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British forces lead NATO spearhead force

01 January 2017

From today, 1 Jan 17, the UK assumes responsibility for NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) contributing about 3,000 personnel, with 20th Armoured Infantry Brigade (20 Armd Inf Bde) leading a framework group of 14 partner nations.

The VJTF is part of NATO’s enhanced NATO Response Force (eNRF) which was agreed at the 2014 Wales NATO Summit when allies decided to strengthen the Alliance’s collective defence and ensure NATO has the right forces in the right place at the right time.

Also known as the ‘spearhead force’ it consists of 20,000 personnel and includes Land, Air, Maritime and Special Forces components. The ‘land’ component is known as the VJTF(L)*.

During this year 20 Armd Inf Bde will provide the VJTF(L) Brigade HQ, armoured infantry and light role infantry battlegroups plus communications, reconnaissance, intelligence capabilities, combat support and logistic elements, which will ensure that the multinational brigade can operate as a rapidly deployable and effective fighting force.

Tactical and strategic exercises took place throughout last year to prepare the multinational force to be well integrated and interoperable.

The soldiers highlight the differences between British and French personal equipment on Exercise GRIFFIN STRIKE.

Exercise GRIFFIN STRIKE, held on Salisbury Plain in April, saw 5,000 British and French soldiers, sailors and airmen and women of the Combined Joint Expeditionary Force (CJEF) training together.

The culmination of six years of joint exercises and interoperability tests between the British and French military, EX GRIFFIN STRIKE brought the land, air and sea components of the CJEF concept together in realistic scenarios with French armoured vehicles, UK aircraft and airborne forces, and infantry, armoured personnel and medics from both countries.

A two-day Logistic Assurance ‘wargame’ was held in Tidworth in May, to analyse the logistic risks and challenges to Defence to mount, deploy and sustain the VJTF(L) force at very short notice to anywhere within or outside NATO’s borders. More than 200 UK and NATO personnel took part in the planning exercise, ahead of the Warsaw Summit held in July.

Wales to Warsaw

In May and June British soldiers took part in large scale training exercises in Germany, Poland and the Baltic States with the 25,000-strong Polish-led Exercise ANAKONDA 16 taking centre stage as the largest allied exercise of the year. Sixteen nations took part showing the significant progress made since the creation of the VJTF at the previous NATO Summit in Wales in 2014.

During this exercise sappers alongside German engineers built the longest amphibious bridge to cross a large expanse of water, as shown in this video: 

Exercise SWIFT RESPONSE in June saw paratroopers from 16 Air Assault Brigade and 3 PARA taking part in the largest parachute drop since the end of the Cold War with the US 82nd Airborne Division and the Polish 6th Airborne Brigade. 1800 descended on drop zones in Poland and Germany supported by, among others, aircraft from Joint Helicopter Command.

Validation of the force

In September Exercise VENERABLE GAUNTLET held at Sennelager Training Area in Germany saw more than 3000 personnel from 14 NATO Troop Contributing Nations take part. This was the UK's validation exercise for the land (L) element of the VJTF Headquarters. Learn more about the VJTF mission and facts and figures.


Exercise SILVER ARROW was a two-week Latvian-led exercise in October with the Armed Forces of Albania, Canada, Estonia, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Romania, UK and the United States. The multinational exercise focussed on interoperability and developing procedures.

Exercise NOBLE LEDGER saw 20 Armd Inf Bde complete its validation tasks in December. The exercise was the final stepping stone in more than a year’s training to prepare the multinational brigade for the role. It focused on the Task Force Headquarters and its ability to command and control a complex NATO operation.

Planning on Exercise Noble Ledger

Gloucester-based Headquarters Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (HQ ARRC) also completed their certification as the NATO Response Force Land Component Command for 2017, acting in their role as the higher command and assisting 20 Armd Inf Bde.

Very High Readiness Joint Task Force Facts and Figures

*The VJTF(L) comprises a multinational brigade (approximately 5,000 troops), with up to five manoeuvre battalions, supported by air, maritime and Special Forces.

  • Once fully operational, the VJTF will be supplemented by two additional brigades, as a rapid-reinforcement capability, in case of a major crisis.
  • If activated, the force will be available to move immediately, following the first warnings and indicators of potential threats, before a crisis begins, to act as a potential deterrent to further escalation.
  • The rapid arrival of this small but capable military unit would send a very clear message to any potential aggressor: "any attempt to violate the sovereignty of one NATO nation will result in a decisive military engagement with all 28 allied nations”.
  • The VJTF is established on a rotational and persistent basis and will not be permanently based.
  • In addition, NATO Allies have a wide range of other forces at their disposal. For example: Allies often send forces to conduct exercises in various locations across Europe; all Allies have national troops at high states of readiness that can quickly respond to a crisis.
  • The VJTF’s rapid yet flexible response times are what set it apart from other components of the NRF; some units will be ready to deploy in just two days, whilst the majority of units will be ready to move in less than seven days.
  • In ensuring a high level of readiness the VJTF will be regularly exercised and deployed at short notice.

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