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U.S. and NATO Allies conduct MCM during BALTOPS24

19 June 2024

From Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jordan Klineizquierdo

PUTLOS, Germany - U.S. and Allied forces are conducting mine hunting and mine detonation exercises in the Baltic Sea as part of Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2024, the premier maritime-focused annual military exercise in the Baltic Region.

U.S. and Allied forces are conducting mine hunting and mine detonation exercises in the Baltic Sea as part of Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2024, the premier maritime-focused annual military exercise in the Baltic Region. Mine countermeasure (MCM) exercises, conducted by personnel at Truppenübungsplatz Putlos and Hohn Air Base in Germany, commenced June 7 and culminated in an MCM combat rehearsal, June 18.

The Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC) directs all MCM exercises within BALTOPS, including surface MCM vessels, MCM capable aircraft, and explosive ordnance disposal. About 700 personnel, more than 20 surface ships and units, and 20 unmanned systems, including unmanned surface and underwater vessels, and two MH-60S Seahawk helicopters are involved in BALTOPS mine countermeasure efforts.

“This is our chance to flex our MCM muscles and show what we have been practicing and working towards,” says Capt. Scott Hattaway, director of SMWDC. “During BALTOPS24, we put all the chips on the table and lay our cards down, and show that we know what we're doing and that we're good at it.”

Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron TWO ONE (HSC-21) Detachment THREE, based in San Diego, California, under U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM), provided two MH-60S Seahawk helicopters configured with Airborne Mine Neutralization Systems.

“HSC-21 is executing multiple BALTOPS24 events to advance helicopter tactics in offensive mine countermeasures,” said Lt. Cmdr. Rob “OG” Swain, HSC-21.3 Officer-in-Charge. “These include employing the Airborne Mine Neutralization System (AMNS), working with U.S. Navy and NATO nation special forces, and closely integrating with our German host nation allies. The participation of HSC-21 in BALTOPS24 demonstrates cross-combatant command operational readiness and the joint forces’ ability to rapidly move strategic mine countermeasures assets from the Indo-Pacific to anywhere in the world ready to execute with agility, reliability, and aggression.”

The culminating MCM event is a combat rehearsal for NATO’s ability to combat adversary floating mines. The mines were first located by NATO surface MCM ships. Once detected, a combined NATO Special Forces team of Norwegian and French casted into the water by two MH-60S helicopters from HSC-21 dove below the surface, rigged charges, and detonated the inert training mines after being recovered by the MH-60S helicopters.

“The underwater detonation captures the full combined strength of NATO MCM,” Swain says. “French, Norwegian, and Dutch special forces coordinated closely with U.S. Navy Helicopter Offensive Mine Countermeasures aircrew to plan a live underwater detonation of a floating mine laid by Norwegian Oksøy-class minehunter Hinnøy (M343).  The French Navy Vulcain-class mine clearance diver vessel FS Styx (M614) will provide diving and medical response.”

BALTOPS 2024 brings the largest assembled coalition of amphibious and mine countermeasure forces in exercise’s history. Participating nations include Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Türkiye, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

“This is a chance to enhance multinational interoperability,” says Estonian Defense Forces Cmdr. Meelis Kants. “It brings us together, builds mutual trust and understanding, and it strengthens our collective defense capabilities. Working together allows us to promote shared security objectives and foster long term allied partnerships.”

There are areas of the Baltic Sea that still contain mines, ammunition and chemical weapons originating from the two world wars.

“This is an opportunity for us to practice our mine countermeasures in historically mined waters…BALTOPS allows us to sharpen the sword of our MCM capabilities, but also brings together all of the NATO partners that may go in and remove that mine threat. No one country goes into a MCM operation by themselves,” Capt. Hattaway says. “We practice now as an international cohort in order to prepare for when we do it for real.”

BALTOPS, led by U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa, and executed by Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO, provides a unique training opportunity to strengthen combined response capabilities critical to preserving freedom of navigation and security in the Baltic Sea.

  
 

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