Maritime forces from 18 nations commenced the in-port operations for the 47th annual multinational exercise Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) in the Baltic Sea, June 9-21.
BALTOPS is the premier annual maritime-focused exercise in the Baltic region and one of the largest exercises in northern Europe and the largest exercise series in the Baltic Sea, enhancing flexibility and interoperability among allied and partner nations. The exercise will include the participation of 50 surface ships, 36 aircraft, two submarines and 8,600 personnel in a joint operational environment.
“The Baltic Sea is of vital strategic importance for the Alliance and is bordered by six NATO countries”, said NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu. “BALTOPS is now in its 47th year and is not directed against anyone – but clearly the security environment in the region has deteriorated after Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea.” She added, ”BALTOPS tests how well our forces work together and shows that NATO can defend itself against any adversary.”
The focus of the exercise is for ground, maritime and air forces to work together in exercising air defense, maritime interdiction, anti-subsurface warfare, mine countermeasures and amphibious operations, to strengthen the development of joint teams across all layers of the battlespace.
As part of the exercise, naval infantry forces will conduct amphibious assaults in several locations within the Baltic Sea region. NATO’s Air Operations Centre in Uedem will direct all air operations. Aircraft will work with naval forces to provide air defence, surveillance and provide cover for amphibious operations. Upon conclusion of the exercise, most ships will sail to Kiel to participate in the Kielerwochen naval parade.
This year’s BALTOPS is run by the U.S. Navy’s 2nd Fleet command in Norfolk, Virginia and marks the command’s first major engagement in Europe. The 2nd Fleet command was re-established last year in response to Russia’s growing naval activity in the Atlantic. Vice Admiral Andrew Lewis, commander of the U.S. 2nd Fleet, will run BALTOPS on behalf of Naval Forces Europe from the USS Mount Whitney command ship.
“No one nation can face today’s challenges alone, we are much stronger together,” Lewis said. “Our partner and NATO alliances must continue to strengthen our deterrence and defense efforts and adapt through improving readiness and responsiveness.”
BALTOPS will also be among the first major training opportunities for the UK-led Joint Expeditionary Force, a 3,000 strong force drawn from several NATO and partner countries.
“I think BALTOPS represents the habit we have made in operating in a coalition environment and in a multinational environment,” said U.K. Royal Navy Rear Adm. Andrew Burns OBE. “One of the advantages, particularly in the NATO framework, as we operate together more and more we standardize our procedures so we now have a generation of military folk who are used to operating together with standard procedures.”
Participating troops come from Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Russia used to participate in the exercise but has not been invited since its illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its continuing destabilizing of eastern Ukraine.