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BALTOPS 50: Part of the Mosaic of Re-Working North Atlantic Defense – Second Line of


By Robbin Laird

BALTOPS 50 was begun on the anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 2021.

It was first held in 1972 and is an annual military exercise, held and sponsored by the Commander, US Naval Forces Europe and operates in the Baltic Sea and the regions surrounding it.

One can take an intellectual photograph of the current exercise, but that would miss the core point of what is going on with regard to reworking northern flank defense.

With the Russian seizure of Crimea in 2014 and ongoing threats to the Nordics, and the Baltic nations, there has been a clear upsurge in concern about that threat.

And the geography of that threat has changed compared to the Cold War.

The Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact surrounded the Nordics, with two states, Finland and Sweden, standing aside from the East-West confrontation.

Now that geo-political reality has changed and the Nordics have focused on enhancing both their national defense capabilities, but also their ability to work with one another.

And for the United States standing up two new commands in Norfolk, Second Fleet, and the first operational NATO command on U.S. territory, namely Allied Joint Force Command, Norfolk, has focused on the expanded geography from the High North through the defense arc to Poland.

It is in such a context that this year’s BALTOPS exercise is being worked.

But given the altered threat environment and geopolitical realities, it is part of a wider range of exercises which have taken part in the past few weeks, not even months.

What these exercises together underscore is that the United States and its allies are focused on ways to shape a much more integrated force which can operate as a distributed force.

This is the essence of what kill web enabled force is about, that through mission command and a capability to make tactical decisions at the edge the force can operate across a spectrum of crises.

This is clearly a work in progress, but though the exercises being worked capabilities to better integrate are being forged.

Or put another way, this is not about the acquisition of the future force, this is about forging the future force for today’s operational challenges.

Prior to turning to BALTOPS 50, a review of recent exercises provides a sense of the broader context of reworking how the U.S. Navy is working with the joint and coalition force to more effectively deliver an integrated defense capability for warfighting and deterrence cross the spectrum of crises.

First was the convergence of two major North Sea maritime exercises, namely the Royal Navy’s Strike Warrior Exercise and the U.S. Exercise Ragnar Viking.

This is how a press release published on May 17, 2021 from the U.S. Navy described the convergence:

The exercises brought together 15 ships from four NATO countries, including the United Kingdom Carrier Strike Group and the U.S. IWO Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) with the embarked 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU).

The concurrence of Strike Warrior and Ragnar Viking demonstrates the Alliance’s ability to coordinate Carrier Strike Group and ARG/MEU operations simultaneously. These maritime operations illustrate what makes NATO the most successful alliance in history.

“HMS Queen Elizabeth and the USS Iwo Jima represent a substantial concentration of maritime-based air power. With the involvement of warships from four NATO members, including HMS Albion, our rendezvous in the North Atlantic demonstrates the collective strength of the Alliance,” said Royal Navy Capt. Angus Essenhigh, commanding officer, HMS Queen Elizabeth (R 08). “The fact that the Royal Navy is able to deploy a Littoral Response Group and a Carrier Strike Group simultaneously is also significant. Very few other navies can do this, and it underscores the United Kingdom’s substantial and enduring commitment to the security of Europe and the North Atlantic.”

Exercise Strike Warrior involves more than 20 warships, three submarines…



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