During major war games in Europe, the US Navy is practicing to 'up the game' against one of its biggest threats
- NATO members and partners are in the Baltic Sea this month for BaltOps, an annual multinational exercise.
- BaltOps focuses on naval warfare, and preparing to find and defeat mines, a unique and potent threat, is a key component.
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Some 8,600 personnel, 50 surface ships, 36 aircraft, and two submarines from 18 countries are in the Baltic Sea this month for Baltic Operations.
The annual BaltOps exercise, led this year by the US Navy's recently revived 2nd Fleet in its first major European engagement, allows partners to practice air defense, anti-subsurface warfare, amphibious operations, and mine warfare.Mines are especially dangerous in confined, heavily trafficked waterways, like the Strait of Hormuz or the Baltic Sea.
Bordered by six NATO members, the Baltic is littered with World War I- and II-era mines, and Russia is believed to have the world's largest arsenal of naval mines - as many as a quarter-million, by one estimate.
"The Baltic Sea is of vital strategic importance for the alliance," said NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu, who stressed that the exercise was not targeted at any country but noted the deterioration of European security since Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea.
BaltOps 2019's Mine Warfare Task Group had sailors and experts, including more than 70 divers, from 11 countries manning more than 15 mine-countermeasures ships, 15 unmanned undersea vehicles, five drone ships, and airborne mine-countermeasures systems.
"There is a lot of value in this exercise as it supports not only our US capability, but our work with partner nations in the mine-warfare space," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Daniel Claytor, officer in charge of a detachment from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 28.