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US Naval & Marine Forces Europe conduct planning for Baltic Sea operations: BALTOPS 12 ready to set sail

By Gunnery Sergeant Will Price | | March 5, 2012

Members of U.S. European Command's Naval & Marine Forces Europe and the Lithuanian armed forces teamed up to host the main planning conference for upcoming operations in the Baltic Sea region at the General Adolfas Ramanauskas Warfare Training Center in Vilnius, Lithuania, Feb. 27 – March 2.

More than 120 planners from 13 different countries met throughout the week to ensure all the logistical and scheduling requirements were being met, so that BALTOPS 12 would be ready to set sail this summer. BALTOPS 12 (Baltic Operations) is a U.S.-led maritime and land-based exercise conducted throughout the Baltic Sea region that focuses on increasing interoperability of the participating nations. BALTOPS 12 is in the spirit of Partnership for Peace and several NATO assets are expected to participate. Lithuanian Col. Vilmantas Tamosaitis, chief of Joint Headquarters and lead organizer for Lithuania's role in BALTOPS 12, officially began the conference with his opening remarks.

 “BALTOPS is the biggest international live exercise in Lithuania this year, therefore it is very important to me that we get well prepared for it. The exercise has great importance to Lithuania and this region,” said Tamosaitis. “This is a perfect opportunity for the Lithuanian armed forces to train with our neighbors, enhance cooperation and interoperability with our allies, and strengthen international relations. Taking into consideration that some parts of the exercise will be conducted in neighbor countries the significance of BALTOPS for the region increases greatly.”

The exercise will celebrate its 40th anniversary this summer, and according to Lt. Col. Mark Coppess, a planning officer with Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO, this year's exercise will be a special one.

“This year the exercise includes land, air, and at sea activities all coordinated under a maritime-based Combined Joint Task Force led by Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO [Strike Force NATO],” said Coppess. “Having performed the CJTF role in 2010 and leveraging recent Libyan crisis experience as part of Operation Unified Protector, Strike Force NATO is looking to achieve a much higher degree of interaction amongst subordinate air, land, and sea components spread across the 1,000 km wide training area.”

Currently 13 countries are on board bringing more than 30 vessels to the maritime exercise. Throughout the 2-week exercise, multinational service members will join forces to conduct a variety of sea, land and air missions. The two main efforts of BALTOPS 12 will be massive sea to land offload of military equipment in Estonia, and an amphibious landing in Lithuania. Units expected to participate in the offload operations include elements from Marine Forces Europe, 1st Marine Logistical Group, II Marine Expeditionary Force, 4th MLG, the Estonian Defense Forces, Maritime Pre-positioning Squadon 1, and a naval support element consisting of Naval Beach Group 2 and Navy Cargo Handling Battalion 1.

“MARFOREUR and 4th Marine Logistics Group in partnership with Blount Island Command have identified 200 principal end items to be off loaded,” said Lt. Col. Micheal Varicak, inspector instructor, Headquarters Service Battalion, 4th MLG, out of Marietta, Ga. “The purpose of this exercise is to display MARFOREUR’s ability to rapidly provide forces, project power, and advance MARFOREUR theater engagement/exercise objectives.”

Marine Forces Europe will bring Marines and sailors from Black Sea Rotational Force 12, stationed in Romania, to conduct amphibious/land operations with Lithuania Army Forces, to include counter-insurgency and peace keeping training.

“BSRF is a SPMAGTF [Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force] that will provide U.S. Marines the opportunity to conduct amphibious operations with Allied and partner nations in an area of the world where Marines do not regularly deploy,” said Lt. Col. Rick Coates, Black Sea Rotational Force commanding officer. “We will get a chance to exchange ideas and experiences with more than twelve nations. This is a great opportunity to not just learn from each other while developing our ability to work together, but also a chance to put our amphibious doctrine into effect.”

“The Lithuanians have masterfully hosted more than 120 of us in first-rate planning facilities and their efforts to build relationships with all of us over the past week will last long after BALTOPS 12 ends,” said Coppess. “From a planner’s perspective, I was surprised to see how easy it is going be, to plug a large coalition of forces under a Lithuanian-led land component. It is clear that the Lithuanian armed forces work very hard to maintain a highly professional staff. As a result of their efforts, this year’s BALTOPS exercise should be very exciting.”

The exercise lead planner, U.S. Naval Forces Europe's Lt. Cmdr. Justin Hsu, echoed Coppess' exuberance.

“This planning conference was a great success. We are well on our way to an exercise that will increase interoperability, as well as promote friendship, mutual understanding and cooperation with our regional partners.” With the winds of a successful main planning conference at her back, BALTOPS 12 is officially ready to set sail.