NATO is testing its ability to quickly deploy a Response Force, its highly ready and technologically advanced multinational force made up of land, air, maritime and Special Operations Forces, in the face of what it perceives as Russian aggression. It has already deployed extra forces in and around the Baltic area, but is now moving to upgrade its presence in the Mediterranean.
US Marines would normally serve on US ships, however, with its forces currently heavily committed in the Middle East, it has been forced to rely on its NATO allies. The marines will initially test the use of their vertical take-off and landing aircraft, the MV22 Ospreys, on the Italian aircraft carrier Cavour, as it requires strong flight decks.
The Osprey is used by the US Marines as it can take off, land and hover like a helicopter. Once airborne, it can convert to a turboprop airplane capable of high-speed, high-altitude flight.
US Marines will also operate from British, Spanish, French and Dutch ships. "They all have ships that could potentially carry an alert force with Osprey," Brigadier-General Norman Cooling, deputy commander of Marine Forces Europe and Africa, told The Times.
The UK will be offering its biggest warship, the helicopter carrier and assault ship HMS Ocean, the Flagship of the Royal Navy. As Britain's older aircraft carriers have been taken out of service, HMS Ocean is the only platform the 150 US Marines can use.
NATO Rapid Reaction
The decision to deploy troops on European navy ships in the Mediterranean comes just three months after NATO announced it would set up six new command posts on its eastern borders and create a 5,000-strong rapid reaction force in an effort to show resolve and solidarity in the face of what the alliance brands Russian aggression in Ukraine.
NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, said it was "the biggest reinforcement of our collective defense since the end of the Cold War."
The first operation in the Mediterranean will be Exercise Trident Juncture 2015, which will take place from 28 September to 06 November 2015, in multiple locations across the Alliance — including Italy, Portugal and Spain. Over 25,000 troops are expected to train together and test the NATO Response Force.
Following the NATO summit in Wales, where the allies decided to put more pressure on Russia, they decided to enhance the NRF in 2014 by creating a "spearhead force" within it, known as the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force.