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  • Writer's pictureMike Lintott-Danks

NATO Exercise Cold Response 22

As Russia invaded Ukraine the importance of exercise Cold Response 22 (CR22) was even more relevant with over 30,000 soldiers from 27 countries participating in this Norwegian led exercise. A key goal of exercise CR22 is to train on reinforcing Norway, militarily. To achieve this, naval and aircraft capabilities played a vital role in deploying Allied amphibious and land forces wherever needed. During the exercise, forces especially practicde on deploying military capabilities to and from sea, coast and land areas.

The main field exercise ran from 14th March to 31st March with a multitude of smaller allied exercises being run before and after. CR22 covered the length of the rugged Scandinavian country with naval ships from participating countries starting in the south of Norway and working their way North, whilst the aviation and ground assets were based in the north. This article will focus on the aerial assets and especially the participation of the US Marine Corps II Marine Expeditionary Force (II MEF).

The II MEF sent the full array of their aerial assets, apart from the Lockheed-Martin F-35Bs, to CR22 and were based at two separate bases in Northern Norway, Bodø in Nordland and Bardufoss in Troms.

Bodø had the majority of the assets with Lockheed-Martin KC-130Js from VMGR-252, McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) AV-8Bs from VMA-223 ‘Bulldogs’, Boeing F/A-18C/Ds from VMFA-312 ‘Checkerboards’ and Boeing MV-22 Ospreys from VMM-261 all utilising the space at this large coastal base.

Bardufoss saw the mainstay of the helicopters including Bell AH-1Z Vipers and UH-1Y Venoms from HMLA-269, alongside Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallions from HMH-366.

An exert form the USMC press release shows the array of training the Marines completed whilst in Norway: -

Many of the training events placed U.S. Marines alongside Norwegian service members operating in austere arctic conditions, the premier cold-weather training destination for NATO. These training events included arctic vehicle operations, avalanche prevention and response, flight operations and casualty evacuations drills which ultimately strengthen our collective warfighting capabilities in the Arctic. Alongside other nations in addition to Norway, II MEF validated multiple capabilities in the Arctic to include amphibious landings shoulder-to-shoulder with the Royal Netherlands Marine Corps, Naval vessel embarkation and boat patrols with Italian Marines and sailors, as well as tactical combat casualty care and various live-fire events alongside the United Kingdom’s Royal Marines. II MEF Marines also practiced integrated troop transportation, trauma care and flight operations with the German Naval Infantry and United Kingdom’s Royal Navy as well as hosted demonstrations with numerous participating nations to include France. “It’s all about interoperability in a very challenging environment,” stated Deputy Commander of Royal Netherlands Navy Maritime Forces Col. Michiel Posthumus, “We train together here to become stronger because we are all partners anyhow. It can benefit NATO in the future because we are enhancing our interoperability and our readiness, so training together makes us a better team and therefore a more effective force.” Exercise Cold Response ‘22 provided the opportunity to refine collective capabilities across a range of military operations. 2d Marine Expeditionary Brigade conducted amphibious landing operations with provided command and control for key II MEF and coalition forces afloat, including Marines and sailors aboard the Royal Netherlands Navy vessel HNLMS Rotterdam and the Italian Navy aircraft carrier Giuseppe Garibaldi. 2d Marine Division, aided by a Combat Logistics Detachment from 2d Marine Logistics Group, showcased their skills as well during arctic demolition, ground warfare and arctic navigation. Multiple squadrons within 2d Marine Aircraft Wing executed aerial refueling, troop and combat assault transport, casualty evacuation training, expeditionary air traffic control, and aircraft maintenance with various aviation platforms.

Additional photos by USMC: AV-8B Lance Cpl Elias Pimentel, F/A-18s Sgt Megan Roses, CH-53E Lance Cpl Jackson Kirkiewicz and AH-1Z Sgt Jonathan Wiederhold

“II MEF readiness has been enhanced through [Exercise] Cold Response by bringing together elements of the [Marine Air-Ground Task Force],” said Lt. Col. Ryan Gordinier, commanding officer of 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2d Marine Division, explaining the core strength the MAGTF consisting of a command element, ground combat element, logistics combat element and an aviation combat element. “In the high north, here in Norway, Cold Response has given us the opportunity to bring those elements together... building interoperability with our Allies in NATO, and some of our other partners.”

In addition to the USMC the US Air Force supported CR22 with 69th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron Boeing B-52H, on deployment at RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire. The exert below is from

Photo by Torbjorn Kjosvold

At 14.30 Norwegian time on Friday 25 March, one American B-52, closely followed by two Norwegian F-35s, flew over Bardufoss military airport, and further into the Cold Reponse training area. The training mission also included the Royal Norwegian Navy and the Norwegian frigate Roald Amundsen.

The training was well planned and coordinated, and it develops a joint ability to work closely as an alliance on advanced threat scenarios with forces on the ground and in the air.

"These missions that we have together with the American Bomber Task Force have developed into a very good and important collaboration. We plan and execute together, which shows a common commitment to working well with allies and partners to deter potential aggressive actions", says Rolf Folland, Chief of the Norwegian Air Force.

Last week and this week, Norwegian forces on the ground, at sea and in the air have participated in advanced training scenarios together with the strategic bombers. Special forces on the ground have helped to extract precise target data for the Norwegian and American aircraft.

