By Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO - Chief Mass Communication Specialist Heidi Cheek
Baltic Operations (BALTOPS), the premier maritime exercise in the Baltic region has grown vastly over the years. The 50th iteration has become a multi-domain operation, incorporating NATO air power into the training event.
BALTOPS 50 is command and controlled from Naval Striking and Support Forces (STRIKFORNATO), headquartered in Oeiras, Portugal. Although operations are primarily focused onboard ships, the exercise involves more than 20 different kinds of aircraft from nine nations over the course of the exercise, including Italian F-35 jets, currently deployed to Estonia.
These fifth generation fighters have been integrated for the first time. The F-35s have been provided via the Baltic Air Police (BAP) and are Italian contributions to the BAP.
This is also the first year integrating with the Multi-National Air Group (MAG) and incorporating them into over-water techniques, tactics, and procedures (TTP). Participants will be involved in the multi-platform operation coordinating anti-surface warfare and amphibious landing support. Simultaneously, additional aircraft are participating in multi-platform coordinated anti-submarine warfare against a live submarine over the course of the two week exercise to provide a complex air integration into BALTOPS 50.
"This integration is significant because it forces the pilots to become familiar with other countries' platforms and the capabilities of those aircraft and ships and expands overall knowledge," said LCDR Sean Cavanagh, BALTOPS 50 Deputy Air Planner.
Aircraft with similar mission sets are grouped into a coordinated event tasked by the commander of the task group. Exercise Control provides the concept of operations for the training event taking into consideration the training objectives of each platform. For several years now, NATO Allied Air Command (AIRCOM) has entrusted NATO's northern Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) at Uedem, Germany with planning and executing air command and control of air activities during the BALTOPS exercise series.
U.S. Air Force B-52H Stratofortress aircraft from the 2nd Bomb Wing, Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, completed a mission within international airspace during BALTOPS50. This mission included multiple stages across several days with aircraft from three Nordic nations and U.S. Navy ships. The B-52H bombers were escorted by F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft from the Royal Netherlands Air Force and Royal Danish Air Force and also integrated with Swedish Saab JAS-39 Gripen fighter aircraft in Swedish airspace. The ability to integrate seamlessly demonstrates participants’ ability to quickly respond and coordinate when needed.
Also from the U.S. Air Force, KC 135s provided aerial refueling throughout the exercise enabling increased time on station and promoting air and maritime integration to refine Allied multi-domain warfare capabilities.
The German Multi-National Air Group Days (MAGDAY) was integrated into the exercise for the first time this year, with a significant uplift in air participation in maritime and shore based strike. The Allied and partner aircraft operating during the MAGDAYs provide a major portion of the air assets, creating mutual synergies and enabling combined and joint training.
"MAGDAYs substantially improved the air presentation packages to the ships during the tactical exercise phase with their contribution of German EF-2000 Typhoons, PA-200 Tornadoes and supporting aircraft," said Cavanagh. "MAGDAY aircraft vastly improved the complexity and realism of the training events which benefitted the ships and aircraft participating in the events."
Participants in this multi-national exercise create and sustain partnerships and practice a broad range of mission areas to strengthen the capabilities of the participating naval and air units. More importantly, this exercise strengthens their ability to operate as a cohesive joint and combined force and respond to emerging crisis.
The 50th BALTOPS exercise involves 16 Allies and two partners nations bringing in 40 maritime units and 60 aircraft totaling 4,000 participants. From June 6-18, air and maritime assets will participate in live training events that closely simulate real-world operations and provides essential training to operational commanders and crews.
Air integration in BALTOPS significantly increases unit capabilities. The familiarization between other country's platforms strengthens the effectiveness of the mission and expands interoperability.