War Exercise Despite Pandemic (II)

War exercises on the Baltic Sea will begin on the weekend with German Bundeswehr participation.

BERLIN (Own report) - A major combat exercise in the Baltic Sea will begin with German Bundeswehr participation on the weekend, despite ongoing restrictions on civilian life due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In the course of nine days, troops from 17 NATO member states and two allied countries will be exercising naval warfare within the framework of the US led BALTOPS 2020 maneuvers. In spite of the Corona crisis, western powers are maintaining their commitment to the exercise as well as to the major US Defender Europe 20 maneuver, exercising the transatlantic redeployment of division level US troops in the direction of the Russian border. Due to the pandemic, it will be continued in a reduced form, under the label Defender 20-plus. The BALTOPS maneuvers, held annually since 1971, have become increasingly important in the context of growing tensions between the western powers and Russia. In the event of war between NATO and Russia, the Baltic Sea would become a key military strategic region.


In Continuation of the Cold War

The BALTOPS - abbreviation for "Baltic Operations" - are a series of combat exercises, launched by the United States, in the midst of the Cold War, back in 1971 and have been annually held ever since. BALTOPS had even been maintained, when the military alliance had reassessed its area of operations and, initially, shifted its focus from an eventual great power confrontation to global military interventions. In 2014, NATO began openly shifting its strategic focus back to great power confrontation and BALTOPS exercises have become increasingly important. They are the western powers' central naval exercises in the Baltic region, essentially organized by the USA. Within the US military, the "Second Fleet" is responsible for its planning and execution. In view of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, the United States has created the Second Fleet after World War II. During the Cold War it was assigned to the East Coast of the United States and the entire North Atlantic i.e. the liaison route to Europe. During the periods of relative detente in transatlantic-Russian relations, the US Navy dissolved the Second Fleet in 2011, reestablishing it in 2018 in light of the growing tensions between Washington and Moscow. The Second Fleet is but one example of old Cold War military structures that the West has been increasingly restoring since 2014. New military structures have been added, such as the Baltic Maritime Component Command, set up by the German Bundeswehr in Rostock. (german-foreign-policy reported.[1])


This year, from June 7, to June 16, the western powers will be exercising warfare in the Baltic Sea within the framework of the BALTOPS 2020. 17 NATO and 2 partner nations will provide 29 maritime units, 29 aircraft, and 3,000 personnel.[2] The Bundeswehr is also participating. As usual, with military maneuvers, few details concerning the underlying scenario are known. Nevertheless the German Navy announces that the maneuvers include air operations, anti-submarine warfare, maritime interdiction and mine countermeasure operations.[3] The exercise will be divided into two at sea training phases: the combat enhancement training and force integration training, wherein the 19 participating military forces will be exercising waging joint warfare. It is also top priority of the exercise: Interoperability and flexibility among the troops are to be enhanced since the Second World War. The objective is better synchronization between the participating military forces and enabling them to "rapidly respond in a time of crisis" - in concert.

Baltic Sea of Warfare

Air operations, anti-submarine warfare, maritime interdiction and mine countermeasure operations are of great significance for military operations on the Baltic Sea. On the one hand, this is due to the nature of the sea itself, and on the other, to its geographical location at the new frontline between NATO-member territories and Russia. As a so-called marginal sea, the Baltic Sea places a different set of demands on warships than, for example, the high seas - because the Baltic offers only few sea lanes for maneuvering; which is already a challenge for flexible ships. Because there are but few navigable routes, the Baltic can be effectively partially or completely closed using sea mines and missiles. This is exactly what would be needed in a war on the Baltic Sea with Russia. The major powers would compete for military control of that sea. Both sides of the conflict would be seeking to block the other side's access to the Baltic - not only for warships, but also for cargo vessels. Therefore, Russia has missile systems deployed in Kaliningrad. This is why the Russian exclave, situated between Poland and Lithuania, is such a headache for strategists. Not only do important NATO military supply routes to the Baltic countries pass through the Baltic Sea, but important trade routes, as well, including those Germany is dependent upon.

Now Without Russia

Even though detailed scenarios of the BALTOPS maneuvers have not been published, there are nevertheless clear indications that the maneuvers are indeed aimed at Russia. For a few years, Russia had participated in these series of exercises. In 2008, immediately after the Georgian War, the USA disinvited Russian forces. Beginning in 2010, Russian troops were again invited to participate until the United States definitively banned them from the exercises in 2014.[4] A growing number of voices consider that a military conflict with Russia cannot be ruled out. For example, about a year ago, an article in the specialized journal, "Europäische Sicherheit und Technik," pertaining to BALTOPS 2019 assessed that "no area in Europe is as militarized as the Baltic Sea region, where NATO and Russia are confronting each other in a confined space and where the possibility of conflict with Russia is quite tangible."[5] The climax of BALTOPS 2019 was a NATO amphibious troop landing in Lithuania, just a few hundred kilometers from the Russian border. The course of war against Moscow, being pursued by NATO, is also apparent in official German government strategic policy documents, wherein Russia is openly designated the rival.[6] Its practical expression are the BALTOPS maneuvers.



[1] See also Leadership Claims at the "Wet Flank".

[2] U.S. Navy to Join 18 Allied, Partner Nations in Annual Baltic Exercise. navy.mil 01.06.2020.

[3] BALTIC OPERATIONS 2020 (BALTOPS 2020). Pressemitteilung des Presse- und Informationszentrums der Marine. 03.06.2020.

[4], [5] BALTOPS 2019 - Multinationales Großmanöver in der Ostsee. esut.de 06.07.2019.

[6] Siehe zum Beispiel das Bundeswehr-Weißbuch von 2016 sowie die Konzeption der Bundeswehr und das Fähigkeitsprofil der Bundeswehr von 2018. See also Deutschlands globaler Horizont (I).