The Finnish Navy has participated in NATO’s ‘BALTOPS’ exercise for the first time as a NATO member, following long-standing previous contributions to ‘BALTOPS’ and other NATO activities as an alliance partner.
Finland formally acceded into NATO on 4 April 2023, after applying for membership following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
The Finnish Navy, as a significant player in the Baltic region, has been a regular participant in ‘BALTOPS’ and other NATO maritime activities in and around the region.
‘BALTOPS’ is built around two NATO Allied Maritime Command (MARCOM) standing naval forces, Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 (SNMG1) and Standing NATO Mine Counter Measures Group 1 (SNMCMG1). For the exercise, these two task groups integrate with joint assets from NATO member states and partners in the region.
‘BALTOPS’, which takes place annually in mid-June, is co-hosted by US Naval Forces Europe-Africa and US Sixth Fleet, with exercise command and control conducted by the alliance’s Striking and Support Forces NATO battlestaff. ‘BALTOPS’ focuses on building integrated interoperability between participants, and brings particular emphasis on operational tasks including preserving freedom of navigation and securing sea lines of communication (SLOCs) in and around the Baltic Sea. This year, more than 50 ships participated in the exercise.
Finland’s participation in ‘BALTOPS’ as a NATO member for the first time meant that seven allied countries bordering the Baltic Sea came together in the exercise, SNMG1 said in a statement.
Amongst the Finnish Navy’s contribution to the exercise was the presence of the minehunter FNS Katanpää in SNMCMG1.
“It was a great honour to have … Katanpää as part of our task unit, now as a fully integrated NATO member,” Commander Ole Torstein Sjo, a Royal Norwegian Navy (RNoN) officer and commander of SNMCMG1, said a MARCOM/SNMCMG1 statement.
Noting the critical role mine countermeasures (MCM) forces play in ensuring access to “strategic waterways”, the MARCOM/SNMCMG1 statement said that the purpose of MCM operations is “to sweep, hunt, identify, and neutralise underwater mines to ensure freedom of movement [and] freedom of navigation, and to ensure vital SLOCs remain open”.
by Dr. Lee Willett, London