Around 8,600 U.S. and European troops from 18 nations are taking part in the annual Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) naval exercise that started on Saturday in Germany's Baltic Sea port of Kiel. In response to the drill, Russia's Baltic Fleet warships will keep track of BALTOPS maneuvers, the Russian news agency TASS reported, citing a law enforcement source in Russia's westernmost Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad. "The Stoikiy and the Boikiy corvettes, as well as the Liven small missile ship, will keep the NATO maneuvers under observation. Additionally, reconnaissance assets will also be deployed," the source told TASS. The BALTOPS exercise involves maritime, air and ground forces with about 50 ships and submarines and 40 aircraft and will run through June 21.
The training includes finding and destroying sea mines and submarines, the use of air defense and landing troops onshore as well as defense against attacks from enemy navy vessels.
BALTOPS is the premier annual maritime-focused exercise in the Baltic region, marking the 47th year of one of the largest exercises in northern Europe. The drill is meant to enhance flexibility and interoperability among allied and partner nations. "The Baltic Sea is of vital strategic importance for the alliance and is bordered by six NATO countries," said NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu.
"BALTOPS is now in its 47th year and is not directed against anyone, but clearly the security environment in the region has deteriorated after Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea," she added, underlining that the "BALTOPS tests how well our forces work together and shows that NATO can defend itself against any adversary." BALTOPS is the largest exercise series in the Baltic Sea. Participating troops come from Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Russia used to participate in the exercise but has not been invited since its illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its continuing destabilization of eastern Ukraine. This year's BALTOPS is run by the U.S. Navy's 2nd Fleet command in Norfolk, Virginia and marks the command's first major engagement in Europe. The 2nd Fleet command was re-established last year in response to Russia's growing naval activity in the Atlantic. Vice Admiral Andrew Lewis will run BALTOPS from the USS Mount Whitney command ship. BALTOPS will also be among the first major training opportunities for the U.K.-led Joint Expeditionary Force, a 3,000 strong force drawn from several NATO and partner countries.
As part of the exercise, naval infantry forces will conduct amphibious assaults in several locations within the Baltic Sea region. NATO's Air Operations Centre in Uedem, Germany will direct all air operations. Aircraft will work with naval forces to provide air defense, surveillance and provide cover for amphibious operations. Upon conclusion of the exercise, most ships will sail to Kiel, Germany to participate in the Kielerwochen naval parade.