The Steadfast Defender 2024 maneuvers will mobilize around 90,000 troops

The Spanish contribution to the great NATO exercise to send “a robust message”

One of the most important defense-related events this year will take place in Europe: the Steadfast Defender 2024 exercise.

The harsh conditions of two Spanish Navy ships in NATO's SNMG-1
The military contingents that Spain plans to have abroad until December 2024

This exercise is going to be the largest maneuvers carried out by NATO since the Cold War, at a time that is very reminiscent of that time, due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the threats launched by the Kremlin against several allied countries. The exercise will bring together some 90,000 soldiers from the 31 NATO member countries, in addition to Sweden, an unprecedented deployment in recent decades.

Panzerhaubitze 2000 self-propelled howitzers of the German Army (Photo: Territoriales Führungskommando).

"A robust message" clearly aimed at Russia

In January, General Christopher Cavoli, NATO Supreme Allied Commander of Operations and head of US European Command, announced this exercise. The Atlantic Alliance has noted that "is designed to provide valuable insights for enhancing NATO’s defence plans, improving interoperability, efficiency, and resilience. This effort aims to demonstrate NATO’s commitment to collective defence and send a robust message about its readiness to protect all Allies in the face of emerging threats." A veiled warning to Russia.

Norwegian special forces operators in the first phase of the Steadfast Defender 24 exercise (Photo: NATO Allied SOF Command).

NATO has indicated that this exercise will have several countries as scenarios, expressly citing Finland, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Sweden and the United Kingdom. The exercise began at the end of January and will end on May 31, 2024, divided into two parts. The initial phase, from late January to mid-March, is focused on maritime reinforcement across the Atlantic and Arctic. The second phase, from mid-February to the end of May, will consist of using reinforcements deployed in all NATO domains from the Arctic to the eastern flank.

A Royal Navy F-35B aboard the British aircraft carrier "Queen Elizabeth" (Foto: NATO).

Steadfast Defender is a "multi-domain exercise" as it will include land, air, sea, cyber and space operations. It is an exercise planned years in advance, according to NATO, with "the dual purpose of perfecting defense plans and also acting as a deterrent against possible aggression from nearby adversaries" . A new veiled allusion to Russia. NATO, in fact, adds: "As tensions persist in Eastern Europe, this exercise sends a clear message that NATO is prepared to defend its members, its values, and uphold collective security in the Euro-Atlantic area."

The Spanish contribution: a frigate and a supply ship

Regarding the Spanish contribution to this exercise, at the moment the Ministry of Defense has not commented anything. On January 10, the Navy indicated that the two ships it has deployed with NATO's Permanent Naval Group number 1 (SNMG-1), the frigate "Almirante Juan de Borbón" F-102 and the Combat Supply Ship (BAC) "Cantabria" A-15, plan to participate in this exercise. This week, the Spanish frigate arrived at the port of Stavanger, in southwestern Norway, an arrival shown by the Navy in this fast motion video:

On January 11, the Defense Staff (EMAD) confirmed the participation of the two ships in this NATO exercise, which is triannual in nature (the last one was held in 2021): "These operations, in the waters of the North Sea, have as objectives deterrence, collective defense, naval presence and the increase of interoperability between Navies," said the EMAD.

The frigate "Almirante Juan de Borbón" F-102 seen from the SH-60 Seahawk helicopter that is on board (Photo: Armada Española).

The EMAD has also indicated that "among the crews of the Spanish ships, the Embarked Air Unit of the 10th Aircraft Squadron, a Marine Infantry Operational Security Team and commissioned personnel, among which includes a doctor and an aircraft controller at sea, the Spanish Armed Forces are contributing more than 400 troops to the Alliance."

The BAC "Cantabria" A-15 (Photo: Armada Española).

The possible participation of other Spanish units

In its news about that exercise, the EMAD did not indicate the possible participation of other Spanish units in the Steadfast Defender 2024, although it is foreseeable that at least the units of the Army and Air Force deployed in some of the countries in which this exercise will take place, specifically Latvia (eFP XIV contingent of the Army), Romania (Tigru Detachment of the Air Force) and Slovakia, where on January 22 50 Spanish Army soldiers left, mostly from the Brigade "Galicia" VII (BRILAT) to prepare for a deployment that will take place in June.

In any case, the low profile adopted by Spain in this exercise is striking, and it is worth wondering if it will be related to the known hostility towards NATO of the communist ministers of Pedro Sánchez's government. To give us an idea, Canada contributes with 1,000 soldiers and Germany with 13,000 and the United Kingdom with 20,000.


Main photo: Armada Española. The frigate "Almirante Juan de Borbón" F-102.

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