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NEWS | June 12, 2023

U.S.-led NATO explosive ordnance disposal task unit demonstrates interoperability, readiness in exercise BALTOPS 23

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Matthew Fink

Explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) divers and technicians from Belgium, Denmark, France, Norway and the United States, assigned to NATO Task Unit 30, are participating in exercise Baltic Operations 2023 (BALTOPS 23) in Germany, Poland, and in the Baltic Sea, from June 5-16.

Task Unit 30, led by Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 8, based in Rota, Spain, is one of four units under the command of NATO Commander Task Group 162.40, which is overall in charge of mine countermeasures (MCM) operations during BALTOPS 23.  

An expeditionary component of the larger mine countermeasures (MCM) community, EOD units like Task Unit 30 are comprised of highly trained, specialized personnel responsible for the identification, disarmament and disposal of explosive devices. With the aid of minesweeping and mine hunting ships, helicopters, and more recently, autonomous unmanned vehicles, worldwide navy EOD units work to clear lanes for ships to access strategic waterways, conduct amphibious landings on contested beaches, and enable freedom of navigation for all.

“EOD forces clear the way,” said U.S. Navy Cmdr. John Kennedy, commanding officer of Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit 8 and Task Unit 30. “On land and on water, if there is an explosive threat that is impeding our ability to maneuver, EOD can safely take care of that problem.”

During BALTOPS 23, Task Unit 30 is participating in a variety of diverse training scenarios that involve diving, exercising command and control, operating unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) and performing controlled demolitions on land. Some personnel are currently underway with MCM ships that are actively hunting for mines in the Irbe Strait, which connects the Baltic Sea to the Gulf of Riga, as well as the territorial waters of Germany and Estonia.

The Baltic Sea region is estimated to have over 80,000 pieces of unexploded ordnance left over from World Wars I and II, which provides the technicians of Task Unit 30 with a wealth of unexploded ordnance to work with. While neutralizing live underwater explosives benefits the local communities, it also tests the operators’ competence and hones their skills.

“Even when we mitigate to the best of our abilities, what we do has inherent risk,” said Kennedy. “So, it is great that we work alongside such fantastic Allies that bring a lot of capability to bear when rendering safe explosive threats. Together, we make sure to have a solid plan and work through our emergency procedures to be safe.”

Within BALTOPs, Task Unit 40 operates adjacent to Task Unit 30 and has command and control responsibilities for an experimental unit: the U.S. Marine Corps Littoral Explosive Ordnance Neutralization (LEON) program, a new initiative with the goal of giving Marine Corps EOD the capability to identify and neutralize mines in the proximity of amphibious landing zones.

“The Marine Corps in particular is concerned with protecting the very shallow water to the surf zone,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Zach Rubemeyer, commanding officer of LEON Platoon, 1st EOD Company, 7th Engineer Support Battalion, 1st Marine Logistical Group. “We work with several unmanned systems that help us to detect and neutralize those threats. Ultimately, we are out here to develop the tactics, techniques and procedures that allow us to create a littoral transition point to bring amphibious forces ashore.” 

BALTOPS, which began in 1972 and is now in its 52nd iteration, continues to be an excellent opportunity for NATO and regional partners to strengthen interoperability through a series of combined tactical maneuvers and scenarios.

“Without a doubt, my favorite part of the exercise is the camaraderie that we share with our NATO Allies,” said Kennedy. “Coming together, it is much more than a partnership. It is a true friendship.”

BALTOPS 23 is the premier annual maritime-focused exercise in the Baltic Region, in which NATO Allies and Partners are the main participants. BALTOPS brings together both NATO and non-NATO countries to exercise largescale interoperability. U.S. European Command and Naval Forces Europe have promoted the traditional U.S.-led or bi-lateral exercises as opportunities for NATO to improve interoperability as a collective force, using NATO command and control systems as a foundation for the exercise design.

For over 80 years, NAVEUR-NAVAF 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. SIXTHFLT 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.