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NEWS | June 22, 2024

BALTOPS 24 concludes in Kiel, Germany

By U.S. 6th Fleet & Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO Public Affairs

Twenty NATO Allies concluded the 53rd iteration of exercise Baltic Operations 2024 (BALTOPS-24) in Kiel, Germany, June 20, 2024.

During their time in port, Allies gathered to reflect on the accomplishments and success achieved throughout the 21-day Baltic Region exercise involving more than 50 ships, 85 aircraft, and approximately 9,000 personnel.

Vice Adm. Thomas Ishee, Commander of Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO (STRIKFORNATO) and U.S. 6th Fleet, reflected on the critical nature of the NATO Alliance in the region, and how integral BALTOPS-24 is in advancing Allies' shared objectives in the Baltic.

"BALTOPS-24 is not only the largest iteration in its 53-year history, but the first in nearly 30 years that all participants are NATO Allies," Vice Adm. Ishee said. "NATO Nations account for nearly all 8,000 km of Baltic coastline. That's eight of nine Baltic Sea Nations who share values for Freedom of Navigation and the legitimate use of the Baltic Sea.

The exercise began with a pre-sail conference June 4 in Klaipeda, Lithuania, where exercise staff and senior leaders met to finalize the scenario and operations, and discuss the unique maritime challenges and opportunities of the Baltic Region.

"Beginning in 1972, BALTOPS continues to build trust, foster understanding and enhanced interoperability across the maritime, air, land, and space domains," said Vice Adm. Ishee. "But more importantly, the gathering of so many nations demonstrates our collective strength, resolve and commitment to Baltic Sea regional security."

June 8 marked the beginning of the underway portion of exercise, with 30 NATO warships sailing alongside each other in one of the largest maritime formations in the region's history.

This year saw the largest assembled coalition of amphibious forces in the Baltic Sea, with four Amphibious Task Groups (ATG) and Multinational Task Units exercising amphibious capabilities in Skrunda, Latvia; Gotland, Sweden; Utska, Poland; and Putlos, Germany. Each area presented unique challenges to integrated amphibious operations, which were leveraged by the multinational amphibious assault teams to practice competencies together.

At-sea, the U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1), and San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship USS New York (LPD 21), the Spanish Navy aircraft carrier Juan Carlos I (L 61), and the French Navy amphibious assault ship FS Mistral (L 9013) were central to the integration of BALTOPS-24 amphibious capabilities. On land, armed forces from more than eight NATO nations conducted urban warfare training; tactical recovery of personnel; aerial insertions; beach landings; forest navigation; deployment of M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System; free-jumping into simulated contested territory and full-scale amphibious assaults on an opposing force.

"[BALTOPS-24] is a multidisciplinary exercise, comprising several warfare domains. specifically, amphibious operations, which is a very important part of LHD Mistral," said French Navy Capt. Olivier Roussille, commanding officer of the FS Mistral. "The objective [of the exercise] is to contribute to NATO reassurance in the area, and build a sustainable legacy to the benefit of collective defense, while strengthening our ties and interoperability with the Allied navy sailors."

This iteration of BALTOPS-24 also hosted the largest assembled coalition of mine countermeasure (MCM) forces in NATO, leading to a robust docket of MCM activity throughout the 21-day exercise. Deploying more than 700 personnel, 20 surface ships, 20 unmanned systems, and two MH-60S Seahawk helicopters, Swedish, French, Norwegian, Dutch, and U.S. forces scanned the seabed to develop an operating picture, practiced locating mines with surface assets, deployed the Airborne Mine Neutralization System for aerial mine recovery, and finalized their multinational MCM collaboration with an MCM combat rehearsal.

"BALTOPS allows us to sharpen the sword of our MCM capabilities, but also brings together all of the NATO partners that may go in and remove that mine threat," Capt. Scott Hattaway, director of Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC), and lead for all MCM activity during BALTOPS 24. "No one country goes into an MCM operation by themselves. We practice now as an international cohort in order to prepare for when we do it for real."

At sea, NATO warships conducted tactical maneuvering drills, anti-submarine warfare training, gunnery and small caliber live fire events, and air defense exercises. Of significant note, the alliance practiced the integration of medical capabilities, with the USS Wasp, USS New York, the Royal Netherlands Navy Rotterdam class landing platform dock ship HNLMS Johan de Witt (L 801), and the Spanish Navy aircraft carrier Juan Carlos I (L 61) simulating a mass casualty drill and patient transfers between vessels.

In addition to medical readiness, the NATO team also practiced the integration of its spiritual readiness staff. Seventeen chaplains, Religious Program Specialists, and assistants from 10 NATO nations participated in a conference aboard the USS Mount Whitney to learn about NATO Spiritual Support Interoperability (SSI) initiatives. Later, Dutch, Finnish and U.S. chaplains would meet aboard the HNLMS Johan de Witt to discuss how multinational chaplains could support a multinational force.

Also at-sea, Royal Navy, Lithuanian Navy, and U.S. Navy service members conducted joint personnel recovery operations. During the operation, a Royal Navy small craft placed both a mannequin and a Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) specialist into the Baltic Sea. After receiving a simulated recovery request, Lithuanian Navy Ship LNS Skalvis (P14) recovered the dummy, a MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter attached to HSC-28 deployed a rescue swimmer into the water and recovered the live survivor, who then was dropped off onto one of the Royal Navy vessels, HMS Example.

All of these events - whether at-sea, ashore, or in the air - were planned and coordinated by a substantial multinational coalition of liaison officers and augmentees operating out of the STRIKFORNATO headquarters in Oeiras, Portugal. These liaison officers were the conduit through which directives, intelligence, and requests flowed, bridging the gap between command levels, operational units, and supporting elements, and acting as the beating heart of exercise BALTOPS-24.

Of special significance, for the first time in BALTOPS history, nearly all of the 8,000 kilometers of the Baltic Coastline is safeguarded by NATO Allies. This is only possible due to the accession of Finland in 2023, and the more recent accession of Sweden on March 7, 2024.

"Since we joined three months ago, it's important for Sweden to show that we, as a nation, contribute to the security and stability in the Baltic Sea region as it is our home turf as well," says Lt. Tobias Irebro, liaison officer with the Swedish Navy. "It also lets us show that we are a willing contributor as a newly joined ally. It's also very important for the Baltic countries to exercise security and stability in the region as they depend on the sea as a main logistics asset for importing and exporting."

Looking towards the future, preparations have already begun for next year's exercise, which will take into account the valuable lessons gleaned from BALTOPS-24 and aim to expand upon its achievements in BALTOPS-25.

STRIKFORNATO, headquartered at Oeiras, Portugal, is a rapidly deployable and scalable headquarters, under the operational command of SACEUR, capable of planning and executing full spectrum joint maritime operations including maritime Ballistic Missile Defence, primarily through integration of U.S. and other nations' carrier and amphibious forces into NATO operations to provide assurance, deterrence, and collective defence for the Alliance.

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 combined naval operations.