CHRUDIM, Czech Republic — NATO tested its newly forged rapid reaction forces for the first time Thursday with drills in both the Czech Republic and the Netherlands involving some 1,500 troops, an alliance official said.
Some 900 German and 200 Dutch troops have been deployed in exercises in the Netherlands while in the Czech Republic some 150 national troops are involved, as well as soldiers in other countries, said Capt. Marek Marszalek from the Joint Force Command in Naples, Italy.
The Czech troops "got the task two days ago to move from the barracks to the embarcation point," he told reporters at the Chrudim airfield some 100 kilometers (60 miles) east of Prague.
Dubbed "Noble Jump," the exercises are designed to test NATO's Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), established in the wake of the alliance's September 2014 summit in Wales, which was focused on reinforcing the alliance's eastern flank amid jitters over Russia.
"The key task is to check the new concept of fast deployment within dozens of hours following the command, not dozens of days as before," Czech Army Maj. Gen. Jiri Baloun told reporters at Chrudim as the first-ever VJTF drill started.
"It is a tight schedule that we have gone through but that is necessary," Brig. Gen. Kees Matthijssen told AFP at exercises in Eindhoven, the Netherlands.
"We have to make sure that all soldiers with their equipment, with their unit equipment, with vehicles ... are ready at the latest within 48 hours," he added.
Czech troops loaded army vehicles onto trains in brilliant sunshine while other units at the Pardubice airport near Chrudim boarded a CASA military aircraft simulating take-off preparations.
"The scenario is placed in the Baltic states. You can imagine the context yourselves," Baloun said.
Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea and its meddling in eastern Ukraine have triggered concern in ex-communist eastern and central European states that joined NATO after the Cold War.
Tension is particularly high in the Baltic states, which emerged from nearly five decades of Soviet occupation in the early 1990s.
"So far I'm pretty happy, we've identified lessons, we'll incorporate them into procedures and we'll take them with us to the next exercise somewhere in June that will also include a deployment," said Matthijssen.
The next Noble Jump drill focused on rapid troop deployment is planned for June in Poland.
Some 25,000 NATO troops will be deployed in Italy, Portugal and Spain for another VJTF drill in October and November, said Marszalek.