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In the first half of 2024 20,000 UK service personnel from the Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Air Force (RAF) will deploy across Europe to take part in Exercise ‘Steadfast Defender 24’, UK Defence Secretary Grant Shapps has announced.

Delivering a speech at Lancaster House in London on 15 January 2024, Shapps stated, “We are in a new era and we must be prepared to deter our enemies, prepared to lead our allies and prepared to defend our nation whenever the call comes. Today our adversaries are busily rebuilding their barriers. Old enemies are reanimated. Battle lines are being redrawn. The tanks are literally on Ukraine’s lawn. And the foundations of the world order are being shaken to their core. We stand at a crossroads.

“I can announce today that UK will be sending some 20,000 personnel to take part in one of NATO’s largest deployments since the end of the Cold War: Exercise ‘Steadfast Defender’,” said Shapps. “It will see our military joining forces with counterparts from 30 NATO countries plus Sweden, providing vital reassurance against the Putin menace.”

‘Steadfast Defender 2024’ will see more than 40,000 from across the Alliance exercise in Germany, Poland and the three Baltic states. In terms of the UK forces participating, 16,000 troops from the British Army, including the 7th Light Mechanised Brigade Combat Team, will be deployed across Eastern Europe from February to June 2024, taking with them tanks, artillery and helicopters.

“There will be live fire manoeuvres, parachute jumps, an army and navy joint helicopter force, and army special operations forces on deployment,” the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) stated in a press release. “The British Army will deploy to test and strengthen the readiness of the UK’s land forces in defending NATO, and to bolster its ability to operate jointly with allied armed forces.”

The Royal Navy, meanwhile, will deploy eight warships and submarines and more than 2,000 sailors for the exercise. A UK Carrier Strike Group, centred on a Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier and its air group of F-35B Lightning jets and helicopters and accompanied by escort frigates and destroyers, “will operate as part of a potent naval force of allied warships and submarines in the North Atlantic, the Norwegian Sea and the Baltic Sea”, the MoD noted.

Beyond participating as part of Joint Force Lightning, the RAF will also deploy P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol and surveillance aircraft and will “practise flying in simulated conflict scenarios against near-peer adversaries, proving its ability to deter and defend against threats”, the MoD stated.

A British Army Challenger 2 main battle tank on manoeuvres during Exercise ‘Bold Fusilier’, held from 8-13 October 2023 near Tapa, Estonia. UK forces will soon be back on manoeuvres in the Baltic states, as well as Germany and Poland, during ‘Steadfast Defender 2024’. (Photo: Crown Copyright)