Standing NATO Maritime Group One (SNMG1) and Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group One (SNMCMG1) concluded their successful participation in the U.S.-led Exercise Baltops 50 on June 18, 2021.
Exercise Baltops is the premier annual maritime-focused exercise in the Baltic Sea region, which ran from June 6-18, 2021 this year. It was designed to enhance mutual interoperability and heighten operational readiness while enhancing or developing military capabilities to operate seamlessly with sea, air, land and amphibious forces of various participating nations. It also aimed to deter any possible aggression from potential threats and to reassure regional allies and partners of NATO’s unwavering commitment to protect and defend.
NATO has historically maintained a strong and enduring presence in the Baltic Sea region and considers it to be of deep strategic importance to alliance’s security, stability and economic interests. In recent years, in line with the security environment in the region, the exercise has continued to evolve to provide NATO and its partner nations with the training and experience required to preserve peace, prevent conflict, promote security and stability, and reinforce the rules-based international order in the Baltic Sea region and beyond.
This year was the 50th iteration of the exercise and involved participation from 16 NATO and two partner nations, including: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States. These nations, in turn, contributed approximately 40 maritime units, 60 aircraft, and 4,000 personnel. The training scenario for BALTOPS 50 focused on a naval response to an emerging crisis in the Baltic Sea region with multinational naval units conducting combined maritime security operations to include sea control and freedom of navigation. Air assets involved in the exercise worked with naval forces to provide air defense, maritime domain awareness and support for amphibious operations.
Two of NATO’s four Standing Naval Forces (SNF), SNMG1 and SNMCMG1 respectively, participated in BALTOPS 50 and interacted with each other during a number of scripted and free-play serials in the context of the training scenario. This was the second time this semester that they had interacted in the Baltic Sea, having previously done so in March.
Commodore (Cmdre) Bradley Peats, was commander of SNMG1, which consisted of HMCS Halifax, HDMS Absalon, KNM Storm, KNM Gnist, FS Commandant Blaison, as well as HMS Albion, RFA Mounts Bay, USS Mount Whitney and USS Thomas Hudner during the exercise.
Commander Jan Wijchers RNLN, commander of SNMCMG1, had command of the SNMCMG1 flagship, BNS Godetia, HNLMS Zierikzee, ENS Ugandi, FGS Sulzbach-Rosenberg, KNM Rauma, KNM Maaloy, FS Andromede, LNS Skalvis, HMCS Summerside, HMCS Kingston and FNS Vatherpää.
“I can attest that both NATO groups and other BALTOPS 50 participants proved that they are highly capable of operating seamlessly in a multi-domain, multi-threat environment where joint warfighting proficiency is essential to mission success,” said Cmdre Peats. “There are no easy shortcuts to get to the place we are now – and that is a well trained and equipped naval task group that is highly interoperable, flexible and responsive. Further, there are no substitutes for being out here on the water, putting in the hard work – doing the business. This is why NATO allies and partner nations participate in these collective defense exercises.”
BALTOPS 50 presented a number of opportunities for both SNMG1 and SNMCMG1 to work together to overcome specific operational challenges presented by the training scenario. For example, SNMCMG1 provided safe passage through the Danish Straits for all units, by clearing Denmark’s Great Belt region of sophisticated sea mines as well as Water-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (WBIED). This allowed SNMG1 units to safely transit through the straits in order to break out into the Baltic Sea and begin conducting patrols and other assigned tasks. Likewise, SNMG1 escorted and provided protection to SNMCMG1units as well as to amphibious forces conducting landings ashore.
“The multinational scale and scope of these joint multinational operations brings a lot of advantages to the table with each country bringing their own unique set of skills, capabilities and assets,” said Cdr Wijchers. “SNMCMG1 was well trained and equipped with various high-tech autonomous unmanned vehicles to do the job to establish and guarantee safe passage for all other allied units so these can push through to conduct amphibious landings. During the clearing of the amphibious landing area, three ‘no play’ historical ordnance were found, one aircraft bomb, an old mine and an air-to-air missile without warhead which proves the importance of mine countermeasures even further. By working seamlessly together and playing off each other’s strengths, we adeptly handled every mission or tasking that was given to us.”
Another BALTOPS 50 highlight occurred when HDMS Absalon fired its main gun during a naval gunnery support (NGS) training serial in the Baltic Sea. Her embarked MH-60 Seahawk Helicopter (call sign Raider) acted as a spotter and coordinated the NGS fires with elements located ashore from enhanced Forward Presence Poland, enhanced Forward Presence Estonia, and the Bundeswehr at the Putlos Training Area Range in Germany. This serial demonstrated that NATO warships are highly skilled and experienced at joint warfighting operations and can be called upon to engage and if necessary, neutralize targets ashore with precise naval gunnery in support of amphibious or land forces operations.