Dynamic Manta
An anti-submarine warfare (ASW) helicopter from the Royal Canadian Navy Halifax-class frigate HMCS Toronto flies over the Armada Espanola Galerna-class diesel-electric submarine ESPS Tramontana during NATO’s Dynamic Manta ASW exercise in the Ionian Sea. Aircraft, submarines, and surface ships from 10 NATO countries are participating. (NATO Maritime Command)

Dr. Lee Willett – One of NATO’s two annual anti-submarine warfare (ASW) exercises is underway in the Mediterranean Sea. Exercise Dynamic Manta is NATO’s southern ASW exercise, and is built around Standing NATO Maritime Group (SNMG) 2.

Alongside the habitual focus on ASW, anti-surface warfare (ASuW), and interoperability, for 2019 the exercise’s command-and-control (C2) structure is being adjusted to support wider development of NATO theatre command capability.

Taking place in the Ionian Sea for two weeks from late February, Dynamic Manta provides a crucial training opportunity in a critical region.

Strategically, the Mediterranean is a contested space. While the exercise demonstrates NATO’s strong presence in the region, Russia’s own naval presence is designed to demonstrate strategic interest there, with several new capabilities – including Kalibr cruise missile-equipped Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines – contributing to a potential anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) strategy intended to limit Western presence and influence in the Eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea region.

Tactically, the Mediterranean is a congested space that provides challenging acoustic conditions, with a stream of merchant traffic transiting between the choke points of the Suez Canal and Bosporus/Dardanelles in the shallower waters of the east and the Gibraltar Straits in the deeper western waters.

Ten NATO countries are participating, with submarines from Greece, Italy, Spain, Turkey, and the United Kingdom training with nine surface ships from Canada, France, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Turkey. Eight air assets, including six maritime patrol aircraft, are present.

Dynamic Manta
NATO submarines and surface ships conduct the ‘Photo Exercise’ (PHOTEX) for Dynamic Manta in February 2019. Canada, France, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Turkey, and the UK are among the countries involved. (NATO Maritime Command)

Dynamic Manta remains one of the most challenging exercises, and an excellent opportunity for NATO naval forces to practice and evaluate their [ASW] skillset in a challenging environment,” said Rear Admiral Andrew Lennon, Commander NATO Submarines (COMSUBNATO), in a NATO Maritime Command (MARCOM) statement. “This exercise is a unique opportunity to enhance naval forces’ warfighting skills in all three [ASW] dimensions … in a multinational and multi-threat environment,” he added.

Commander Stefano Iobbi, an Italian Navy officer and MARCOM’s exercise staff officer lead for Dynamic Manta, told Armada International the exercise brings a focus on “enhanced interoperability among participating units” and is testing ASW tactics including submarine and air co-operation from the unit- to the task group-level. It provides “various vignettes designed to practice and test units on different types of tracking and engagement situations involving surface ships, aircraft, and submarines”, he added, with these including a large surface force (on occasion, with air assets) searching and tracking one submarine, or surface forces protecting a high-value unit.

The presence of an ‘In-Stride Debriefing Team’ provides real-time analysis of exercise serials which will allow participating units “to accelerate their process, make adjustments, improve performance, and boost ASW readiness,” said the MARCOM statement.

For 2019, Commander Iobbi added, “we have adjusted the way we are conducting the C2 for the exercise, by having the exercise run through the MARCOM Maritime Operations Centre in Northwood, UK fully integrated … with COMSUBNATO.” “This is helping to define the Theatre Maritime Operations Centre (TMOC) concept as part of the adaptation of the NATO command structure where MARCOM becomes the Maritime Theatre Component Command,” he explained.

by Dr. Lee Willett