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Feb 9 2022

5 years as one: NATO's enhanced Forward Presence

SZCZECIN, Poland - Coming out of NATO's Readiness Action Plan, the enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) was approved during the Warsaw Summit in July 2016 and activated later that year. This was followed by the deployment of the first rotations in early 2017. After five years, the forward-deployed multinational eFP Battlegroups in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland are fully settled into their mission to contribute to Allied deterrence and, if necessary, defence on a persistent basis in close cooperation with their host nations' troops. The new tasks were implemented at an incredible pace, enabling the Battlegroups to make a major input towards integrating the security partners in the Baltic Sea region.

Within this framework, Headquarters Multinational Corps Northeast (HQ MNC NE) as NATO's only Regional Land Component Command is the hub for land operations of the Alliance in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. The Corps is responsible for command and control of Multinational Division North-East and Multinational Division North, which represent a direct link to the forces on the ground, including the eFP battalions which are incorporated into the national armed forces. A robust set of capabilities and a clear employment plan supported by routine training and exercise activities are fundamental to ensuring that eFP remains credible and sound.

At the same time, eFP provides reassurance to host nations that they will be collectively supported by their Allies in the event of a conflict. 
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U.S. soldiers with NATO eFP Battlegroup Poland carry out tactical manoeuvres during exercise Bull Run held near Orzysz, Poland in October 2020.
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Sharpshooters with Poland's 15th Mechanized Brigade during exercise Iron Wolf in Lithuania in Jun. 2017.
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Romanian and U.S. soldiers with NATO eFP Battlegroup Poland shoot air defence weapons during exercise Oerlikon at the Bemowo Piskie training area in August 2020.

Capabilities

Given the nature of all Battlegroups—consisting of a main body provided by the framework nations and various combat, combat support and combat service support elements provided by the troop-contributing nations—it is no surprise that conducting this 'multinational orchestra' is quite a challenge. Apart from the established setup of manoeuvre elements (two to four mechanized or armoured infantry companies supported by a tank company in each Battlegroup), nations have added a number of new functions to the Battlegroups. This not only provides more flexibility but also gives tactical-level commanders a chance to use resources which are usually not integral parts of battalion-level formations (for instance howitzers, heavy engineer assets and additional logistic assets).

Altogether, the eFP battalions—alongside their hosting brigades—have demonstrated a high degree of innovation and creativity which keep their capabilities credible, balanced and sustainable so that the enhanced Forward Presence is ready to fulfill its mission at all times.

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Soldiers with Estonia's 1st Infantry Bde during exercise Spring Storm involving the enhanced Forward Presence and other Allies in Jun. 2021.
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A German soldier with NATO eFP Battlegroup Lithuania heads to a shooting position during exercise Iron Wolf in Jun. 2017.

Plans

In order to guarantee the readiness and availability of the above-mentioned capabilities during crises, there is a need for a solid plan for each Battlegroup as part of host nations' and Allied overall defence plans.
In a broader perspective, the eFP Battlegroups are considered NATO's land-domain first responders, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with their host nations' troops. 

To be effective specifically under rapidly escalating circumstances, these plans are prepared, rehearsed and approved in advance. It is a major task—particularly for tactical-level commanders' advisers—to advice higher echelons on the ways and means necessary for fulfilling the eFP mission of deterrence and, if required, defence.

Training process

Practice has shown that training events held regularly as part of daily routine create an opportunity for all specialists and commanders to hone previously achieved individual skills and for all units to improve their collective performance. Compared to regular training back home, the Baltic States and Poland offer the eFP troops a unique chance to improve their skills in a completely different environment, specifically with regard to climate or terrain. For instance, weather conditions in 2021 presented an excellent—yet challenging—opportunity for soldiers in the field, assisting the development of personal winter warfare skills and thereby enabling the effective functioning of the Battlegroup as a collective. Strongly related to the specifics of the terrain, fighting in woods and forests is something that certain eFP nations have not done at all prior to deployment.

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Soldiers with Latvia's Mechanised Infantry Bde drive through the Ādaži training area during exercise Winter Shield in November 2021
However, the principle 'Train as You Fight' has a significant meaning also for the host nations' troops. As important as the Battlegroups' own interoperability development is, we should not underestimate the immense value which training with local units has for both parties.

Technical, procedural and human components of interoperability have been and will be one of the greatest challenges for the Battlegroups' training process. On top of that, high-visibility exercises often see significant numbers of reinforcements deployed in order to support the Battlegroups and their respective host nations' brigades (e.g. during 'Iron Wolf' in Lithuania and 'Spring Storm' in Estonia). This allows to conduct interoperability training with capabilities which are not typical for battalion-level formations and to test the reception, staging and onward movement and integration processes.

Additionally, Air Land Integration as part of overall Joint Enablement of the enhanced Forward Presence mission supports training of not only specialists such as joint terminal attack controllers, but also entire units in order to utilize air-power potential to a maximum extent.

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Dutch soldiers witch NATO eFP Battlegroup Lithuania march through a Lithuanian village during exercise Scorpion Strike held in Lithuania in Feb. 2018.
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British troops from NATO eFP Battlegroup Estonia fight through trenches in training with Estonia's 1st Infantry Bde in Jun. 2021.
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A Canadian JTAC with NATO eFP Battlegroup performs his tasks during exercise Summer Shield in Latvia in May 2021.

Based on the experience gained in the last five years, all involved in the enhanced Forward Presence—from the Battlegroups up to the strategic level through the eFP framework and troop-contributing nations and the host nations—created a full picture of clearly defined roles and responsibilities within the current eFP mission. Constant analysis and assessment of the mission status serves as an effective means to bolster this important NATO activity in the region and to facilitate insights for the further evolution of eFP.

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Armoured crews from across the enhanced Forward Presence demonstrate NATO's firepower during exercise Iron Spear in Latvia in Oct. 2020.

Story by Multinational Corps Northeast Public Affairs Office / Courtesy of LTC Raul Kütt (Baltic Defence College, former Team Leader J 3/5 HQ Multinational Corps Northeast)

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