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Jul 11 2023

Polish Navy summarizes exercise BALTOPS 23

SZCZECIN, Poland – Conducted on June 4-16, exercise BALTOPS 23 was led by the United States Naval Forces Europe-Africa and the United States Sixth Fleet, and co-designed by NATO member states. Participating in the maneuvers continuously since 1993, Poland takes an active part in organizing and planning this major training exercise event through the Polish Maritime Operations Centre Maritime Component Command (POL MCC), located in Gdynia, northern Poland. This year, the Polish Navy deployed three warships to BALTOPS 23: the Polish Ship (ORP) Slazak, ORP Torun and ORP General Tadeusz Kosciuszko. 

In this year's iteration, some 6,000 soldiers from the United States, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and the United Kingdom practised together. During the exercise, command and control of the tactical episodes of the exercise was assumed by Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO (STRIKFORNATO). One of the most important elements of the exercise, the landing operations, took place at the Central Air Force Training Ground in Ustka, at Poland's central coast.

ORP General Tadeusz Kosciuszko's crew stands in formation as the warship makes her way through the Baltic Sea during BALTOPS 23 © The Polish Navy

According to the adopted scenario, ships from Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 (SNMG1) and the Polish patrol corvette "Slazak" played the opposing force (OPFOR). On the other hand, "Torun", a Polish transport-mining ship, carried out landing tasks in the sea areas of Latvia, Lithuania and near Ustka at the Central Air Force Training Ground with the participation of soldiers from the 7th Coastal Defence Brigade and fighters from the 2nd Tactical Air Wing. The exercise included Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) operations, the rescue of personnel during combat operations at sea, which was co-implemented by the Naval Aviation Brigade. 

BALTOPS 23 covered a wide range of maritime operations, such as anti-submarine warfare, air defence, landing operations and interception at sea, or mine identification and combat. Experts estimate that there are currently more than 80,000 unexploded munitions in the Baltic Sea, making some areas of the sea closed to civilian use. One of the key initiatives of BALTOPS, which provides crew training in Mine Countermeasures while having a positive impact on the environment, is the removal of mines and war remnants lying on the bottom of the Baltic Sea. Mine clearance of the seabed involves: Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group 1 (SNMCMG1), Baltic Naval Squadron (BALTRON). 

ORP Torun conducts maneuvers on the Baltic Sea during exercise BALTOPS 23 © The Polish Navy

The exercise was also a form of testing and evaluation of new technologies, tactics and procedures. It was the first time that Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (UUV) systems were used on such a large scale to assess their effectiveness in mapping the seabed, which can be useful when a ship is close to the shoreline. The unmanned vehicles were also used to combat mines. Specialised UUVs with automatic target recognition technology and advanced communication capabilities conducted real-time analysis. The data they sent (including imagery) went to specialists involved in the neutralisation of explosives. Coordinated activities allowed participants to collaborate between sea, air and land forces and hone their skills by participating in complex scenarios, all under strict guidelines for environmental care. 

It is worth mentioning that a major contribution to the planning and organisation was made by POL MCC in Gdynia, actively involved in both the planning process and the execution phase, delegating experienced personnel to the international team. This year, POL MCC was represented by Lieutenant Commander Grzegorz Rybka and Senior Staff Warrant Officer Rafał Wolski, who were stationed at STRIKFORNATO in Lisbon. This unit was responsible for the command of the entire operation. In the Joint Operation Centre, Senior Staff Warrant Officer Wolski was responsible  for the recognised maritime picture (RMP). He was working with Maritime Command and Control Information System and NATO Common Operational Picture.  In addition, he had the opportunity to develop his language skills in an international environment through cooperation with Allies. 

Both participating in BALTOPS 23, ORPs Slazak and General Tadeusz Kosciuszko sail in formation as they perform their tasks © The Polish Navy

The BALTOPS exercises are among the largest and most important in the Baltic Sea. They date back to the 1970s. The first manoeuvres in the Baltic took place in 1972 and were aimed at increasing the interoperability of NATO member states. Naval units of the United States, Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany and Norway participated. After the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the number of participating states increased. In 1993, along with other former Eastern Bloc countries, Poland joined the exercise for the first time. Over time, cooperation with Sweden and Finland was strengthened as part of the manoeuvres in the Baltic Sea.

Marine, air and land units involved in tactical and operational tasks focus on carrying out defensive actions, complex maritime and landing operations. Currently, the BALTOPS exercise focuses on combating asymmetric threats, such as:

 cooperation in countering cyber attacks, 

 monitoring and responding to information threats,  

 coordinating actions in case of attacks on critical infrastructure. 

Story by the Polish Maritime Operations Centre – Maritime Component Command for Multinational Corps Northeast Public Affairs Office

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