Annual multinational training exercise underway in northern Europe

The MH-60 Seahawk Maritime Helicopter from HDMS Absalon conducts cross deck training with HMCS Halifax on June 8. Photo: SNMG1

The MH-60 Seahawk Maritime Helicopter from HDMS Absalon conducts cross deck training with HMCS Halifax on June 8.
Photo: SNMG1

Joanie Veitch
Trident Newspaper
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Three Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) ships are in the Baltic Sea region of northern Europe for the annual Baltic Operations exercise (BALTOPS). It’s the premier maritime-focused defence training event in the region, now in its 50th year, taking place June 6 to 18. 

Her Majesty’s Canadian (HMC) Ships Kingston, Summerside and Halifax have joined 4,000 naval and air force personnel from 18 NATO allies and partner nations, with an estimated 40 ships and submarines, and 60 aircraft taking part. Training scheduled for the 12 days includes air defence, anti-submarine warfare, maritime interdiction, and mine countermeasure operations.

“The exercise aims to deliver high-end training across the entire spectrum of naval warfare,” says LCdr Greg Zuliani, Commanding Officer of Kingston. “This has been a highly anticipated event for the RCN, as we get to work with so many different international partners and allies.”

BALTOPS 50 is divided into three training phases: a virtual pre-sail event, followed by a combat enhancement training (CET)/force integration training (FIT) portion, and then the final tactical phase of the exercise. 

During the CET/FIT phase, which took place June 6 to 12 in the Danish Straits, ships and aircraft participated in scripted training events before moving further east and shifting into the free-play portion of the exercise. That exercise was fictional but with realistic situations where commanders were given more freedom to run their own tactical programs, according to Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO, the unit in charge of BALTOPS 50 command and control from its headquarters in Oeiras, Portugal.

Teams from Fleet Diving Unit Atlantic (FDU(A)), embarked in both Kingston and Summerside, joined a NATO task group to conduct Naval Mine Counter Measures. Using REMUS, an autonomous underwater vehicle, and other specialized tools, the Seabed Intervention Systems sub-team from FDU(A) practiced locating and identifying mine-like contacts in their area of operations. Six members of the embarked dive team with Summerside investigated potential mine contacts and conducted clearance operations.

It’s a challenging exercise in a challenging environment, carried out in a time-constrained scenario, says A/SLt David Lindsay. “BALTOPS is designed to improve flexibility and interoperability among allies and partners. This particular exercise allows Summerside and Kingston to train in operating with allies while honing our skills in mine warfare.”

The BALTOPS exercise is a new experience for many of the sailors, and an opportunity to learn and share knowledge and skills. 

“Operating in a true multi-national and multi-ship environment is invaluable training for all members of the crews, particularly the junior sailors who have not had this opportunity before BALTOPS,” says LCdr Zuliani. “We also get the chance to demonstrate to our partners and allies that we bring valuable skills to the table.”

In a separate task group, HMCS Halifax – currently deployed as Flags with Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 as part of Operation Reassurance – joined BALTOPS on the heels of two other joint multinational defence exercises: Exercise Joint Warrior off the U.K. coast and Exercise Steadfast Defender off the coast of Portugal.

All members of the ships’ companies followed strict COVID-19 protocols prior to leaving Halifax. Although COVID-19 restrictions are easing in much of Europe, precautions are still in place for RCN personnel to limit any exposure to the virus, says LCdr Zuliani.

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