By U.S. Naval Forces Europe and U.S. Sixth Fleet Public Affairs
Every year, U.S. Naval Forces Europe and U.S. Sixth Fleet, along with Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO (STRIKFORNATO), gathers Allies and partners throughout Europe to participate in exercise Baltic Operations (BALTOPS). This year marks the 51st iteration of BALTOPS—the premier, maritime-focused exercise in the Baltic Sea.
Each participating nation brings indispensable military expertise to the table, but different languages, different military structures, and diverse backgrounds create a unique environment for coordination on a massive scale. Navigating the challenges associated with this is no easy feat, yet Ally and partner nations continue to execute year after year. That is because exercises, like BALTOPS, provide a unique training opportunity to work in close coordination – often face-to-face – and strengthen combined response capabilities critical to preserving freedom of navigation and regional security.
This year, more than 45 ships, over 75 aircraft, and 7,000 personnel are tasked to execute a series of complex events throughout the two-week exercise. One may ask how it is possible, but a key piece to the puzzle lies within the exercise control group (EXCON).
Planning for each iteration of BALTOPS is a year-long process that begins as soon as the previous exercise ends. And perfectly positioned to plan this exercise, is STRIKFORNATO -- a rapidly deployable joint headquarters that plans, commands, and controls NATO maritime operations within the Euro-Atlantic region.
If you were to walk into STRIKFORNATO headquarters, in Oeiras, Portugal, you would witness an international team of military experts, working meticulously to create plans and contingency responses for both real-world and exercise scenarios.
In addition to planning BALTOPS, the team is charged with the challenging role of serving as exercise control throughout the exercise itself. The EXCON maintains the overall operating picture during the exercise and ensures scenario progressions run according to plan.
“It’s a large and complex exercise,“ said Royal Navy Cmdr. Anthony Wallace, BALTOPS exercise lead. “We have broken down focus areas into syndicates and assigned subject matter experts as the leads of those syndicates. During the exercise, they work to ensure their respective events are planned and executed successfully.”
BALTOPS22 is comprised of two phases: the Combat Enhancement Training/Force Integration Training (CET/FIT) phase and the Tactical Execution phase (TACEX). These phases are designed to provide training opportunities for each of the national participants, enhance international interoperability, and test the flexibility of joint forces – all in a setting that is designed to represent operating in real-world situations.
The CET/FIT phase is scripted and allows participants time to learn how to operate together effectively and safely as well as resolving any communication issues. The exercise then culminates with the TACEX phase, where the exercise paradigm shifts, and providing commanders with freedom to decide responses to scenario developments. The EXCON not only designs the scenario, they develop ad hoc changes within the scenario during the TACEX, to provide a degree of realism while ensuring participants remain within the confines of the scenario.
THE JOINT OPERATIONS CENTER
The STRIKFORNATO Joint Operations Centre (JOC) monitors joint maritime operations in Europe and serves as command and control of NATO Allies and partner forces. The EXCON relies heavily on the JOC, not only for the comprehensive situational awareness it provides the commander, but for the capacity it brings to integration among participants.
“The JOC is responsible for maintaining the combined operating picture, but also it is where all the tasks are sent to subordinate units, and where subordinate units report their activities,” said Italian Navy Cmdr. Rocco Bucceroni, JOC director at STRIKFORNATO. “Our team is here to support the EXCON promptly and ensure that activities are conducted professionally, safely, and smoothly. We also provide them real-time information about each exercise event, while maintaining situational awareness and a reporting chain of command for incidents or safety hazards.”
Designing an exercise of BALTOPS’ scope and magnitude is a complex process and takes a strong team of dedicated subject matter experts to ensure its success. The EXCON, the JOC, and the entire team at U.S. Sixth Fleet and STRIKFORNATO directly contribute to security and stability in the Baltic Sea.
BALTOPS22 is the premier maritime-focused exercise in the Baltic Region. The exercise, led by U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa, and executed by Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO, provides a unique training opportunity to strengthen the combined response capabilities critical to preserving freedom of navigation and security in the Baltic Sea.
For over 80 years, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-U.S. Naval Forces Africa (NAVEUR-NAVAF) has forged strategic relationships with our Allies and Partners, leveraging a foundation of shared values to preserve security and stability.
Headquartered in Naples, Italy, NAVEUR-NAVAF operates U.S. naval forces in the U.S. European Command (USEUCOM) and U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM) areas of responsibility. U.S. Sixth Fleet is permanently assigned to NAVEUR-NAVAF, and employs maritime forces through the full spectrum of joint and naval operations.
STRIKFORNATO, headquartered in Oeiras, Portugal, is Supreme Allied Commander Europe’s (SACEUR) premier, rapidly deployable and flexible, maritime power projection Headquarters, capable of planning and executing full spectrum joint maritime operations.