The 47th annual Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2019 came to a close June 21 as ships and crewmembers from 18 nations returned to Kiel, Germany.
BALTOPS is a joint, multinational maritime-focused exercise that includes air, maritime, and ground assets and provides a unique training opportunity designed to foster and sustain cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea-lanes and security of the Baltic region.
This year’s BALTOPS was led by U.S. 2nd Fleet (C2F), commanded by Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, on behalf of Naval Forces Europe. BALTOPS 2019 marks the first time the newly established fleet has operated in Europe.
“It is imperative that allies and partners unite to confront today’s challenges,” said Lewis. “Our combined efforts during BALTOPS demonstrates our commitment to regional peace and prosperity. Our presence and professionalism in the region during this exercise will prepare us for future operational commitments and evolving strategic challenges. We are stronger together.”
The BALTOPS exercise is designed to enhance flexibility and interoperability, and demonstrate resolve among allied and partner forces region. Allied nations with ships and forces that participated in BALTOPS include Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States. NATO partner nations Finland and Sweden participated in the exercise.
There are several notable facts about BALTOPS this year:
As a tribute to the importance all contributing nations placed on BALTOPS this year, there were 389 completed serials, which is a planning term for a coordinated military exercise, compared to 98 serials completed last year.
For the first time at BALTOPS, Joint Expeditionary Force, Maritime (JEF-M) led as the Amphibious Task Force commander. JEF-M is a U.K.-led joint force which is an adaptable high-readiness force that can be stood up anywhere, at any time and in any environment.
The NATO Amphibious Leaders Expeditionary Symposium (NALES) concept of multinational command and control of an Amphibious Task Force-level capability was implemented for the first time, allowing the coordinated command and control of naval forces across different nations’ amphibious forces.
The simultaneous amphibious operations in the Eastern and Western Baltic Sea is unprecedented; this has not occurred in a previous BALTOPS or a previous multinational exercise.
In the Mine Warfare mission, German, Norwegian, Danish, and U.S. Navy sailors cleared more than ten WWII-era bottom mines off the coast of the Bundeswehr Military Training Area in Todendorf, Germany. In a first for mine warfare, U.S. Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron Two Eight (HSC 28) used the Airborne Laser Mine Detection System (ALMDS) and Airborne Mine Neutralization System – Archerfish (AMNS-AF) to operate in the environment to expand anti mine warfare capability.
The Lithuanian Air Force and USS Mount Whitney (LCC 20)’s Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron Det 1 (HSC-28 Det 1) conducted Deck Landing Qualifications (DLQs) aboard Mount Whitney. This was an opportunity to establish the foundation for helicopter operations on air capable ships.
The Lithuanian military and BALTOPS planners worked closely to make a range available in Lithuania for a Hellfire Missile shoot for the first time. During the shoot, American aircrew communicated with Lithuanian Joint Terminal Attack Controllers onboard a range safety boat, utilizing joint tactics and procedures.
Lewis said he was very pleased with the execution of BALTOPS 2019, and impressed with the professionalism of all those involved.
“The end state of the exercise is to build readiness,” said Lewis. That readiness shows a cohesion in NATO and our allies and partners. It shows unity and commitment to security globally, not just in the Baltic.
The conclusion of BALTOPS coincides with the kick-off of Kiel Week. BALTOPS participation in Kiel Week included a post exercise discussion; ship tours of the BALTOPS Maritime Force by local government officials, military members and the public; and several receptions held highlighting the annual celebration.