A recent exercise in Eastern Europe – Trojan Footprint – provided the opportunity for U.S. and NATO special operations forces to simulate an operation to ‘clear the way’ for a counteroffensive by NATO’s conventional military forces to liberate the Baltic States from a Russian invasion and occupation. The use of unconventional warfare in the Baltics is one option for the US and NATO in the event of a Russian military move on Estonia, Latvia, or Lithuania.
The Trojan Footprint 18 exercise is a U.S. Special Operations Command Europe led event that took place over land, sea, and air that rapidly deployed 2,000 NATO, U.S., and partner nation special operations forces from 13 nations to the Baltic region. Countries that participated included the United Kingdom, United States, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Canada.
The exercise provided the opportunity to rehearse and evaluate the ability to rapidly deploy SOF into a crisis, establish the appropriate command structures, and integrate SOF and conventional forces. Trojan Footprint replicates a denied environment in multiple countries requiring the introduction of SOF units. The Trojan Footprint exercise was linked to the Flaming Sword exercise conducted by the Lithuanian Armed Forces – which was also a SOF event.
The exercise included U.S. units from Army Special Forces (10th SFGA), U.S. Navy SEALs, and AFSOC units flying CV-22 Ospreys and MC-130 Talons. In addition, other U.S. aircraft participated to include F-16c Fighting Falcons and B-1B Lancers. The Special Operations Command Europe provided staff while the Army’s 10th Special Forces Group (based in Colorado and Germany) provided Special Forces teams. Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) and Naval Special Warfare (NSW) units took part as well.
U.S., NATO, and partner nation special operations forces were infiltrated into the operational areas at the start of the exercise to the countries of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania. The SOF forces were received by the host nation SOF units and worked with organizations such as the Latvian National Guard, Lithuanian National Defense Forces, and the Estonia Defense League.
The exercise is similar to the old Flintlock exercise conducted by the 10th Special Forces Group in the 1970s and 1980s. The present day Flintlock exercise is conducted by Special Operations Command Africa in northwestern Africa on an annual basis. But in prior decades during the Cold War the exercise had an unconventional warfare focus in Europe. Flintlock usually involved the deployment of SF teams from the United States to England where they isolated in a Special Operations Operational Base (SFOB) and they infiltrated into an Soviet Bloc occupied Germany where they conducted UW and other missions. The Trident Footprint exercise is likely similar to the old Flintlock exercise in many respects.
In Trident Footprint type scenario one or more SFOBs would likely be established in Poland, Germany, or perhaps a Scandinavian country. The SOF teams would infiltrate using various methods (air, land, and sea) into the denied areas to conduct UW and other types of SOF missions to prepare the region for a NATO counteroffensive to regain lost territory from Russian occupying forces.
The exercise provides an opportunity for SOF interoperability between NATO and partner nation forces. It also presents a scenario for the interaction between SOF and conventional forces. In addition, one of the exercise’s key overall objectives is to deter Russia from military adventures in the Baltic region.
Photo: Trojan Footprint UW in Baltic States. U.S. and Danish maritime special operations forces board a ship in the Baltic Sea. Photo by SOCEUR, June 4, 2018.