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U.S. Fleet Forces Command (USFFC)

NATO Shipping Working Group enhances maritime cooperation

by Lt. j.g. Kathleen Barrios and Lt. j.g. David Palencia
16 May 2022
Rear Admiral Michael Wettlaufer, commander, Military Sealift Command, speaks to delegates of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Shipping Working Group during a week-long seminar at Old Dominion University’s Virginia Modeling Analysis Simulation Center in Suffolk, Va., May 9, 2022.
SUFFOLK, Va. (May 9, 2022) Rear Admiral Michael Wettlaufer, commander, Military Sealift Command, speaks to delegates of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Shipping Working Group during a week-long seminar at Old Dominion University’s Virginia Modeling Analysis Simulation Center in Suffolk, Va., May 9, 2022. The NSWG meets annually to develop standardization in order to enhance interoperability of NATO forces with a focus on Naval Cooperation and Guidance for Shipping, Maritime Trade Operations, maritime security, and protection of merchant shipping. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Theodore Green)
Rear Admiral Michael Wettlaufer, commander, Military Sealift Command, speaks to delegates of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Shipping Working Group during a week-long seminar at Old Dominion University’s Virginia Modeling Analysis Simulation Center in Suffolk, Va., May 9, 2022.
220509-N-DP001-0039
SUFFOLK, Va. (May 9, 2022) Rear Admiral Michael Wettlaufer, commander, Military Sealift Command, speaks to delegates of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Shipping Working Group during a week-long seminar at Old Dominion University’s Virginia Modeling Analysis Simulation Center in Suffolk, Va., May 9, 2022. The NSWG meets annually to develop standardization in order to enhance interoperability of NATO forces with a focus on Naval Cooperation and Guidance for Shipping, Maritime Trade Operations, maritime security, and protection of merchant shipping. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Theodore Green)
Photo By: Petty Officer 1st Class Theodore
VIRIN: 220509-N-DP001-0039
SUFFOLK, Va. -- The North Atlantic Treaty Organization Shipping Working Group (NSWG) hosted 43 delegates representing 10 member nations for a week-long seminar at Old Dominion University’s Virginia Modeling Analysis Simulation Center in Suffolk, Va., May 9-13, 2022. 
 
The NSWG meets annually to discuss common doctrine, tactics, and standard procedure for Naval Cooperation and Guidance for Shipping (NCAGS) and Allied Worldwide Navigational Information System (AWNIS). 
 
NSWG’s goal is to enhance the ability of NATO forces to better operate together with allies and commercial vessels to maintain the free flow of maritime routes.
 
“The annual NSWG develops standardization in order to enhance interoperability of NATO forces with a focus on NCAGS, Maritime Trade Operations (MTO), maritime security, and protection of merchant shipping,” said Lee Stuart, program manager and head of the United States’ delegation to the NSWG seminar. 
 
According to NATO estimates, 85 percent of global trade travels by sea. For this reason, NATO developed the NCAGS concept with the aim of enhancing shipping safety and security, maintaining situational awareness of military operations, and reducing delays when merchant shipping must transit through areas of military operations. Simply put, NCAGS provides the interface between military operations and merchant shipping. 
 
In addition to NCAGS, NATO has also established AWNIS. AWNIS supports the NCAGS mission set by communicating information on navigational safety and security to merchant shipping and military authorities.
 
A main objective of the seminar was the development and review of doctrine for partner nations to operate together under standardized instructions, allowing them to seamlessly operate together at sea, according to  Royal Danish Navy Capt. Niels Markussen, Director of the NATO Shipping Centre (NSC) and Chairman of the NSWG.
 
“We’ll be discussing different approaches and points of view,” said Markussen. “One of the strengths of NATO is all 30 nations working together to collaborate on the operational and tactical level of doctrine so our units can do operations together at sea.”
 
The NSC is the link between NATO and the merchant shipping community. Permanently manned by NATO, the NSC is the primary point of contact for the exchange of merchant shipping information between NATO's military authorities and the international shipping community. Markussen guided the discussion and directed the focus toward the modernization of NATO maritime security doctrine.
 
Discussions on the development of doctrine, specifically for the utilization of NCAGS and AWNIS, is continued year-round. The NSC is involved in the planning of NATO exercises to be conducted later this year and is responsible for the dissemination of doctrine resulting from the NSWG’s annual seminars. It is through these exercises that the doctrine is tested, providing the next year’s seminar with material for evaluation and improvement.
 
A topic of discussion for this year’s working group was the reestablishment of U.S. 2nd Fleet in 2018, which marked a return in focus on the security of the North Atlantic Ocean operating area. Royal Canadian Navy Adm. Steve Waddell, vice commander of U.S. 2nd Fleet, stressed in his remarks the importance of the partner nations coming together at the conference to strengthen ties across the Atlantic.
 
“We treated the Atlantic for many years as simply a transit corridor and an uncontested environment,'' said Waddell. “The way to address this new challenge is not to look at it simply from a national perspective but from an allied and integrated perspective. We need to have that approach to make sure we are successful at operations for the mission in the Atlantic. And that requires all of us here in this room and the equities that we all represent.”

Rear Adm. Michael Wettlaufer, commander, Military Sealift Command, focused on the enduring challenges in the Atlantic Ocean, as well, and how the assembled group should ensure that adequate attention is being placed on the area. He explained to the seminar attendees the maritime logistics provided by Military Sealift Command.

“On any given day, Military Sealift Command operates a fleet of over 130 government and commercially owned and operated vessels to provide agile logistics, special mission support and sealift for the Navy and Joint Force including food, fuel, equipment and ammunition” said Wettlaufer. “We train for contested maritime environments where interoperability with U.S., Allied and partner forces are an important strategic advantage.”

During the working group NSWG toured the Port of Virginia, the second-largest port on the East Coast by tonnage and the third-largest port on the East Coast by container volume. The tour provided the working group a break from the theoretical discussions revolving around doctrine and the opportunity to learn about an important part of the supply chain where the sea meets the land. 
 
“It is good for us to see the facilities of the Port of Virginia because we are often sitting in a meeting room, being theoretical in our mindset,” Markussen said. “Coming out and seeing this critical part of the supply chain where the sea meets the land and how complex it is helps us see the applicability of our work.”
 
When asked about the overall purpose of the NSWG, Capt. Markussen said “enhancing the freedom of navigation of the seas, protecting merchant shipping and to support the military commanders in their job.”
 
The week-long NSWG seminar ended on May 13, 2022.  The NSWG plans to reconvene in 2023.
 
 
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