By By U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO Public Affairs
Sixteen NATO Allied and partner nations concluded the 51st iteration of Baltic Operations 2022 (BALTOPS22) in Kiel, Germany, June 17, 2022.
While in port, participants will reflect on achievements and relationships formed during the 13- day exercise which featured 47 ships, 89 aircraft, and 7,000 personnel in the Baltic Sea.
"BALTOPS, with the high degree of complexity, tested our collective readiness and adaptability, while also highlighting the strength of our Alliance and resolve in providing a maritime domain with freedom of navigation for all," said Vice Adm. Gene Black, commander, U.S. Sixth Fleet and Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO (STRIKFORNATO).
Led by U.S. Sixth Fleet, BALTOPS 22 was command and controlled by STRIKFORNATO. From the staff’s headquarters in Oeiras, Portugal, Rear Adm. James Morley, STRIKFORNATO deputy commander, was responsible for ensuring participants met all training objectives.
“We here [at STRIKFORNATO], safely executed an ambitious training scheme on behalf of the 16 Allied and partner nations in the exercise, improving combat readiness and demonstrating the ability to work seamlessly together across all environments- in the air, on the ground, and at sea,” said Morley.
Participating nations included Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States. These countries participated alongside one another to test the flexibility, adaptability, and capabilities of maritime and amphibious forces.
Though this is not the first time Sweden has participated in BALTOPS, this iteration was unique because it coincided with the celebration of the Swedish Navy’s 500th anniversary. Sweden provided significant support to BALTOPS 22, including hosting the pre-sail conference in Stockholm and numerous events on Swedish territory and in Swedish waters and airspace.
Gotland Island, Sweden served as a training ground for several air insertions and amphibious landings from the USS Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group-22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit and Swedish counterparts. Additionally, the exercise included complex personnel recovery training scenarios and a submarine rescue. To the southeast, Latvian forces integrated with other partner nations to practice multi-domain landings, and Poland’s Ustka training range served as a staging ground for rigorous amphibious landings during BALTOPS 22.
Rear Adm. John Menoni, commander, Expeditionary Strike Group Two, and head of all amphibious forces during the exercise, remarked how BALTOPS 22 provided participant forces a two-week window to operate unified and “not just ensuring the radios and weapons work well,” but rather “in the way we sail and fight together.”
Menoni also noted several instances in which forces stepped beyond know warfare methods to push limits with new technologies at sea and ashore. “Whether it was mine-hunting UUVs, persistent Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance from an observable UAV, or demonstrating the value of the emerging Marine Corps concept of Expeditionary Advance Base Operations (EABO), our men and women continue to develop the tactics, techniques, and procedures that ultimately make meaningful contributions to Maritime Domain Awareness and increase the lethality of our forces.”
At sea, ships fine-tuned tactical maneuvering, anti-submarine warfare, live-fire training, mine countermeasures operations, and replenishments at sea. The Swedish submarine participating in the exercise, the U.K.’s Daring-class air-defense destroyer HMS Defender (D 36), and aircraft from other participating nations trained in anti-submarine warfare. Meanwhile, mine operations served as an ideal area of focus for testing new technology.
Scientists from five nations brought the latest advancements in Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (UUV) mine hunting technology to the Baltic Sea to demonstrate the vehicle’s effectiveness in operational scenarios. The BALTOPS Mine Counter Measure Task Group ventured throughout the Baltic region practicing ordnance location, exploitation, and disarming in critical maritime chokepoints.
NATO’s Northern Combined Air Operations Centre (CAOC) staff safely controlled 89 Allied and partner nation aircraft participating in BALTOPS 22, which represented the most air integration in the history of the exercise. These aircraft were operating from both sea-based and land-based platforms. They conducted more than 400 sorties, twice the number from 2021. The training spanned the entire spectrum of the air domain including, air-to-surface, air-to-air, air-to-ground, anti-submarine, refueling, intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance drills.
In an effort to adapt to the ever-changing operating environment, the STRIKFORNATO staff coordinated several other focus areas designed to train task group commanders’ decision making abilities with regard to weather, new operating domains, and personnel support.
French and U.S. participants served as the BALTOPS 22 meteorology and oceanography staff, providing consistent, accurate, and specific information on present and predicted sea-states. The space domain was also featured in the exercise’s training scenarios by presenting realistic, simulated, challenges including jamming response, space weather, and impacts to GPS accuracy.
Impacts to mission and dynamic maritime domain navigation remain the core tenant of BALTOPS training. However, in an effort to add to decision-making demands, STRIKFORNATO incorporated pastoral and spiritual support strategies for personnel during times of crisis. This in-scenario integration tested the participants’ capacity to provide chaplain support in a complex maritime domain, while overcoming barriers and limitations within the environment.
“In the event of a conflict, we have to be spiritually and psychologically ready to respond,” said U.S. Navy Capt. Brian Weigelt, the U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa and U.S. Sixth Fleet Force Chaplain. “By exercising our ability to provide chaplain support interchangeably between countries during a potential crisis, we will be able to seamlessly integrate should the need arise.”
Planning for next year’s exercise has begun and will build upon accomplishments from BALTOPS 22 to incorporate lessons learned.
BALTOPS 22 is the premier maritime-focused exercise in the Baltic Region. The exercise provides a unique training opportunity to strengthen 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.