RAF Mildenhall -- Trojan Footprint is a biennial U.S. Special Operations Command Europe-led exercise that incorporates U.S., NATO and European partner special operations forces. This year’s exercise included special operations forces from: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, and the U.S., as well as the armed forces of Sweden and the U.K.
This year’s exercise focused on the rapid deployment of SOF into a crisis, the establishment of multinational mission command structures and the integration of SOF and conventional forces.
"Trojan Footprint is an extremely large exercise by SOF standards," said U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Mark Schwartz, the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command Europe. "We deliberately built this exercise over the past two years to replicate a dynamic and somewhat denied environment over multiple countries, to challenge every facet of our combined SOF from the individual operator to the highest headquarters staff. Everyone will take away lessons from this exercise that will assist their real-world planning across a range of contingencies."
Trojan Footprint 18 took place on the ground, in the air and on the Baltic Sea in and around Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.
“Due to its importance, Trojan Footprint has the highest priority in the training cycle of Latvian Special Operations Forces,” said Latvian SOF Commander Lt. Col. Juris Usackis. “This is a unique opportunity to improve interoperability and cooperation with the special operation forces of our Allies as well as improve our ability to execute tasks specifically assigned to Latvia’s SOF. These efforts directly support the strengthening of Latvia’s ability to defend itself.”
This year’s exercise was also directly linked to the annual Lithuanian SOF-led multinational exercise Flaming Sword. The focus of that exercise was Lithuanian SOF’s ability to command and control SOF from multiple nations, and integration with their conventional forces and irregular forces, as well as units of Ministry of Interior and other defense agencies to defend against an adversary.
“The relation between Flaming Sword and Trojan Footprint gave an opportunity to conduct a full spectrum of special operations in realistic, challenging and dynamic environments,” said Col. Modestas Petrauskas, commander of Lithuanian special operations forces. “It broadened the potential to ensure rapid communication, share resources and information, strengthen interoperability and abilities to conduct joint and combined operations in the most professional manner.”
In order to exercise the systems and processes required to deploy rapidly to a real-world crisis, most exercise participants did not know exactly where the exercise would occur, or the specific tasks they would be expected to perform.
“This is not a plug and play exercise.” Said Col. Lawrence G. Ferguson, commander, 10th Special Forces Group. “Trojan Footprint helps us identify capabilities and vulnerabilities and turn them into opportunity.”
The exercise served to evaluate the responsiveness of NATO and partner SOF to quickly assemble and work together, providing lessons to take into future exercises and planning.
“We are all aware that national security nowadays is only possible within a strong, well-organized and well-integrated alliance,” said Polish Brig. Gen. Wojciech Marchwica, commander of Polish Special Operations Component Command. “Polish Special Forces participation in Trojan Footprint 18 exercise is yet another occasion to strengthen the SOF partnership within NATO. We feel that we need to participate in such exercises, because it is a great opportunity to check and adapt our skills and abilities for new challenges and modern threats.”
In the scenario for Trojan Footprint, SOF are deployed rapidly at the start of crisis because of their unique capabilities and high state of readiness. Once on the ground, NATO SOF and partner forces were received by Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian SOF, in order to assist with their defensive capabilities, such as working with organizations like the Estonian Defense League, Latvian National Guard and the Lithuanian National Defense Forces.
“Estonia is one of the very few countries in NATO who have integrated unconventional warfare plans into its standing defense plans. ESTSOF together with specific EDL units has a very important role as a main facilitator of unconventional warfare in Estonia,” said Estonian Special Operations Commander Col. Riho Ühtegi. “Trojan Footprint 18 put these plans to the test. Having completed this exercise both Estonian SOF as well as their NATO allies have a better understanding of how they integrate and operate together in the defense of Estonia.“
Trojan Footprint participants included F-16C Fighting Falcons from the Colorado Air National Guard’s 140th Wing, B-1B Lancers assigned to the 345th Bomb Squadron, the Illinois Air National Guard’s 182nd Air Support Operations Group, and the Washington Air National Guard’s 194th ASOG.
“We are focusing on close air support and dynamic targeting with [SOF elements on the ground] to enhance our lethality,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Marc Garceau, an F-16C pilot and lead planner from the 140th Wing for the exercise. “We are also enhancing our Baltic partnership to our ability as NATO to deter against current and future aggression. The trust and proficiency we’re building with Allied SOF here is critical.”
Building upon the interoperability and familiarization built over years of training, and demonstrated in combat and peacekeeping operations, Trojan Footprint 18 provided a complex and realistic environment for SOF to exercise the role of SOF on the modern battlefield.
“Special Operations Forces don’t work in a vacuum and are not the only solution to a crisis or operation,” said U.S. Navy Command Master Chief Andrew Harrison, SOCEUR’s senior enlisted leader. “Exercises like Trojan Footprint allow SOF to exercise the very unique things we bring to the fight, like enabling our Allies to resist, causing havoc behind enemy lines, and acting as the eyes and ears for larger forces.”