24 at Setermoen, Norway, Feb. 29, 2024. US Marine Corps Photo

The U.S. Marine Corps is currently participating in three major overseas drills in Norway, Thailand, and Japan, while the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) has been put under NATO command to carry out joint vigilance and deterrence and defense activities (DDA) in the Mediterranean with Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 (SNGM 2), and the Turkish Navy.

In Norway, some 2,500 Marines of the II Marine Expeditionary Force are participating in NATO Exercise Nordic Response 24, according to the command’s release on Feb. 12. Nordic Response is part of the larger Steadfast Defender 2024 – the largest NATO exercise since the Cold War – with approximately 90,000 troops from all 31 NATO member states and from partner Sweden participating. Steadfast Defender began at the end of January and set to end on May 31. The first phase of the exercise focuses on transatlantic reinforcement with the strategic deployment of North American forces to continental Europe. The second phase of Steadfast Defender includes multi-domain exercises across Europe and testing rapid deployment of troops and equipment across borders within the NATO alliance.

Nordic Response 24 is hosted by Norway, Finland and Sweden and focuses on the collective defense of the three countries and is taking place from Mar. 3-14, according to a NATO release. “We need to be able to fight back and stop anyone who tries to challenge our borders, values and democracy – with the current security situation in Europe, the exercise is extremely relevant and more important than ever before,” Brigadier Tron Strand, Royal Norwegian Air Force, Commander of the Norwegian Air Operations Centre, said in the release.

Three squadrons are participating in the drills, according to the release: Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 542, with F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters; VMFA-312, with F/A-18 Hornets and Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron (VMGR) 252, with KC-130J Super Hercules. Nordic Response is VMFA-542’s first overseas exercise as an F-35B Lightning II jet squadron and first exercise since achieving initial operational capability on Feb. 5. “During the exercise in March, VMFA-542 will employ its fifth-generation assets in a near-peer adversary training exercise while advancing and sustaining the squadron in core METs of anti-air warfare, active air defense, suppression-of-enemy air defense, and strike capabilities while progressing the squadron toward full operational capability,” read the release.

U.S. Marines with Fires and Effects Company, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, prepare to fire the M252 81mm mortar system in preparation for exercise Nordic Response 24 in Setermoen, Norway, Feb. 23, 2024. US Marine Corps Photo

The release also stated that VMFA-542 will integrate with NATO allies across Northern Europe and with United Kingdom and Norwegian F-35 fighters. VMFA-312 will employ its F/A-18C and F/A-18D Hornets to support combined military air operations and unit-level training during the exercise, while VMGR-252 will employ its KC-130J Super Hercules aircraft to support Marine Air-Ground Task Force objectives such as cargo transportation, combat-assault transport, aerial refueling, and aviation-delivered ground refueling. “They will conduct aviation operations from expeditionary shore-based sites and cold-weather conditions to achieve training objectives and increase aircrew and loadmaster proficiencies,” said the release.

On Thursday, as part of the preparations for Nordic Response 24, II MEF assumed authority as the Land Component Command (LCC) headquarters. “II MEF will lead the multi-national LCC in support of our Norwegian allies to execute training objectives. Commanding this force prepares II MEF to deploy as a joint task force in accordance with U.S. Marine Corps Force Design goals,” according to a release.

In the Mediterranean, the Bataan ARG, undertook a transfer of authority to come under the authority of Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO (STRIKFORNATO) to carry out joint vigilance and deterrence and defense activities with elements of Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 (SNGM 2) and the Turkish Navy, stated a STRIKFORNATO release on Feb. 24. The release stated that the Turkish Navy ships, consisting of frigates TCG Gemlik (F492) and TCG Gelibolu (F493), will operate under Turkish colors. It also stated in the release that “these vigilance activities are distinct from Steadfast Defender 2024, NATO’s most significant exercise in decades.” The Bataan ARG comprises amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD-5), amphibious dock landing ship USS Carter Hall (LSD-50) and amphibious transport dock ship USS Mesa Verde (LPD-19), embarked 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) (special-operations capable) along with destroyer USS Arleigh Burke (DDG-51) and Royal Fleet Auxiliary fleet oiler RFA Argus (A153).

A Royal Thai Marine carries a U.S. Marine assigned to Charlie Company, Battalion Landing Team 1/5, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, to a safe position during tactical combat casualty care training as part of Exercise Cobra Gold 2024 in Chanthaburi province, Kingdom of Thailand, Feb. 28, 2024. US Marine Corps Photo

In Thailand, elements of the 15th MEU arrived on Feb. 23 in Chonburi province aboard amphibious transport dock ship USS Somerset (LPD-25) to participate in Exercise Cobra Gold 2024, stated a Marine Corps release the same day. Key 15th MEU training events will include an amphibious assault exercise, combined arms live-fire exercise, noncombatant evacuation operation (NEO) exercise, as well as combined unit-level training events across three training sites, according to the release.

Cobra Gold 2024 began on Tuesday and ends on Mar. 8 with 9,590 personnel from 30 countries participating in various forms in the exercise. U.S participation in the exercise comprises over 4,500 personnel from the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps according to an Army release.

In Japan, bilateral exercise Iron Fist 24 began on Feb. 25 with the 31st MEU now carrying out staff planning in Sasebo and various training iterations on Okinawa, including urban combat training with the Japan Ground Self Defense Force 2nd Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade. The exercise will end on Mar. 17 and will later involve amphibious drills in Japan’s southwest islands. Amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA-6) docked in Osaka on Tuesday for a port visit and to make logistic preparations for participation in Iron Fist, according to a Navy release. 

Dzirhan Mahadzir

Dzirhan Mahadzir

Dzirhan Mahadzir is a freelance defense journalist and analyst based in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. Among the publications he has written for and currently writes for since 1998 includes Defence Review Asia, Jane’s Defence Weekly, Navy International, International Defence Review, Asian Defence Journal, Defence Helicopter, Asian Military Review and the Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter.

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