DND News

RCN ships in multinational Baltic exercise

Three Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) warships are currently midway through a Baltic Sea deployment as part of a multinational exercise involving 4,000 personnel from 19 countries and featuring air defence, anti-submarine warfare, amphibious operations, maritime interdiction and mine countermeasures operations.

The 50th Baltic Operations exercise, Baltops 50, began June 6, the 77th anniversary of D-Day, and is scheduled to run until June 18. The other participants are Belgium, Britain, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, and the United States.

The RCN frigate HMCS Halifax and coastal defence vessels HMCS Kingston and HMCS Summerside are among 40 maritime units involved. Aboard Halifax, a Sikorsky CH-148 Cyclone helicopter, (call sign “Kingfisher”) from 423 Maritime Helicopter Squadron at 2 Wing Shearwater, is one of 60 aircraft involved in at-sea training events involving general naval tactics as well as a focus on chokepoints and freedom of navigation.

As part of Operation Reassurance, the crew of HMCS Halifax is contributing to deterrence in Northern European waters, and has been involved in Baltops 50 as part of Standing NATO Maritime Group One (SNMG1).

Since departing its namesake home port on January 1st, the Canadian frigate has been conducting a series of “high-intensity” operations and training exercises at sea with NATO allies and non-NATO partners. Halifax has been the Flagship of SNMG1 since Canada assumed command in Lisbon, Portugal, on 18 January 2021.

Meanwhile, Her Majesty's Ships Kingston and Summerside, operating independently from Halifax, have been focusing mainly on smaller operations and support for dive operations, including mine demolition and countermeasures, with “a small team” from Fleet Dive Unit (Atlantic).

Tensions in the region have increased since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and there are ongoing threats to other Baltic and Nordic countries.

Accordingly, Baltops 50 has been focusing on a naval response to an emerging crisis in the region. The exercise includes multinational naval units in combined security operations while air assets provide protective cover and maritime domain awareness and support amphibious operations.

The overall exercise culminates with a six-day tactical phase where units training together in a less scripted “real world” scenario with opposing “orange” and “blue” forces.

Also, for the first time since the annual exercise began in 1972, and reflecting continuously evolving operational realities, Baltops 50 includes defensive cyber warfare tactics, techniques and procedures. U.S. Marine Corps BGen Marcus Annibale, chief of staff for Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO, said this means the alliance will have improve capabilities in every domain.

“This training environment closely simulates real world operations and will provide a comparable training to our operating commanders and all the crews,” Annibale told reporters as the exercise spooled up.

“We’ll also test new systems and technological capabilities while developing asymmetrical skill sets to include NATO integration of amphibious ops, mine warfare, anti-submarine warfare, diving and construction operations. […] We have adversaries that will role-play and test some of those TTPs (tactics, techniques and procedures) to make sure that we’re doing all the right, smart cyber defensive techniques to defend those networks.”

Vice-Admiral Gene Black, commander of the U.S. Sixth Fleet and head of NATO’s Naval Striking and Support Forces, said the exercise “sets the foundation of interoperability across the alliance.” He added that “lessons learned in Baltops enable international strike group operations, advanced missile defense capabilities and seamless surface action group missions.”

Black’s group has been overseeing the exercise from its Joint Operations Center in Oeiras, Portugal, while the II Marine Expeditionary Brigade and Expeditionary Strike Group 2 has been managing its resources from the USS Mount Whitney, one of two amphibious command ships in the U.S. Navy overseen for the exercise by the Joint Operations Center

“We want to train like we fight,” said Mount Whitney’s commanding officer, Captain David Pollard. “Certainly part of our training is to train on realistic examples, real world geography, and we don’t want it to be too synthetic.”

Ken Pole