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NATO on Guard for Cyberattacks with Massive Military Exercise on Russia's Doorstep

An Amphibious Assault Vehicle with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit enters the water aboard Camp Lejeune Oct. 3 to embark on USS New York (LPD 21) in preparation for Exercise Trident Juncture 2018. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Gunnery Sgt. Robert Durham)

ARLINGTON, Va. — The commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe said today that Russia hasn’t yet accepted an invitation to observe the largest NATO exercise of its kind in Norway since the Cold War, but noted that the alliance would “be a fool” to not expect a potential cyberattack on networks from Moscow.

Trident Juncture 18 exercises begin Oct. 25 and last two weeks. Adm. James Foggo, who also serves as commander of U.S. Naval Forces Africa and commander of Allied Joint Force Command Naples, told Pentagon reporters today that 45,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines from 31 different nations — including 29 NATO allies and two partner nations, Sweden and Finland — are taking part.

Allies are contributing about 150 aircraft, more than 60 ships and 10,000 rolling vehicles such as armored personnel carriers and trucks. The admiral called it “an important test and a tremendous demonstration of our collective capabilities.”

“And the exercise in and of itself will have a deterrent effect on anybody who might think about cross a contiguous border or violating the sovereignty of a member of the NATO alliance,” he added.

Because “transparency is important” and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe rules on observers are followed, Foggo said, the Russians were invited to watch “a few weeks ago.”

“So as far as the invitation to the Russians, have they accepted, to my knowledge from when I left the theater just a few days ago, not yet, but I fully expect that they’ll want to come. It’s in their interest to come and to see what we do,” he said. “And they’ll learn things. But you know what? I want them to be there so they can see how well we work together.”

Foggo noted that the allies “are always vigilant against attacks in cyberspace,” and considering the Dutch intelligence report on Russia’s attempted cyber attack on the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague “I would fully expect — I’d be a fool not to expect that something untoward might happen to our networks, and we’re going to make sure that we’re resilient and capable of responding to that.”

Asked whether Russia has been briefed on the specifics of the exercise, the admiral referenced multiple press conferences and quipped, “Absolutely, because I know they watch TV and you guys have helped me do that… they know it’s happening and they can read the details in the newspaper.”

Foggo underscored that Russia “is not 10 feet tall, but they do have capabilities that keep me vigilant, concerned — one of them is in the undersea domain.”

“They see that as asymmetric,” he added. “They see it as one in which there is a challenge, and that challenge is the United States Navy and the United States submarine force.”

Foggo stressed in his description of the exercise, “We’re committed to our ally Norway. They are committed to their defense and defense of the alliance. Norway is going to test the total defense concept where every Norwegian understands what’s going on. Every Norwegian is in some way, shape, or form involved in this. Some will be cheerleaders on the sidelines.”

The commander calls himself “a huge trans-Atlanticist.”

“This is my fifth tour in Europe. It’s my fourth time as a NATO commander. I am a believer in the alliance. I am a believer in Article V,” Foggo said. “We don’t go looking for opportunities to conduct offensive operations. We’re not interested in taking somebody else’s territory. We are interested in defending the territory of those 29 nations, and we are interested in partnering with other nations who are interested in security in the region.”