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BALTOPS 23: Strengthening Maritime Security

Image credits: navy.mil

BALTOPS 23, a cooperative maritime exercise, provides an ideal environment for exploring and evaluating new capabilities and technologies. This year, it highlights the increasing systems’ powers of the U.S. Sixth Fleet.

Continuing the tradition from previous years, the U.S. Sixth Fleet collaborates with the U.S. Naval research enterprise to incorporate the latest advancements in emerging unmanned technologies for conducting mine countermeasures (MCM) operations. To further these initiatives, sailors and marines are actively experimenting with and integrating Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUVs), Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), and Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USVs).

“The BALTOPS exercise series presents an excellent platform for conducting experiments,” expressed Anthony Constable, a science advisor from the Office of Naval Research serving the U.S. Sixth Fleet.

He emphasised the strong support from Allies and partners in the exercise, noting that its longstanding history provides ample opportunities to gather valuable feedback from operators on utilising the systems effectively. Moreover, the exercise serves as a platform to showcase new technologies to The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) partners, fostering potential collaborations in the future.

Unmanned systems offer an additional dimension of warfare capability at sea and act as force multipliers alongside traditional manpower. They enable navies to assume higher operational risks by reducing or distancing warfighters from high-threat areas while maintaining a tactical and strategic advantage. By leveraging unmanned systems, navies can enhance their capabilities and effectiveness in various maritime operations.

This innovation will also provide UUVs with automated target recognition technology and advanced communication capabilities, efficiently performing real-time mission analysis during their operation. Within minutes of passing over a suspected underwater mine, they transmitted a sonar image of the object to Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technicians. This capability has significantly shortened the operational timelines for MCM activities, reducing them from hours to just minutes.

Joe Klein, the Manager of the Joint Personnel Recovery Program for BALTOPS 23, highlighted the distinctive elements of implementing an Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV) in a Joint Personnel Recovery (JPR) scenario.

Klein expressed optimism about the opportunity, stating that this was their first time utilising a USV in a JPR operation. Although the scenario was relatively straightforward, the focus was on exploring the communication aspects, such as determining the optimal positioning of the USV and devising methods to secure the recovery target on the unmanned vehicle.

Alongside these challenges, they also evaluated the USV as a potential solution to some of their existing issues. Furthermore, Klein emphasised the advantages of utilising a USV, explaining that it allowed for a higher risk tolerance due to its inconspicuous nature, with a low profile that made it less easily detectable than their usual, larger recovery forces. Consequently, the USV provided additional resources for conducting recoveries in high-threat areas.

BALTOPS 23, led by the U.S. Sixth Fleet (SIXTHFLT) and STRIKFORNATO, is a prominent annual maritime exercise that brings together 19 NATO Allies and one NATO partner. The primary objective of this exercise is to provide comprehensive training to enhance the collective response capability necessary for safeguarding freedom of navigation and security in the Baltic Sea region.

U.S. European Command and U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa (NAVEUR-NAVAF) have consistently promoted U.S.-led or bilateral exercises as valuable opportunities for NATO to enhance interoperability as a unified force. These exercises utilise NATO command and control systems as the foundation for their design, further strengthening the cooperation and effectiveness of the participating nations.

For 80 years, NAVEUR-NAVAF has established and nurtured strategic relationships with Allies and Partners. These relationships are built on a shared foundation of values and uphold security and stability in the region.

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