Steadfast Defender 2021 is a collective defence exercise based on an Article 5 scenario. The exercise will enhance Alliance security by maintaining NATO’s broad range of interoperability and military capabilities to deter potential adversaries and assure Allies of NATO’s ability to defend them. The geographical locations of the exercise and the scale of deployment across sea, land, air and the range of military capabilities involved reflect NATO’s resolve to deter, and where necessary, to confront and defeat, potential aggressors.

NATO’s largest military exercise since 2018, Exercise Steadfast Defender 2021, has begun with a maritime operation off Portugal, a logistics exercise in southern Germany and a rapid reaction exercise in central Romania.

Exercise Steadfast Defender 2021, which is designed to improve the Alliance’s defensive capabilities, includes over 9,000 air, land, maritime and special operations forces from more than 20 Allies and partners training together.

“Steadfast Defender 2021 is the first in a new series of long-planned NATO exercises to ensure that our forces are trained, able to operate together and ready to respond to any threat from any direction. This exercise will demonstrate the value of North America and Europe working together to keep our nations safe in a more challenging security environment,” said Captain Jason Salata, exercise spokesperson.       

Steadfast Defender 2021 officially began on May 12 and ends June 22 in Romania.

The exercise took around two years to plan; Lieutenant Colonel James Scott serves as the officer with primary responsibility of organising the multi-phase exercise. “The overall focus is on NATO’s capability to conduct reinforcement across the Alliance. The span of the exercise is broad, ranging from the training of the new Joint Force Command in Norfolk, the Joint Support and Enabling Command in Germany, and the delivery of the Very High Readiness Task Force Land Component into Romania on a deployment exercise. Exercise planning during the ongoing pandemic has been very challenging but serves to demonstrate NATO’s flexibility and adaptability,” said Scott.

Steadfast Defender 2021 is being conducted in three parts to improve the interoperability of Allied forces and practice military mobility throughout Europe.

The first part of the exercise is reinforcement by sea. It focuses on improving NATO’s ability to protect and defend the Atlantic Ocean and specifically the strategic lines of communication, which enable transatlantic reinforcement by North American allies. The maritime exercise is led by Joint Force Command Norfolk, which is a new command based in Virginia. Twenty ships, a submarine and 60 aircraft will exercise off the coast of Portugal. It includes the United Kingdom’s HMS Queen Elizabeth and her Lockheed Martin F-35B fifth generation combat aircraft.

The second part of the exercise is reinforcement by land. Led by NATO’s Joint Support and Enabling Command based in Ulm, Germany. It is a command post exercise focused on enabling a safe and secure transit of military forces through Allied nations.


The final part of the exercise is a regular deployment called Noble Jump. It tests NATO’s rapid reaction forces and involves the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF). The VJTF is the spearhead military unit within NATO, and the first to respond to a crisis.

This year some 4,000 troops from 12 countries will be involved. Both Romania and Poland have hosted this exercise in the past.

The multiple components of the VJTF rotate every year. This year, Turkey’s 66th Brigade makes up the core of the VJTF’s land component and is the largest troop contributor to the exercise.

Steadfast Defender 2021 seeks to ensure that NATO forces are trained, able to operate together and ready to respond to threats from any direction.