By Raquel Ribeiro
Baltic Sea Operation (BALTOPS) is the largest annual exercise series in the Baltic Sea. Its purpose is to improve training for participants, enhance flexibility and interoperability, and demonstrate resolve among Allied and Partner Forces in defending the Baltic Sea region. First established in 1972, BALTOPS20 was the 49th iteration, taking place June 7-16. NATO Allies participated in live training events including air defense, anti-submarine warfare, maritime interdiction, and mine countermeasure operations.
Participating nations include Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, the U.K., and the U.S., with 29 maritime units, 29 aircraft, and approximately 3,000 personnel.
BALTOPS20, NATO’s first major exercise since the COVID-19 outbreak, planners and participants took all necessary measures to ensure safety and health, both ashore and at sea. For the first time, Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO (STRIKFORNATO) directed and executed the exercise from its headquarters in Lisbon, Portugal, rather than from the U.S. 6th Fleet’s flagship, USS Mount Whitney. Additionally, BALTOPS20 took place exclusively at sea and did not include an amphibious landing.
“The Baltic Sea is of vital strategic importance for the Alliance and is bordered by six NATO countries, and two close partners”, said NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu. She added, “While we continue to take all the necessary measures to protect our armed forces against the health crises, our operational readiness remains undiminished”.
STRIKFORNATO commanded and control (C2) BALTOPS20 from its newly refurbished and state of the art Joint Operations Center (JOC). This enhanced capability demonstrates STRIKFORNATO’s flexibility and capacity to rapidly adapt to operational challenges and successfully accomplish the mission.
“The redevelopment of our headquarters’ infrastructure and the overhaul of our Joint Operations Center has been a major project during my time at STRIKFORNATO”, said STRIKFORNATO Deputy Commander, Rear Adm. Guy Robinson OBE.
U.S. Navy Capt. Sean McLaren, STRIKFORNATO JOC Director and 29-year veteran, said there were significant improvements made to the JOC over the past year, with several new communication capabilities added to support C2 for BALTOPS20 and beyond.
BALTOPS20 is divided into two training phases: the Combat Enhancement Training and Force Integration Training (CET/FIT) and the final tactical phase of the exercise (TACEX). During the first six days (the
CET/FIT phase), ships and aircraft will rehearse common tactics, techniques, and procedures under a scripted schedule of events, enabling them to operate safely together.
The exercise culminated with the TACEX phase, during which, forces shifted into “free-play”, allowing commanders more discretion in executing their own tactical programs. The TACEX phase was designed to better represent real-world operations.
“BALTOPS provides the opportunity for NATO and partner nations to operate together, sharing best practices to improve real world operations,“ said U.S. Vice Admiral Lisa Franchetti, commander, Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO and commander, U.S. 6th Fleet. “Although we’ll conduct this year’s event entirely at sea, BALTOPS20 will demonstrate our continuous commitment to regional security and reinforce the inherent flexibility of our combined naval force to operate together under any
A team of eight legal advisors (LEGADs) from seven countries, led by U.S. Navy Cmdr. Louis Butler, STRIKFORNATO, provided legal advice and counsel throughout BALTOPS20. The LEGAD team included participants from Norway (Lt Col Andreas Almås-Norum), Canada (LCdr/Capc Catherine Punshon), Denmark (LCDR Carsten Schmidt), the Netherlands (Maj Stijn Henken), Poland (Civ Inga Zapala), and Portugal (LTJG Inês Silva and Civ Raquel Ribeiro). LEGADs are vitally important to successful military
operations, advising commanders regarding complex and sensitive legal questions of maritime law, environmental law, international law and the application of rules of engagement.
“BALTOPS is a key exercise series, during which, NATO and Partner nations exercise their rights under international law for the safe and unrestricted navigation and overflight of international waters”, said Cmdr. Butler. He added, “STRIKFORNATO coordinates exercise activities with the NATO Shipping Centre to ensure there are no impacts to merchant shipping and even offers valuable civilian-military training experience for merchant vessels who would like to participate while transiting through the Baltic Sea during the exercise. Open communication and opportunities for safe and professional maritime interaction fosters stability in the Baltic Region and promotes adherence to international law and norms.”