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NEWS | June 12, 2022

BALTOPS 22: A perfect opportunity for research and testing new technology

By U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa Public Affairs

A significant focus of BALTOPS every year is the demonstration of NATO mine hunting capabilities, and this year the U.S. Navy continues to use the exercise as an opportunity to test emerging technology.

In support of BALTOPS, U.S. Navy Sixth Fleet partnered with U.S. Navy research and warfare centers to bring the latest advancements in Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (UUV) mine hunting technology to the Baltic Sea to demonstrate the vehicle’s effectiveness in operational scenarios.

Experimentation was conducted off the coast of Bornholm, Denmark, with participants from Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) Pacific, Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Newport, and Mine Warfare Readiness and Effectiveness Measuring (MIREM) -- all under the direction of U.S. Sixth Fleet Task Force 68.

BALTOPS is an ideal location for conducting mine hunting experimentation due to the region’s unique environmental conductions such as low salinity and varying bottom types. It is also critical to evaluate emerging mine hunting UUV technology in the Baltic due to its applicability with Allied and partner nations. This year experimentation was focused on UUV navigation, teaming operations, and improvements in acoustic communications all while collecting critical environmental data sets to advance the automatic target recognition algorithms for mine detection. 

“In prior BALTOPS we demonstrated advanced capabilities to detect, re-acquire, and collect images of mine contacts, and transfer those images in near real-time to operators through the use of a specialized Office of Naval Research UUV,” said Anthony Constable, Office of Naval Research Science Advisor to U.S. Sixth Fleet. “This year, through the work of NIWC Pacific and NUWC Newport, we are showing that this capability can be integrated into programs of record by executing complex multi-vehicle UUV missions with modified U.S. Navy Fleet assets.”

An additional critical objective was to continue to increase the communication range and data transfer capability in order to give the operators more flexibility in mine hunting operations. Advancements in communication technology, demonstrated this year, have shown a significant improvement in operating ranges over currently used systems. This provides additional standoff flexibility to the U.S. Navy in conducting safe mine hunting operations.

BALTOPS also provides a unique opportunity for the U.S. Research, Development, and Acquisition communities to exercise the current and emerging UUV technology in real-world operational environments. This year featured the current and future programs of record for mine hunting UUVs in the MK-18 and Lionfish systems. Both systems were put through the paces over 10 days of mine hunting operations, collecting over 200 hours of undersea data.

“The major benefit of the BALTOPS experimentation is to provide advanced mine hunting capabilities to the operator in the field. By exercising the future capabilities, U.S. Sixth Fleet can provide valuable feedback to help guide the Navy acquisition community responsible for mine hunting UUV development and procurement,” said Lt. Joshua Lynn, U.S. Sixth Fleet Experimental Lead for BALTOPS. “This year we have seen the near- and long-term future in mine hunting UUV technology and we are excited to see how quickly the technology and capabilities are improving.”

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.