Rear Adm. Scott Robertson
Commander of the BALTOPS 2019 Mine Warfare Task Group (CTG 162.60)
Commander Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC)
Mine warfare (MIW) is a critical warfare capability that the U.S. Navy, our allies, and our partners take seriously in an era of great power competition. During Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2019, the Navy’s global mine warfare battle staff — a functional team positioned within Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC) seamlessly integrated a team of MIW professionals from 11-NATO nations into an effective MIW Task Group in the Baltic Sea.
As Commander, U.S. Second Fleet Vice Adm. Lewis, who is also the commander of BALTOPS 2019, said at the start of the exercise in Kiel, no one nation can do it alone. We must work together as partners and allies to maintain open sea lines of communication for freedom of navigation, for military and economic security, and regional stability. Our allies and partners lead the MIW effort globally, and we rely on their experience and expertise to improve our tactics, to fortify our partnerships, and to maintain a strong, forward presence.
Over the course of BALTOPS 2019, the Task Units within the MIW Task Group demonstrated remarkable expertise and resolve. Baltic Squadron (BALTRON), Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group (SNMCMG) 1, and Mine Countermeasures Division (MCMDIV) 31 each led subordinate task units within our larger team. We were also honored to have members of the NATO Naval Mine Warfare Center of Excellence on hand to work with multiple teams to explore new and innovative ways to use existing capabilities, and to begin the process of refining common doctrine and tactics, techniques, and procedures.
During BALTOPS 2019, BALTRON was comprised of Polish, Latvian, and Lithuanian naval units and was a diverse team capable of mine sweeping and mine-hunting with autonomous undersea vehicles and explosive ordnance disposal divers. BALTRON was initially established just over twenty years ago to minimize mine hazards, enhance security of Baltic states’ territorial waters, and speed the development of Baltic navies.
In 1973, Standing Naval Force Channel (STANAVFORCHAN) established under the command of NATO’s Allied Command Channel. SNMCMG 1 as it is now named, is one of four groups that comprise NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, providing forward presence in key operating areas. During BALTOPS 2019, the task unit consisted of naval units and personnel from seven nations — Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, and the United Kingdom.
The teamwork between international partners also shone through the team led by MCMDIV 31 which included more than 300 personnel from five nations including Belgium, Denmark, France, Norway, and the United States. Their combined effort provided the task force a mine countermeasures capability and a platform for testing new capabilities that support integrated operations among partners.
The performance of the Task Units and their elements was masterful. Beyond simply cooperating with one another, leaders and staffs applied the principles of mission command and rapidly began to integrate as a critical fighting force in the exercise. Our team’s collective mine countermeasures (MCM) efforts in the exercise cleared the way, culminating in successful, multi-pronged landings by a large amphibious task force of allied and partner nations that highlighted the strength of the overall force led by Commander, U.S. Second Fleet.
In addition to completing over 100 training exercises and evolutions, there were several significant first-time events the team represented.
First, the Dragon Whales of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 28 detachment 3 used the Airborne Laser Mine Detection System (ALMDS) and Airborne Mine Neutralization System – Archerfish (AMNS-AF) for the first time in the Baltic operating environment in an effort to bring commanders expanded Airborne MCM capability.
Additionally, a team of researchers from the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research, German Naval Research (WTD 71), and staffs from Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Commander, U.S. Sixth Fleet experimented with technology never used before in the Baltic Sea.
They tested Mk 18 Mod 2 unmanned undersea vehicles (UUV) using multiple, modular sensor components that expand their capability and provided commanders flexibility and decision-making space -a decisive competitive advantage.
Similarly, Expeditionary Exploitation Unit 1 (EXU 1) operated in the Baltic Sea for the first time. Having recently established themselves as a commander command, they are the Navy’s premiere team that provides weapons technical intelligence to support both tactical explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) operators as well as to operational-level commanders.
We were also excited for the opportunity to practice aerial mine laying operations with our U.S. Air Force B-52 teammates who conducted an inert aerial mining demonstration within the training area in order to increase the level of tactical proficiency for the BALTOPS 2019 MIW Task Group team.
Much like real-world events, training events often result in opportunities to learn and practice skills not previously identified in the exercise construct. While completing exercise events, we identified and cleared nine WWII-era bottom mines found in the training area. Even after more than 75 years, unexploded ordnance can still be dangerous, and it gave our teams the opportunity to put their skills to the test.
Integration as teams in multinational exercises like BALTOPS not only help us to train together, but also drive individual unit proficiency and mutual trust that allows us to be a resilient fighting force. This is the heart of why we take opportunities such as BALTOPS to train together in realistic conditions. We know that we do not rise to the occasion, but rather we will fall to our lowest levels of training.
In an era of renewed great power competition, we can and must stand ready in our profession of maritime warfare as partners and allies through continued engagements like this 47th running of BALTOPS. It is equally important that we exercise in operating areas where we need to maintain environmental awareness and tactical proficiency like the Baltic Sea. For assurance to be effective we must demonstrate, as partners, allies, that we are united, integrated, and our naval power is credible. When we do that, we own the fight.