U.S. European Command’s (USEUCOM) last week of exercises and operations clearly demonstrated to America’s Allies and foes alike that the command’s operational capabilities and commitment are ironclad.
With the air and maritime presence of 19 nations exercising in the Baltic region; the Air Force’s B-52H Stratofortress aircraft conducting another long-range, long-duration strategic bomber mission across Europe; the emplacement of Javelin missiles on the ground in Ukraine; MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles in the skies above Estonia; and the division-sized, joint river crossing in the waters of Poland, USEUCOM’s readiness to support our Allies and partners was unmistakable last week.
"Weeks like this truly underscore the long and effective reach that U.S. European Command has in supporting shared Alliance interests over the 21-million square miles of this theater," said U.S. Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Christian F. Wortman, USEUCOM's deputy director of operations. "From air, ground, sea and space, U.S. forces and those of our European Allies and partners are unmatched in their steadfast commitment and operational capability. Last week was yet another week of demonstrating our constant mission readiness in the face of any challenge."
Designed to enhance interoperability and flexibility and demonstrate international resolve to defend the Baltic Sea region, the 49th Baltic Operations, known simply as BALTOPS, concluded June 16. The premier annual maritime exercise featured 28 air and an equal number of maritime assets, along with 3,000 forces from 17 NATO and 2 partner nations during the 10 days of live training events.
Focused upon air defense, anti-submarine warfare, maritime interdiction and mine countermeasures operations, the exercise took place exclusively at sea to ensure the health and safety of participating forces, given the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic.
BALTOPS began in 1972, and this year’s exercise featured participating forces and equipment from Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the U.S.
Allied Spirit, a DEFENDER-Europe 20 linked exercise, showcased the interoperability between nearly 6,000 Polish and American soldiers. Originally slated for May, Allied Spirit was modified from its original design to ensure the safety of each participating soldier and nearby communities from any potential COVID-19 risk.
Concluding June 19, the two-week exercise featured a U.S.-Polish division-size river crossing and a Polish airborne operation. Nearly 4,000 U.S. cavalry, armored and aviation Soldiers joined nearly 2,000 Polish airborne, armored cavalry and mechanized infantry Soldiers in conducting the bilateral exercise.
"DEFENDER-Europe 20 and its linked exercises demonstrate that NATO Allies and partners stand stronger together," Wortman added. "From delivering aid to European nations hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic to aggressively training side-by-side on the seas, shores and country-sides across Europe, that strength and solidarity have never been clearer than they are now."
With 4,400 miles separating the lighthouse on Vaindloo Island, situated in the Gulf of Finland, and the air traffic control tower at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, the overhead presence of two B-52H Stratofortresses on June 15 underscored America’s ability to project power to protect NATO Allies and partners in the Baltic Sea region should the need arise.
The long-range strategic aircraft conducted its strategic bomber mission throughout Europe and the Baltic region this week, while also supporting the BALTOPS exercise. Engaging in integration and interoperability training with British and French Air Forces assigned to NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission, the bombers also conducted Estonia and Latvia flyovers.
A KC-135 Stratotanker based in RAF Mildenhall, England, allowed the B-52s to be refueled midflight to complete the roundtrip mission between North Dakota and the Baltic Sea region.
Last week as well the U.S. Embassy-Kyiv’s Office of Defense Cooperation delivered more than $60 million of equipment to America’s Ukrainian military partners. Delivered on June 16, the equipment included Javelin anti-tank missiles, radios and ammunition.
In cooperation with the Estonian government and in support of USEUCOM’s Baltic region Allies and partners, U.S. Air Forces in Europe on June 15 temporarily relocated MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft, military personnel and support equipment from Miroslawiec Air Base in Poland to Amari Air Base in Estonia. The multi-mission, medium-altitude, long-endurance remotely piloted aircraft will fly air, land and maritime awareness missions.
“The initiatives last week continue to demonstrate without question that the United States stands strongly with our European Allies and partners with postured and ready forces as well as a full spectrum of equipment to counter any potential foe,” said U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Jessica Meyeraan, USEUCOM’s deputy director of partnering, security cooperation and missile defense. “In Ukraine, we remain steadfast in our support to that country’s sovereignty and its territorial integrity in the face of Russian aggression. In Estonia, the movement of MQ-9 Reapers further underscores the level of operational flexibility and interoperability among the 51 nations in the European theater. Both of these initiatives enhance the security of each individual country and the stability of the entire region. We truly are stronger together.”