Pentagon and NATO Rehearse for War in the Baltic Sea
Last month was a busy one for U.S.-NATO military exercises in the Baltic Sea. Three major multinational training exercises, including naval maneuvers, amphibious landings and preparation for deployment to Afghanistan, occurred in the region in June, in one case overlapping.
From June 10-22 the U.S. Seventh Army's Joint Multinational Training Command (JMTC), based in Grafenwöhr, Germany, conducted this year's Saber Strike, the largest multinational military exercise in the area. Approximately 2,000 troops from seven NATO nations - the U.S., Britain, France, Canada, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - participated in training to "engage the enemy, as they overcome challenges in interoperability," according to the JMTC's account of the drills in Estonia and Latvia.
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are the rotating sites for Saber Strike exercises and "share resources and capabilities to meet the training requirements of organic units and elements, who may deploy in support of contingency operations in Afghanistan."
JMTC's lead exercise planner, Tony Bonarti, said of the training: "In pursuing operational cohesiveness, these nations expect to achieve vast improvements in their respective defense and host-nation governments that allow them to be prepared to address both national and international crisis events."
Live-fire and field training exercises were conducted at the Ādaži Training Area in Latvia and other events were held at facilities in Estonia. The scenario employed for the live-fire exercise was "defending a Forward Operating Base." A U.S. Army Europe website report of a war game simulation held at the Tapa Training facility said: "Working cooperatively with allied partners, the Estonian forces are exercising a combat action scenario in a fictitious country that is undergoing civil unrest and facing an invasion by neighboring foreign forces sympathetic to the civil unrest."
During an exercise in Estonia, a local brigade was joined by multinational forces from several NATO and NATO partner nations. The Ämari Air Base in Estonia, recently upgraded to accommodate NATO warplanes, hosted airmen from the Michigan Air National Guard who operated fighter and aerial refueling aircraft.
American units participating in the war games were personnel from the 21st Theater Sustainment Command, the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, the Michigan Air Guard and the 4th Marine Division as well as a Joint Terminal Air Controller (in charge of directing air combat operations) team from the Washington Air Guard.
During Saber Strike 2012 the website of the JMTC, the only U.S. Army training command that regularly trains U.S. and multinational forces jointly, disclosed that its Joint Multinational Simulation Center conducts approximately 40 NATO exercises annually.
From June 1-16 the U.S.-led annual Baltic Operations (BALTOPS), the largest multinational maritime exercise held in the Baltic Sea, occurred in the territorial waters of Estonia, Lithuania, Germany and Poland. Thirty warships, as many aircraft and an estimated 1,500 marines and sailors from the U.S., Denmark, Estonia, France, Georgia, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia and Sweden participated.
For the first time in the exercise's 40-year history a major amphibious landing operation was conducted in this year's host nation, Lithuania (in Palanga). It involved the U.S. Marine Corps (including its Black Sea Rotational Force 12), Lithuanian Special Operations Force troops, personnel from Lithuania's Iron Wolf Motorised Infantry Brigade, the USS Normandy guided missile cruiser, two B-52 strategic bombers, two German Pa 200 Tornado fighter jets, two Lithuanian Mi-8 helicopters, a joint battalion of the Estonian-Latvian-Lithuanian Baltic Naval Squadron (BALTRON), a Dutch diving team and two Polish Lublin class amphibious warfare ships.
The scenario used for the exercise was described as a crisis in a fictitious nation named Arcadia which "affects the entire region of the Blue Sea." Acting on a United Nations Security Council mandate, international forces are deployed to the imaginary (or only slightly disguised) Blue Sea region which enforce an arms embargo, a blockade, a stabilization operation in Arcadia and "assistance in counter-terrorism actions."
Though separated from the Baltic Sea by Lithuania, Belarus could well be the scenario's Arcadia.
An amphibious landing operation was also held in Estonia on the coast of Paldiski. Estonian Defense Forces Chief of Staff Peeter Hoppe said before the event that "Paldiski's southern harbor will have a pre-positioning exercise, where a large array of various allied military vehicles will be brought ashore."
The exercise was observed and led by the U.S. Marine Corps' Lieutenant General Richard Tryon, Lieutenant General Frank Panter, Jr., Brigadier General Charles G. Chiarotti and Brigadier General Roger Machut as well as Britain's Rear Admiral Russell Harding.
Estonian Public Broadcasting published a report on June 4 which said of the exercise that "The aim is to practice bringing an over 1,000-strong battalion battle group to Estonia and readying it for combat."