49 NATO vessels, 5,600 troops gear up for major US-led drills in Baltics
Featuring anti-submarine warfare, air defense, interception of suspect vessels and amphibious landings, the annual BALTOPS will run through June 20.
This year’s excursive will see 49 ships, 61 aircraft, a submarine and an amphibious landing force of 700 troops participating.
The total number of servicemen involved in BALTOPS or Baltic Operations will reach 5,600 people, NATO’s website said.
NATO member states Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Turkey, UK and the US are sending their naval forces to take part in the drill.
They’ll be joined by three NATO partners – Finland and Sweden, which both have access to the Baltic Sea, and also Georgia.
The exercises are to kick off in the Polish port of Gdynia then move out to the Baltic Sea and conclude in the German port of Kiel, Radio Poland reported.
Being a US-led exercise, BALTOPS-2015 will be headed by Navy Vice Adm. James Foggo III, the commander of Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO (STRIKFORNATO) and US 6th Fleet, based in Naples, Italy.
“This exercise represents an important opportunity for our forces, as allies and partners, to enhance our ability to work together and strengthen capabilities required to maintain regional security," Foggo was cited by NATO’s website as saying.
“This exercise will be conducted in a truly joint environment, and I look forward to working with and learning from so many different nations and services,” he added.
BALTOPS has been held annually since 1971, with NATO’s website stressing that the current 43rd edition of the drill “is not held in response to any specific threat.”
Meanwhile, the war games will be taking place just miles off the Russian coastal exclave of Kaliningrad, a gulf area sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania.
Since Russia’s reunion with Crimea and the start of the military conflict in eastern Ukraine last spring, NATO forces have stepped up military exercises along the Russian border – in the Baltic States and Eastern Europe.
Russia responded with an increased number of flights of its Russian long-range ‘Bear’ or Tu-95 bombers in the vicinity of the airspace of NATO members and large-scale drills on own territory.
Despite failing to provide any proof, the West blames Russia for masterminding the Ukrainian unrest and supporting the rebels in country’s eastern Donetsk and Lugansk Regions.
This May, the Baltics became the venue of another major NATO exercise, with 20 vessels from nine member states.