NATO has Standing Naval Forces that provide the Alliance with a continuous naval presence. This multinational deterrent force constitutes an essential maritime requirement for the Alliance. It carries out a programme of scheduled exercises, manoeuvres and port visits, and can be rapidly deployed in times of crisis or tension.
NATO’s Standing Naval Forces consist of four groups: the Standing NATO Maritime Groups (SNMGs) composed of the SNMG1 and the SNMG2; and the Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Groups (SNMCMG1 and SNMCMG2). All four groups are integrated into the NATO Response Force (NRF), the Alliance’s rapid-reaction force.
SNMG1 and SNMG2
The Standing NATO Maritime Groups are a multinational, integrated maritime force made up of vessels from various Allied countries. These vessels are permanently available to NATO to perform different tasks ranging from exercises to operational missions. They also help to establish Alliance presence, demonstrate solidarity, conduct routine diplomatic visits to different countries, support partner engagement and provide a variety of maritime military capabilities to ongoing missions.
SNMG1 and SNMG2 currently alternate for six-month rotations conducting NATO’s counter-piracy Operation Ocean Shield and otherwise function according to the operational needs of the Alliance, therefore helping to maintain optimal flexibility. Their composition varies and they are usually composed of between two and six ships from as many NATO member countries.
SNMG1 and SNMG2 fall under the authority of Allied Maritime Command (MARCOM), Northwood, United Kingdom, following MARCOM’s December 2012 inauguration as the operational hub for all Alliance maritime operations. MARCOM also has two subordinate commands – Submarine Command (COMSUBNATO) and Maritime Air Command (COMMARAIR) – as well as the NATO Shipping Centre, which plays an important role in countering piracy.
SNMCMG1 and SNMCMG2
The Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Groups SNMCMG1 and SNMCMG2 are multinational forces that primarily engage in search and explosive ordnance disposal operations. SNMCMG2 also conducts historical ordnance disposal operations to minimise the threat from mines dating back to the Second World War.
Both SNMCMG groups are key assets in the NATO Response Force (NRF) and are able to fulfill a wide range of roles from humanitarian tasks to operations. They can deploy at short notice and are often the first assets to enter an operational theatre.
SNMCMG1 was formed in the Belgian port of Ostend on 11 May 1973 to ensure safety of navigation around the ports of the English Channel and northwest Europe. Originally called “Standing Naval Force Channel”, its name was changed several times to reflect its expanding area of operation. Today, the Group is capable of operating nearly anywhere in the world.
SNMCMG2 developed from an on-call force for the Mediterranean, which was created in 1969. It also evolved over time to reflect its new responsibilities.
SNMCMG2 and SNMCMG1 were both given their current names in 2006.