The 47th annual BALTOPS exercise kicked off earlier this week, drawing maritime forces from 18 nations with 50 surface ships, 36 aircraft, two submarines, and 8,600 personnel.
Vice Admiral Andrew ‘Woody’ Lewis from the re-established US 2nd Fleet will lead the exercise. Operating in the Atlantic since 1950, the fleet was dissolved in 2011.
Yet following Russia’s assertive actions in the region, as well as the emerging “great power competition,” in the words of the then US Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis, the fleet was reestablished on August 24, 2018.
Russian submarine activity in the Atlantic is “more than we’ve seen in 25 years,” chief of the US Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson told reporters in 2018. “We understand we are in a battle for the Atlantic, and we will contest it.”
The fleet’s appearance in the Baltics this year is aimed at both sending a signal to Russia, but also continuing NATO’s approach to improving military mobility and reinforcement lines from across the Atlantic.
This year, the Spanish flagship San Juan I has also entered the Baltic sea for the first time, shifting from its usual area of operations in the Mediterranean.
BALTOPS has previously seen Russians partaking in the exercises from 1993 until the war with Georgia in 2008. Russia was then invited back in 2010 and participated until 2014, the year when it annexed Ukraine’s Crimea.
This year, Russia dispatched three ships to monitor the exercise and launched its own naval drills in the region.
Since the heightened tension following Russia’s actions in Ukraine, previous BALTOPS exercises have featured the so-called ‘buzzing’ incidents, when Russian aircraft flew at low altitude over NATO ships. On Tuesday, Russia intercepted US and Swedish reconnaissance planes without incidents.
The exercises spanning Sweden, Germany, and the Baltic states are due to run until June 21.
LRT accepted travel and accommodation funding for this report from the US Embassy in Vilnius; it had no influence on the content.