NATO stages major naval exercise in North Sea, Baltic .
About 6,000 military personnel from 17 NATO member states are due to begin Friday a large-scale exercise off the coasts of Denmark and Germany to test their rapid reaction capabilities, the alliance said.
The manoeuvres, codenamed "Brilliant Mariner 2006", are due to last until April 6 and will take place chiefly in the North Sea and and the Baltic. More than 60 warships, five submarines and 13 aircraft will take part, according to the allied maritime component command based at Northwood in Britain.
The exercise is the last in a series preparing for manouevres NATO is due to mount in June off Cape Verde in west Africa.
These will test the alliance’s new Response Force, a 20,000 strong interservice body developed as a key element in its transformation from Cold War military bloc to post-September 11 global security player.
The so-called NRF brings together naval, air and ground forces which NATO plans to deploy speedily in the event of a crisis.
It was set up at the Prague summit in November 2002 and has been taking shape before being declared fully operational, it is planned, in the autumn.
Taking part are Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Turkey and the United States.
Units from non-NATO members Finland, Sweden and Ukraine are also expected to participate.