By Daniel Gouré, Ph.D. Lexington Institute
Even as the Greek economy struggles to establish equilibrium and politicians in Athens work to implement new austerity measures, its military continues to provide security and support for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance in the Eastern Mediterranean. NATO’s southern flank has been hit by a wave of security challenges including mass illegal immigration, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, and arms trafficking. As a result, NATO’s maritime forces are stretched thin responding to this increased demand. Recent international crises at sea underscore the need for collective NATO efforts and new training demands to protect member nations.
Despite demands for budget tightening, Greece continues to fund and operate the NATO Maritime Interdiction Operations Training Center (NMIOTC). This unique training complex is located at Souda Bay on the Greek island of Crete, geographically well positioned in the Eastern Mediterranean. The dockyard of Souda Bay was chosen as the best location for the facility because of its close proximity to vital maritime communication lines and its convenient location near the Hellenic Naval and Air Force Bases and the civilian airport in Hania. The center is also easily accessible to allies since their ships regularly pass through Souda Bay for resupply and maintenance to and from Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Construction of the center was funded by Greece and the Hellenic Navy covers ongoing operational and maintenance costs.
The NMIOTC is responsible for educating NATO member naval units to conduct operations related to naval deterrence. The center was approved by NATO Defense Ministers in June 2003, and it is the only accredited maritime NATO education and training complex taking a lead in maritime security. The training facility provides certification to better execute surface, sub-surface, aerial surveillance and special operations activities in support of safe and successful maritime interdiction operations (MIOs). MIOs are naval operations that aim to delay, disrupt, or destroy enemy forces or supplies imported or exported from a defined maritime area. Such operations include preventing and inspecting ships to certify, change the route or take possession of vessels that cause problems when implementing economic or military sanctions.
Specific educational programs are provided by NMIOTC to improve the specialization of NATO naval units for MIOs. Training is divided into three phases: classroom, simulation, and practical. During the classroom phase, trainees become aware of the NATO doctrine and are certified on security rules and orders to conduct MIOs. The simulation stage allows trainees to implement rules and orders by working as a team to cover each other, divide labor, and exercise other group activities. The final practical level examines trainees’ ability to conduct MIOs. As a result, training at this facility boosts NATO’s defense against a wide spectrum of maritime security threats.
NMIOTC has multiple assets that allow for effective training. A tall stack of containers allows for the practice of inspections and a training tower is used for helicopter insertion and extraction. Rigid hull inflatable boats allow trainees to become accustomed to small boat handling and skiff investigation. A 426-foot training ship is used for arms training, tactical sweep, crew control, helicopter insertion, and other practical exercises. Confiscated pirate boats from the Horn of Africa are even available for realistic battles against pirates.
This Greek facility also has developed mobile training teams (MTTs). MTTs are able to deploy in worldwide field locations to provide in-place instruction. NMIOTC’s high standard simulator allows for the infrastructure and capabilities necessary to provide distance learning tailored to specific mission requirements, needs, time, and operational constraints for each naval unit or group of trainees. As a result, knowledge and expertise can be shared with member nations whose ships are not able to sail to the training complex in Crete.
NMIOTC assists NATO’s Allied Command Transportation (ACT) by developing maritime doctrines, training directives and manuals, performing research, and conducting modeling and simulation experiments to enhance MIOs. The training complex is also equipped to provide ACT with suggestions to alter doctrines, tactics, methods, procedures and materiel for evolving naval security framework. Recognizing NMIOTC’s excellence in training and education, ACT awarded the facility with a Quality Assurance Unconditional Accreditation Certificate in 2013.
A quick overview of the center’s accomplishments for 2015 will highlight Greece’s contributions to the alliance. Three sessions called the Djibouti Code of Conduct were conducted with 55 maritime law enforcement officials from 19 different nations. The instruction sessions included best practices for criminal investigations of piracy and armed robbery at sea such as how to interview, interrogate and negotiate with suspects and how to collect, handle, and preserve evidence at sea. The center also hosted a Eurasia Partnership training course that included twenty military and law trainees from five nations to enhance their knowledge and interoperability of MIO standards and procedures. Eleven researchers from Greece and the U.S. participated in a weapons of mass destruction in MIO experiment at the training facility, sponsored by the Naval Postgraduate School, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Hellenic Naval Academy.
Greece, Israel and the U.S. also organized the first phase of the exercise NOBLE DINA 2015 at the Greek training complex. The drill included 57 trainees that included theoretical and practical MIO matters and the evaluation of cooperation between participants in operational and tactical and technical issues. In addition, the training center hosted a legal seminar for the first time that provided 19 students from 11 countries to become familiar with international legal norms of maritime security, NATO policy and naval operations doctrine, and the application of international law to armed conflict and peacetime operations at sea.
The training facility at Souda Bay even helps nations that are not members of the NATO alliance. Trainees include members belonging to Partnership for Peace, Mediterranean Dialogue, and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative. The complex also hosts an annual Maritime Operational Language Course that informs non-NATO personnel of necessary terminology that allows for combined participation of maritime operations and exercises within NATO’s framework.
The NATO Maritime Interdiction Operations Training Center is a valuable asset to the NATO alliance because it provides members and non-members with the education needed to enhance maritime security. Even if trainees are not able to sail to Souda Bay in Crete, Greece to take advantage of the educational courses and facilities, training can be brought to them as programs can be deployed worldwide. Non-NATO members even benefit from the complex and are able to learn necessary terminology to participate in maritime operations and exercises. According to the NMIOTC course catalogue, “If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together.”