Canadian Armed Forces to Join Largest NATO Exercise in Decades

Canadian Armed Forces to Join Largest NATO Exercise in Decades
Members of Canadian Special Operations Forces Command conduct pre-mission training for Exercise Steadfast Defender 24 in Petawawa, Ontario, on Jan. 16, 2024. (National Defence handout)
William Crooks

The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) is gearing up to participate in NATO’s Exercise Steadfast Defender 2024—a large-scale trans-Atlantic military exercise slated to be the biggest of its kind in recent decades—with the stated aim of reinforcing the defence of Europe.

“Canada’s participation in Exercise STEADFAST DEFENDER sends a strong message about our ability to operate with NATO Allies and our continued contribution to the defence of Europe,” said Defence Minister Bill Blair in a Jan. 24 release.

“Canada remains unwavering in its commitments to defend our shared values and interests, and to be a reliable partner in peace and security.”

The exercise is scheduled to run from late January to the end of May. The first segment, primarily maritime-focused, will concentrate on defending the North Atlantic and Arctic waters. The second part will test NATO’s ability to rapidly deploy reinforcements across various domains in defence of Central and Eastern Europe.

One objective of the exercises is to deter Russia from considering aggression against any member nations of the NATO alliance.

Prior to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s command to send troops into Ukraine in February 2022, NATO had initiated a significant enhancement of its security along the eastern border between Russia and Ukraine. This action represents the most substantial escalation of NATO’s presence since the Cold War era.

Steadfast Defender 2024, in development for over three years, will feature over 90,000 military personnel and include more than 50 naval assets, over 80 aircraft, and over 1,100 combat vehicles. The exercise spans multiple domains, including maritime, land, air space, and cyber, under an enhanced command structure.

Around 1,000 CAF personnel, including sailors, soldiers, aviators, and special forces members, are set to be part of the exercise. They will demonstrate NATO’s capability to conduct extended, multi-domain defensive operations over several months, responding to a simulated Article 5 attack (an armed attack against one member is considered an attack against them all) from an adversary with comparable capabilities.

Key Canadian military equipment and teams sent to the exercise include the warship HMCS Charlottetown, sporting a CH-148 Cyclone helicopter, and a soldier group to be stationed in Latvia supported by a Leopard 2 heavy tank squadron. The HMCS Charlottetown will be away for about seven weeks working with other NATO ships.

An integral part of the exercise for the CAF will be working as a part of a larger team of soldiers, from different countries, in Latvia. In the second part of the exercise, the leaders of this new team will work with higher-up NATO officials to plan and carry out a variety of defence strategies.

Other related military exercises will be conducted in Latvia, Estonia, and Norway, including additional vehicles, such as armoured trucks and light tanks.

Steadfast Defender 2024 is part of a larger mission called Operation Reassurance, where Canada is helping NATO to protect and defend countries in Central and Eastern Europe. By 2026, Canada plans to have up to 2,200 soldiers involved in the mission.