Since 10 February, the B-52 Stratofortress aircraft belonging to the 69th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron have been stationed at Fairford, England. As part of the deployment to England, the aircraft have participated in several training missions with allies during the large winter exercise Cold Response.

Several other nations participated with supporting aerial assets including transport and aerial refueling. These consisted of a Luftwaffe Airbus A400M, Armeé de l’Air et de l’Espace Boeing KC-135FR and NATO MRTT Airbus A330.


Flying out of Bardufoss, Svenska Flygvapnet sent SAAB Gripens from F.21 to CR22 with 150 personnel being located at the arctic base in support of the deployment. “The aim of Sweden’s participation is to strengthen our national defence capability and increase the collective capability of the Swedish Armed Forces to respond to an attack against Sweden and against our neighbourhood. Participating in the exercise is an important part of the evolving cooperation with our close partners, the other Nordic countries and NATO. Through exercises like this, we demonstrate which resources we are able to mobilise, if necessary,” says Minister for Defence Peter Hultqvist

Gripen photos by Jesper Sundstrom/Forsvarsmakten


Although not having a large number of flying participants in CR22 the Italian Navy deployed the aircraft carrier the Giuseppe Garibaldi. The carrier is the first through-deck aviation ship ever built for the Italian Navy and the first Italian ship built to operate fixed-wing aircraft. The carrier was utilised in the main amphibious assault during CR22, with the Leonardo Helicopters MH-101A landing on the Norwegian coast at Elvevoll and disembarking 1° Reggimento of the elite Brigata Marina San Marco with armed overwatch support by the USMC Bell AH-1Z Viper and UH-1Y Venom.

Marina Militare MH-101A photo by Staff Sgt. Shawn Coover

Royal navy

The Royal Navy and Royal marines have trained in Norway for decades utilising these rugged coasts and unforgiving mountains of northern Norway to train both crews and Marines alike, in how to fight and survive in the cold Arctic climate and demonstrate the UK’s commitment to protecting one of its closest NATO allies.

Three 845 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) Leonardo Merlin Mk.4 and four Wildcat HMA.2 made the challenging journey across to their arctic base at Bardufoss. This journey saw crews spending 20 hours in their aircraft flying in temperatures below zero, over mountains all whilst dodging storms and contending with snow showers.

“The Arctic has offered us little respite from the outset with the inclement weather we’ve experienced,” said Lieutenant Commander Tom Nason, the detachment commander.

“Thankfully, despite these conditions it took little time for both our aircrew and engineers to reacclimatise; lessons have been quickly re-learnt with the ‘old guard’ coming to the fore to guide those experiencing their first taste of this majestic region.”

Photos Royal Navy

The Wildcat was deployed using the Seaspray radar to search and locate targets for other participants in CR22. This is a change from its usual use of hunting ships in the open ocean. Other than providing the eyes for the Royal marines on the ground the Wildcat also provided some of the firepower using Pintle-mounted machine guns and were supported by the USMC AH-1Z Cobra.

Merlin Mk4 helicopters of 845 NAS ferried Royal Marines, equipment and supplies around the battlefield working closely with the other participants in CR22.

Lieutenant Commander Tom Nason, 845 NAS Detachment commander said:

“Exercise Cold Response 22 has been an outstanding demonstration of not only our integration with NATO partners, but also the seamless ability of Royal Navy, Royal Marines and Royal Fleet Auxiliary units to work together.”

One of the Royal Navy’s Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers led the naval fleet for CR22 to demonstrate the ships ability to act as NATO command ship. The HMS Prince of Wales aircraft carrier was in completing a first for the class by deploying this far north into the Arctic region.

The role of the ship during CR22 saw her working with airpower other than the Royal navy Lockheed – Martin F-35Bs Lightning IIs, including the USMC MV-22 Ospreys and CH-53E Sea Stallion.

Additional MV-22 Osprey photo on the deck of the HMS Prince of Wales by Lance Cpl Elias Pimentel

HMS Prince of Wales commanding officer, Captain Steve Higham, said:

“Britain’s biggest warship, HMS Prince of Wales, led the naval fleet, demonstrating her ability to act as NATO command ship – a role she will hold for the rest of 2022. This was the first time one of the Royal Navy’s Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers has been so far north, with more than 1,000 sailors gaining their first experience of operating in the Arctic region. Royal Navy sailors pushed the boundaries of what the 65,000-tonne flagship can do, as the crew developed new ways of working and coping with temperatures as low as -30 Celsius.”

“As we continue to operate in and around the Arctic with our allies and partners, the sailors on HMS Prince of Wales are continuing to learn the skills, and build the experience that allow the Royal Navy to push the boundaries of UK carrier operations in the cold, harsh environment.”

Though not spoken about in this article the Luftforsvaret utilised their full array of aircraft including the newest assets in support of CR22, providing anti-submarine warfare capabilities with the Boeing P-8 Poseidon and battle space management with their Lockheed-Martin F-35A Lightning IIs.

Additional photos of F-35As Lightning II and P-8 Poseidon from the Forsvaret

Airspeed Media would like to thank the NATO Public Affairs Media, USMC 1st Lt Sugg, the Forsvaret and Luftforsvaret Public Affairs Departments, T.A. Mathisen and especially S. Tonning-Olsen, Public Affairs Bodø.

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