Britain is sending a task force of 20,000 to take part in the biggest Nato exercise since the Cold War which aims to make the alliance battle-ready at an increasingly dangerous time with conflicts raging in the Middle East and Ukraine.
The UK contingent, from the army, Royal Navy and the RAF will provide almost half of the 41,000 service personnel which will take part in Operation Steadfast Defender which will have a multinational deployment of up to 50 warships, and dozens of aircraft, carrying out 700 air combat missions.
The drills taking place across Germany, Poland and the Baltics on Nato’s 75th year are part of an urgent push for the alliance to change from essentially a crisis-response unit to full combat stance at short notice.
The war games, using real-time geographical data to create more realistic scenarios for troops, will be aimed at countering an enemy coalition led by Russia, named “Ocassus” for the occasion, carrying out aggression against member states.
But it will also be partly focused on dealing with hostile armed militias and terrorist groups which threatens the alliance’s interests internationally.
A US led coalition is at present engaged in military action against the Houthis in Yemen with the US and UK carrying out airstrikes. Although Nato is not part of the mission, a number of member states are involved, and the exercise, it is believed, will help hone interoperability.
As well as 31 member states, Sweden, whose bid to join is yet to be ratified by Turkey and Hungary, will be taking part in the exercise.
Rishi Sunak announced a £2.5bn security assistance package for Ukraine during a visit to meet Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky last week. Mr Shapps is due to announce the dispatch of the force to the Nato exercise in a major speech at Lancaster House in London on Monday.
The defence secretary is due to say “we are in a new era and we must be prepared to deter our enemies, prepared to lead our allies and prepared to defend our nation whenever the call comes.
“Today our adversaries are busily rebuilding their barriers. Old enemies are reanimated. Battle lines are being redrawn. The tanks are literally on Ukraine’s lawn. And the foundations of the world order are being shaken to their core. We stand at a crossroads.
“I can announce that UK will be sending some 20,000 personnel to take part in Exercise Steadfast Defender. It will see our military joining forces with counterparts from 30 Nato countries plus Sweden, providing vital reassurance against the Putin menace.”
The Royal Navy contribution is of eight warships and submarines, and more than 2,000 sailors, including a Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carrier with F35B Lightning jets as well as helicopters, escort frigates and destroyers.
In addition more than 400 Royal Marines Commandos will be deployed to the Arctic Circle to be the core of an allied amphibious task group designed to land and defend the alliance in the High North, where both Russia and China are making forays.
Around 16,000 troops from the army will be based across eastern Europe from February to June 2024, with them tanks, artillery, helicopters, and airbourne and Special Operations Forces. The RAF will supply F35B Lightning attack and Poseidon P8 surveillance aircraft which will take part in simulated conflict scenarios against enemy fighters, missiles and drones.
Nato’s military chief, the US Navy Admiral Rob Bauer, said recently: “A new era of collective defence is upon us and we need to be prepared to act”.
The alliance has agreed to increase the number of its high-readiness forces from 40,000 to over 300,000. At a summit in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, last summer it agreed to new regional defence plans and the creation of an Allied Reaction Force to provide rapid response when needed.