Completed BALTOPS 20 tasks and gained experience is a step towards more security

Completed BALTOPS 20 tasks and gained experience is a step towards more security

On June 16 the 49th iteration of BALTOPS 20, annual exercise of allied and partner countries, concluded. Nearly 3,000 troops from 17 NATO allies (Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, the U.K., and the U.S.) and 2 partner nations (Finland and Sweden) trained to ensure security and deterrence according to the exercise scenario and exercise plans. The exercise was conducted under the command of U.S. 6th Fleet Commander Vice Adm. Lisa Franchetti this year.

The Lithuanian Navy had a particularly important role in this year's iteration of BALTOPS too. Two senior commanding officers represented Lithuania in the exercise: Cdr Audrius Venckūnas led the Joint Mine Warfare Task Group formed by the Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group One (SNMCMG1) with assigned additional MCM ships of other countries. Cdr Andrius Širvys led the Baltic Squadron BALTRON which was strengthened by German and Polish warships during the exercise, 8 ships in total. LNS Skalvis (M53) MCM ship was the flagship of the 8-ship unit. LNS Aukštaitis (P14) sailed as part of the Danish-led HQ warship group.

"BALTOPS 20 to us was the last chord before beginning the duty with the Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group One. I am sure that it has prepared us to carry out this NATO task," Cdr Audrius Venckūnas said.

According to the Lithuanian Navy officer, the BALTOPS series and allied participation is one of the key elements of deterrence and defence in the Baltic Sea. Planning of the exercise this year also had to take into account a changed environment - the coronavirus pandemic.

"Yes, the COVID-19 situation has made the exercise different this year. Exercise planning events had to be adapted specifically, quickly, and effectively early on. The fact that the exercise was still carried out proves that the Lithuanian Navy team responsible for planning and executing the mine countermeasures phase of the exercise , did their job excellently. It is not new to the Lithuanian Navy to lead a tactical ship formation, however, this is the first time we were tasked with it in the context of BALTOPS and cooperation with the Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO, which again demonstrates that our allies have trust in us and appreciate our expertise, input, and capabilities," Cdr A. Venckūnas said about the exercise and why it was important.

This year the exercise took place exclusively on the sea and was commanded from shore headquarters in Europe as a COVID-19 precaution: such elements of the exercise as amphibious landing operations on allied shores and personnel transfers between ships were dropped. The precaution is necessary to ensure multilateral operational cooperation while protecting health and safety of the crews so as to make sure they are ready to protect the region at any time.

Baltic Operations, BALTOPS, has been executed by the U.S. Naval Forces Europe since it was first held in 1972. Lithuania has been taking part in the exercise since 1993 and has contributed significantly with ships, officers in charge of training ship groups, or other ways of advancing regional security, i.e., organisation of shore-based pre-sail events (Klaipėda, 2018), or amphibious landing operations on the shore of Lithuania (Nemirseta 2011, 2018, 2019).

Article by Lithuanian Navy HQ CIMIC Specialist Seaman Akvilė Bertulė

Photo credits: exercise participants