NATO training exercise Trident Juncture, a massive two-week show of force being held in the North and Baltic Seas off the coast of Norway, is set to be the largest of its kind since the heyday of the Cold War — and with good reason. As Russia’s surface fleet suffers setback after setback, the redirection of funding into their nuclear submarine programs has resulted in an explosion of Russian submarine activity throughout the North Atlantic and Arctic region.
Over the past few weeks, service members from 30 NATO allied nations have come together in Norway — a nation that is not a member of NATO but has seen rapidly growing ties with the alliance in recent years as Norwegian officials look for more opportunities to counter Russian aggression throughout the region. In all, more than 50,000 service members from all over the globe are participating, with 250 military aircraft and 65 naval vessels in tow.
As a result, Russia promptly released statements denouncing the “Anti-Russian” drills and threatening retaliation. In particular, Russia intends to conduct ballistic missile tests in the same region as the NATO drills, meant to demonstrate the Kremlin’s ability to deliver accurate firepower to the portion of the world that is currently seeing an amassing of NATO troops. However, thus far, no such tests have been conducted.
“We have not seen anything resembling a missile test, or even ships or aircraft in the area that would be relevant to documenting or monitoring missile testing,” said the captain of the USS Mount Whitney, Robert Aguilar.
However, while Russian missiles may not be flying in the airspace around Trident Juncture, that isn’t to say the exercise has lacked a Russian presence. Marines aboard Aguilar’s vessel that were on the deck for a group photograph were recently greeted by a Russian Tupolev TU-142 intelligence and reconnaissance plane. Its presence over the drills is entirely legal, as the U.S. Navy vessel is operating in international waters during their portion of the drills.
“We are at sea, everyone’s got the right to be here. It’s international waters, it’s international airspace,” said British Admiral Guy Robinson. “So clearly, we monitor closely. But everything we see in this exercise is that they’ve been safe and professional.”
Russia has a history of executing airborne intercepts of NATO aircraft in the same region using less than professional tactics. On multiple occasions, NATO or specifically U.S. aircraft have been forced to adjust course to avoid collisions with aggressive Russian fighters intent on making their presence known in the increasingly contested region. It would seem, however, that with a 50,000-troop presence in the region representing a 30-nation alliance, Russia has opted to play nice. In fact, if you ask the U.S. Marines, Russia’s presence doesn’t even register as a legitimate threat.
“The largest issue we have had on this exercise has been the weather,” said Jason Bohm, the commander of Marine Corps forces participating in the exercise.