By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Justin Stumberg
The Blue Ridge-class command and control ship USS Mount Whitney (LCC 20) concluded the 46th iteration of exercise Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) in Kiel, Germany, June 15, 2018
During the two-week BALTOPS exercise, over 100 drills in surface, subsurface, air defense, mine counter measures, maritime interdictions, and joint personnel recovery were completed among the 43 maritime units, 60 aircraft, and approximate 5,000 maritime, ground, and air force.
“The Mount Whitney performed as the flagship and communications platform for Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO,” said Capt. Robert Aguilar, Mount Whitney’s commanding officer. “Our motto, ‘Vox Marxis’ – voice of the sea – was never truer as we ensured that the commander’s voice was heard timely and accurately.”
The 46-year-old ship has been undergoing an extensive service life extension program which will extend its active service life to 2039.
“It is my belief that for the next 21 years the Mount Whitney and BALTOPS will be inextricably intertwined,” said Aguilar.
The annual joint maritime exercise is designed to improve flexibility and interoperability among the participants.
Although the exercise was large and complex, Vice Adm. Lisa Franchetti, commander, U.S. 6th Fleet and commander, Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO (STRIKEFORNATO), said that the exercise demonstrates the three key “C”’s: commitment, capability, and cohesion.
“By training together on a regular basis in this strategically important part of the world we enhance the interoperability and demonstrate the capability of NATO allies and partners to operate across the spectrum of maritime operations,” said Franchetti.
Franchetti believes that no single nation can address today’s challenges alone and knows NATO is stronger when they work together.
“The fact that this is the 46th occurrence of BALTOPS demonstrates our combined and enduring willingness to work toward our common goals of regional security and stability,” said Franchetti.
The exercise trained in many familiar areas such as anti-surface operations, anti-submarine warfare and amphibious operations, but this year included new events to expand the participant’s skill sets.
“Joint personnel recovery has been included for the first time, with a focus on recovery in the maritime domain,” said Franchetti. “The mine countermeasures units also participated in several operations and technological experimentation measures, designed to advance our collective efforts in mine warfare.”
This BALTOPS exercise also featured a particular focus on mission command and information sharing.
“We have empowered task group commanders and their subordinates with a challenging ‘free-play’ exercise which has tested tactical cunning, initiative and cooperation with air and land forces,” said Royal Navy Rear Adm. Guy Robinson, OBE, deputy commander of STRIKFORNATO. “I have been most impressed with notably improved teamwork, interoperability and warfighting effectiveness that all participants have demonstrated over the last two weeks.”
This type of naval coordination, exemplified by the crew of the Mount Whitney and all the other vessels that were part of BALTOPS, underscores the critical importance of being prepared, said the U.S. ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell.
Having served as the director of communications and public diplomacy for the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Grenell has a wealth of international relations experience in issues ranging from the war on terror to nuclear proliferation.
“The BALTOPS exercise is perfectly timed with the upcoming NATO Summit in Brussels in July,” said Grenell. “It highlights the U.S. commitment to defend all NATO territory, and underscores the critical importance of interoperable forces from the Alliance working across all services – land, air, and sea – to ensure peace and freedom.”
Grenell said that the U.S. forces presence in Europe is of enormous strategic importance.
“It’s important that we join with our NATO partners to take further steps that will enhance the Alliance’s deterrence and defense posture,” said Grenell.
Beginning in 1972, BALTOPS continues to be an excellent opportunity for NATO and regional partners to strengthen interoperability through a series of combined tactical maneuvers and scenarios.
The 17 participating nations included: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Spain, Turkey, the U.K., the U.S., Finland and Sweden.