Being part of 50 warships, 36 choppers, warplanes and a staggering number of 8,600 sailors and soldiers-strong NATO force, the Polish army participates in the Baltops (Baltic Operations) annual military exercise under the command of the recently reactivated the United States 2nd Fleet.
The 47th Baltops exercise that started on Sunday in Germany’s Baltic Sea port of Kiel involves maritime, air and ground forces and will run through 21 June. The training includes finding and destroying sea mines and submarines, the use of air defence and landing troops onshore as well as defence against attack from enemy navy vessels.
The ships partaking in the exercise will operate along the German, Swedish, Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian coastline. The manoeuvres will first go through the so-called harmonisation phase when all the units harmonise their activities with one another. Landing operations will form a big part of the exercise.
Polish forces engage
“We have dispatched two minesweeper and a transport-minelaying vessel “Gniezno” with four tracked amphibious transporters,” said the 8th Coastal Defence Świnoujście Flotilla’s spokesperson Commander Grzegorz Lewandowski, adding that two engineering battalions and Coastal Rescue are aboard.
Poland’s Air Force and the “Gen. K. Pułaski” frigate with SH-2G choppers aboard are also taking part in the exercise. “Two weeks full of challenges await us. The warship will carry out virtually all the tasks it was made for,” said the frigate’s Commander Paweł Werner, specifying that the unit will open fire at an aerial target pulled by a plane and also ground targets.
It is possible that at some point in the exercise the vessel will take command over other units of the Standing NATO Maritime Group One (SNMG1).
The Russian shadow
Expectations are that NATO’s maneuvers will be closely watched by the Russian navy. The Royal Navy’s Commander Andy Burns expects some interaction with Russian forces. Commander Burns expressed his hope that these interactions will be conducted in a professional way in accordance with international law.
Russia’s press agency TASS reported that NATO forces will be accompanied by the corvettes “Stoykiy” and “Boykiy” and a small torpedo-boat “Liven”.
United we stand
Running Baltops from the deck of the U.S.S Mount Whitney command ship, US Second Fleet Vice Admiral Andrew Lewis said that the challenges of today may not be faced solo and that NATO needs to strengthen deterrence actions, and improve its readiness and response capability.
For his part, the commander of the United States Naval Forces Europe - Naval Forces Africa (NAVEUR-NAVAF) Admiral James G. Foggo said that the maneuvers will evolve but the US engagement for the sake of the Baltic States and other NATO members remains unchanged and that his words are reflected in concrete actions such as the reactivation of the US Second Fleet that had been mothballed on September 30, 2011, in order to "use those savings and more to fund additional ships".
"The Baltic Sea is of vital strategic importance for the Alliance and is bordered by six NATO countries,” said NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu, adding that “clearly the security environment in the region has deteriorated after Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea.”