Since 1949 the NATO Alliance has existed to provide for the collective defense of its member nations. Following the fall of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact 30 years ago, many countries chose to take advantage of the peace dividend to cut defense budgets. The end of the Cold War was seen as the end of any real threat of large-scale armed conflict in Europe. Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine has proved that premise incorrect. As the war in Ukraine has evolved into a protracted war of attrition, artillery has played a pivotal role. Both the intensity of the war and the reliance of both sides on artillery have not been lost on European and North American defense professionals. Artillery exercises and multinational training within the alliance are more important than ever. The biggest of those exercises is Exercise Dynamic Front.
What is Exercise Dynamic Front?
Begun in 2015, Exercise Dynamic Front was conceived to build field artillery interoperability among NATO nations’ artillery formations. Today, according to the United States Army in Europe and Africa’s webpage “Dynamic Front is a U.S. Army Europe and Africa directed, 56th Artillery Command led, multinational exercise designed to improve allied and partner nation’s ability to execute multi-echelon fires, and test interoperability of both tactical and theater-level fires systems in a live environment.”
The exercise has evolved over time to include both allies and partners. In July of 2022 the 56th Artillery Command led the largest Dynamic Front Exercise to date at Grafenwöhr Training Area in southeastern Germany. The exercise involved close to 3,000 participants from 18 NATO nations – Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Kosovo, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States; and one partner nation – Finland.
Enhancing Readiness through Interoperability
Exercise Dynamic Front yields benefits in all three domains of interoperability – human, procedural, and technical. The importance of training together cannot be overstated. If the NATO alliance is ever called upon to defend member nations, all must be ready to answer the call and contribute. To reduce friction and the “fog of war” the muscle memory developed in training will be essential. Through Artillery Systems Cooperation Activities or “ASCA” protocols, nations can share data between operating systems that were not originally designed to talk with one another. This allows for artillery observers from one nation to pass targets to another nation’s artillery formations to be processed in real time. Practicing these actions in peacetime enhances NATO’s readiness to employ them if ever called upon to do so.
In 2022, for the first time, Exercise Dynamic Front proved the concept of employing multi-national artillery brigades comprising a staff formed from multiple nations which provided command and control over several nation’s artillery and support units. This was a breakthrough which will give the alliance greater capability.
The Way Ahead
Exercise Dynamic Front will continue to be the cornerstone of the United States Army in Europe and Africa’s artillery training program. It will continue to grow in importance and relevance as nations come to grips with the reality that the peace dividend of the early 1990s is gone. In the years to come Exercise Dynamic Front will expand its relevance through experimentation and incorporation of new and emerging capabilities. Investing time and money in high-quality, realistic, training will improve interoperability within the alliance, and in turn improve its readiness to defend its members against aggression.