What is the Joint Expeditionary Force and what does it do?

Watch: How does Britain play a role in the Joint Expeditionary Force?

Consisting of 10 'like-minded' nations, the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) is a military alliance with a primary determination to maintain the security of northern Europe.

JEF was founded in 2014 at the Nato summit and is made up of Britain, Baltic nations, and Nordic countries with the UK occupying a central position as the 'framework' nation of the alliance.

The structure of the UK-led task force means it can respond quickly to situations to the benefit of Nato and its member nations.

The JEF doesn't have its own fighting force, and it wouldn't go to war – that's the job of Nato.

What it does provide, though, is a way of nations showing deterrence and a forum to discuss how best to deal with any particular security issue.

But which nations make up the alliance, and what does the JEF actually do?

The JEF is a northern European security coalition of mainly Nordic and Baltic countries, including the UK, Denmark, Finland, Estonia, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Sweden and Norway.

The Ministry of Defence (MOD) says the UK is "proud to be at the centre of JEF", acting as the alliance's "framework" nation.

The Standing Joint Force Commander, Major General Jim Morris, said: "So in many ways, you might consider the Joint Expeditionary Force as a gearing security framework that exists somewhere between national activity and bilateral activity at one end, and then full-blown Nato activity at the other end.

"Nato will always be the ultimate guarantor of security in this part of the world and there is no doubt about that, and no JEF nation would see it any other way.

"But what the JEF usefully does is provide a gearing in-between nations and Nato, where we can discuss issues regionally, we can react to situations on a non-consensus basis, so quickly.

"We have a speed and agility that means that we can really influence the security agenda in that region to the benefit of both nations and Nato."

Member nations can work collectively, in partnership with other nations, or individually across areas including security and humanitarian relief efforts.

Sean Monaghan, from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says Nato established "framework nations" in 2014, providing the genesis of the JEF despite some members not sharing Nato membership status.

This involved "military formations within Nato, between like-minded partners that could co-operate together on military capabilities and military operations", he said.

"The Joint Expeditionary Force is the framework led by the UK."

Defence Secretary, The Rt Hon Ben Wallace MP during the press conference at Belvoir Castle, for the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) Defence Ministers Meeting 230220222
Ben Wallace and fellow JEF defence secretaries during the press conference at Belvoir Castle in February 2022 (Picture: MOD).

What is the purpose of the Joint Expeditionary Force?

The MOD has said that JEF nations share the same values, act quickly and continuously, help bring stability and security in the North Atlantic, Baltic Sea Region and in the High North, and come "together to enhance each other's military skills and capabilities".

It also says that "like most military alliances, defence strengthens the bond between allies and helps build new relationships around the world. Co-operating with the international community helps secure a better, fairer and safer world."

The JEF "can act outside of the Nato framework", explained Mr Monaghan, so nations outside of Nato such as Sweden "presumably" are able to call on other JEF members to fulfill security commitments – separate to the formal obligations in other alliances.

A Royal Navy officer sits in the gun directors chair during the live firing exercise in the Baltic Region as part of JEF operations in the Baltic Sea. Credit Crown Copyright.jpg
A Royal Navy officer sits in the gun director's chair during a live firing exercise in the Baltic Region as part of a 2021 JEF operation (Picture: Crown Copyright).

How does the UK contribute to the Joint Expeditionary Force?

Physically, the UK contributes to JEF through personnel, equipment and capabilities drawn from the Armed Forces.

Britain also supplies military elements to JEF, including commandos, airborne and maritime forces, and armour.   

In the past, the UK's military contribution, alongside that of the other nations, has allowed JEF to conduct maritime exercises and deployments.

In 2019, JEF nations took part in Baltic Protector, which included maritime exercises off the coast of Denmark and latterly Germany and Sweden. It culminated in the alliance working together to practice amphibious landings in Europe's Baltic states.

Nearly 2,000 military personnel from 17 vessels worked together across the deployment.

In February 2022, the foreign ministers of JEF nations announced future military exercises in Northern Europe across land, air and sea.

In July 2023, personnel from Britain's JEF headquarters at Northwood were deployed to Keflavik air base in Iceland, a former United States Air Force base.

Has the Joint Expeditionary Force deployed on operations?

In March 2021, three members of JEF joined the UK to conduct maritime patrols in the Baltic Sea.

HMS Lancaster and HMS Westminster were joined by RFA Tiderace and vessels from Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia for a joint demonstration of the participant nations' commitment to the security and stability of the region. 

It marked the first operational deployment for JEF and included intensive training with helicopters, refuelling at sea, gunnery and air defence, sailing in close formation and acclimatising to sub-zero temperatures as JEF ships operated deep in the Baltic.

Watch: What is the Joint Expeditionary Force?

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