The Royal Navy has taken the helm of NATO’s principal force in the Mediterranean.
Destroyer HMS Duncan is now flagship of Standing Maritime Group 2 – five major warships which patrol waters between Gibraltar and the eastern shore of the Mediterranean – formally taking charge of the force from the US Navy in the southern Italian naval base of Taranto.
The group – which comprises Duncan, plus frigates Languedoc (France), Fredericton (Canada), Carabiniere (Italy) and Spanish support ship Patino – carries out a wide-ranging mission across nearly one million square miles of water: conducting specific exercises and operations, working with allied and partner nations across the region, representing and promoting the alliance during port visits and responding rapidly to major events if required.
A 24-strong staff, three quarters of it Royal Navy, supported by NATO comrades from Greece, Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria and Spain, will direct the group’s activities, under the command of Commodore Paul Stroude.
Command was formally transferred to the Royal Navy officer during a ceremony aboard the group’s outgoing flagship, Arleigh Burke destroyer USS James E Williams in the presence of NATO’s Maritime Commander Vice Admiral Mike Utley RN who underscored the continuing importance of the naval force.
“Whilst this may mark a change in the leadership, 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,” he said.
“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.”
Under US command, the force has frequently operated not as a united task group, but ‘disaggregated’ as outgoing Commanding Officer Rear Admiral Scott Sciretta calls it: spreading the ships out across the Mediterranean to increase the area patrolled and allow the group to ‘multi-task’.
“What I was extremely impressed with is the professionalism, determination, capabilities and regional experience of all the Allied ships and crews we worked with,” he said.
During Commodore Stroude’s tenure of the task group, more than a dozen major warships from eight contributing NATO nations will join the force at times or replace departing vessels.
“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,” Commodore Stroude said.
“When coupled with an ever-present terrorist threat, we are facing some of the gravest security challenges since World War 2, 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 our adversaries. If necessary, we are ready to defend NATO territorial integrity.”