United States hands over command of NATO maritime task group to United Kingdom
Commodore Paul Stroude of the Royal Navy has assumed command of Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 (SNMG2) in Taranto, Italy on June 30, 2023. Commander of Allied Maritime Command (MARCOM), Vice Admiral Mike Utley CB OBE, presided over the handover ceremony.
The ceremony took place on the flight deck of the SNMG2 flagship, Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, USS JAMES E. WILLIAMS (DDG 95). The event marked the end of a one-year rotation under U.S. command, as U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Scott Sciretta was relieved by UK Commodore Paul Stroude.
“Whilst this may mark a change in the leadership of SNMG2, it is also a sign of continuity – a continuity underpinned by the three decades this Task Group has patrolled these waters, as we celebrate the passing of leadership from one NATO Ally to another,” said Vice Admiral Utley. “It is a reminder of the promise that exists at the heart of the Alliance: that in our collective strength lies the guarantee of peace and stability for all our nations.”
The Mediterranean task group also gets a new UK flagship, Royal Navy Type 45 destroyer HMS Duncan.
SNMG2 is one of four standing naval task groups, which comprise NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (Maritime).
The U.S. took command of SNMG2 a few months after the task group was activated as a Very-High-Readiness Joint Task Force Maritime Unit (VJTF(M)) for the first time in a deter and defense role in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The U.S. was the first country to command the task group under this construct for the entire tour of duty.
“One of the first challenges we solved in the first few months was to determine what would be our operational posture as a VJTF(M),” said Rear Admiral Sciretta. “What I was extremely impressed with then, and continue to be impressed with now is the professionalism, determination, capabilities and regional experience of all the Allied ships and crews we worked with. They made it easier to define our new posture. One of the ways that we changed the structure of the task group was to disaggregate it throughout the Mediterranean to be able to increase our coverage area. This enabled us to multi-task and focus more on vigilant surveillance activities and real-world responses while still maintaining a healthy dose of training and development exercises along with theatre security cooperation engagements.”
Throughout the twelve-month deployment, SNMG2 faced internal and external challenges. As they learned how to operate under the new construct, the next challenge was to increase the level of interoperability among Allied ships.
“I think there was a certain level of operational trust that needed to be established when we first started,” said Sciretta. “But as we trained and operated through exercises and surveillance activities, we were able to successfully increase that trust and consequently our interoperability. We got to the point where Turkish and Italian helicopters could land on U.S. flight decks, U.S. ships could conduct underway replenishments with Greek oilers, small-boat operations were conducted between Italian and French vessels etc. As the interoperability and communications improved, I felt more confident in disaggregating the task group in order to increase our coverage of the region.”
The focus on interoperable activities throughout the deployment was an over-arching theme for almost all of SNMG2’s Allied interactions. While patrolling the Mediterranean region, SNMG2’s units interchanged amongst Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Türkiye, the UK and the U.S. Additionally, the task group participated in a myriad of NATO and Allied nation exercises to include Dynamic Mariner/Mavi Bolina, Niriis, Dynamic Manta and Mare Aperto. SNMG2 also worked with different high-value unit groups such as the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group, Cavour Carrier Strike Group, George H.W. Bush Carrier Strike Group and the Juan Carlos I Amphibious Assault ship.
“To say we increased our interoperable capabilities throughout the year would be an understatement,” said Sciretta. “Interoperability and interchangeability have to be the norm going forward in order to sustain military advantage and protect the strategic sea lines of communication in the maritime domain.”
UK Commodore Stroude and his multi-national staff have now completed a comprehensive handover of responsibility, with a seamless transition of command from Rear Admiral Sciretta. Seven NATO nations contribute officers to the SNMG2 staff, ensuring a pool of talent and experience. The new flagship, HMS Duncan, is a specialist air-defence vessel, and one of the UK’s most advanced and capable warships.
During the next six months, more than twelve major warships from eight contributing NATO nations will participate in the task group, offering a formidable, fully-integrated multi-national force, capable of rapid intervention across a broad spectrum of military operations, and highlighting the strength of the alliance’s unity, interoperability and warfighting capabilities.
Following the formal handover ceremony, Cdre Stroude said, "taking command of this NATO task group is a huge privilege but an enormous responsibility, made more so since Russia’s illegal and brutal invasion of Ukraine last year. When coupled with an ever-present terrorist threat, we are facing some of the gravest security challenges, and global peace and stability cannot be taken for granted. However, nothing illustrates the strength, resolve and capability of the NATO alliance more than task groups such as this. Under my command, this group of first class ships will work tirelessly to deliver reassurance and security to our regional allies and partners, while maintaining the capability to deter any potential adversary. If necessary, we are ready to defend NATO territorial integrity.”
Cdre Stroude went on to say, “I wish to pay tribute to my predecessor, Admiral Sciretta, who inherited the command of SNMG2 at an incredibly challenging time in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. For a full year he has relentlessly delivered on operations to provide security and deter aggression, while doing huge amounts to enhance the readiness, interoperability and tactical flexibility of SNMG2.”
SNMG2 is a multinational integrated task group that projects a constant and visible reminder of the Alliance's solidarity and cohesion afloat. This continuous maritime capability performs a wide range of tasks, including exercises and real-world operations in periods of crisis and conflict.
SNMG2 is one of four Standing Naval Forces that operate under NATO Allied Maritime Command, headquartered in Northwood, United Kingdom.