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ADMIRAL MICHAEL M. GILDAY: Good morning. It’s good to be with you this morning. And I’d just like to say up front, I’d like to thank the German government and the German people for the hospitality that they’ve shown the United States Navy. Not just this week, during Kiel week, but for decades of visits to wonderful ports like this. so from the bottom of my heart, thank you for your hospitality and your kindness.
I’d just like to say upfront that the NATO alliance is united. The NATO alliance is strong. And the NATO alliance is galvanized. And that matters. It matters because in times of crisis, although we can surge forces, we cannot surge trust. That takes consistency and it takes demonstrated commitment. And I think that Exercise Baltic Operations is a unique example of that, how our navies come together not just showcase our high-end warfighting capabilities, but also our commitment to the alliance, our commitment to interoperability, our commitment to each other as sailors and as warfighters, that we can operate effectively together in any environment. So BALTOPS, this is the 51st iteration of this historic and highly effective exercise. And it’s an honor to be here today to be part of it. Thank you.
CMDR. HILLSON: Vice Admiral Lenski, sir.
VICE ADMIRAL FRANK LENSKI: Ladies and gentlemen, Russian war of aggression against Ukraine has too clearly shown that we need to protect ourselves. For Russia, it’s not only the attack of Ukraine but also the attack of European peace order. So we have to resist this attack. We must alert and ready to defend ourselves at any time. But thanks to our allies, in particular to the U.S. Navy, we will not do that on our own. That is why I’m standing before you today, together with Admiral Gilday and Admiral Black. And with this regard to our friends and allies in the Baltic States, Finland and Poland, and Sweden, we are standing here to back up the NATO promise, one for all and all for one.
And I sincerely welcome the continued commitment of the U.S. Navy in Europe. Since 1972, the BALTOPS exercise has been taking place in the Baltic Sea and under U.S. leadership. And this year, for the 51st time. And it always ends at Kiel, and it ends with the state of Kiel Week, which is a very good tradition. Our ties with the U.S. Navy and strong, and will remain strong, because the Baltic Sea, and not only the Baltic Sea, is part of NATO’s northern flank. In case of war, this wet flank will be used to transfer troops and material reinforcement to our allies in the eastern Baltic Sea, which soon includes Finland and Sweden.
It is our vital interest to guarantee freedom and security in the Baltic Sea, and not only in this Baltic Sea but always. For this purpose, we need to know what is going on in the Baltic Sea, above water, and on water, and in the air. For this purpose, we need to know what to do. So we need to demonstrate our defense capabilities and show that in case of war we are determined to win. This is the only way to achieve credible deterrence. The BALTOPS exercise, out of my opinion, serves precisely this purpose. And I think all navies involved gave impressive proof of what we can achieve together.
I’m particularly pleased that Finland and Sweden have participated in BALTOPS again this year. We hope to welcome these two partner nations as soon as possible to the big NATO family. So with Finland and Sweden, the alliance will be even stronger. And at the same time, the geostrategic situation in the Baltic Sea would change fundamentally to our favor. So in light of the current security situation, the Baltic Sea thus continues to gain its importance for the national and alliance defense.
So why is this good and important that we are standing together? You see Admiral Gilday, Admiral Black. So we have to be ready. We have to be strong. And we have to be a credible force. And this will be done by exercises, by presenting our credibility, and by presenting our freedom. Thank you very much.
CMDR. HILLSON: Vice Admiral Black.
VICE ADMIRAL EUGENE BLACK III: Well, good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I’m Vice Admiral Gene Black. I’m the commander of the 6th Fleet, and I’m the commander of Striking and Support Force NATO, and commanded BALTOPS. I’m sure you’re aware, after an incredibly and extensive coverage over the last couple weeks – for us it’s a bit of a surprise. Four or five times the coverage we’ve seen before. (Laughs.) We have wrapped up the 51st iteration of BALTOPS.
Sixteen nations, 14 NATO allies, and Sweden and Finland, 45 ships, 87 aircraft, 7,000 sailors, Marines, soldiers, coast guardsmen, all working together doing high-end operations, high-end exercises from sea to land, from land to sea, from sea to sea, across every element that you can operate – air, maritime aircraft, ships, submarines. We had remarkable support from all of our allies. Sweden, this time we were able to operate around Gotland. They provided a submarine. And it was extremely successful in every regard.
We had an experimental element of BALTOPS. Every year we bring together some of the – some really smart Navy people and some scientists and we experiment with some of the equipment that we have, focused this time on mine warfare. And that’s an important element of what we do in BALTOPS. We also did some medical recovery exercises. For the first time we practiced how would we recover an injured sailor from a submarine at sea? And the last element we rehearsed was with chaplains, pastoral care. Chaplains from five nations moving among the units, moving among the ships, and working together so that in crisis we will know how to deal with each other across every culture and every nation.
I mentioned Sweden earlier, but I have to say again we opened BALTOPS in Stockholm with the 500th anniversary of the Swedish Navy. It was a remarkable celebration, and it was just as thrilling to see the ships come together at the start of BALTOPS in Stockholm as it is to see them here, ready to take full advantage of the warm welcome here in Germany and in Kiel.
I’d like to finish up and say that I have a particularly warm spot in my hear for the Germany Navy. When I deployed as a carrier strike group commander, the German ship Hessen was part of my strike group. And she was a – she performed brilliantly and carried out every duty with precision and skill, and I stay in touch with that captain to this day, and I have the warmest memories and respect for the maritime skills of the German Navy.
I’d like to thank the people of Germany for this incredibly warm welcome. We are so excited with the COVID cloud behind us we’re going to have a real reception here on Mount Whitney tonight. No masks, big crowd, good food, band; it’s a happening place. Thank you for the warm welcome. Thank you for caring for our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines as they come ashore. And thank you for the great support.
VICE ADM. LENSKI: So, ladies and gentlemen, I’ll take over. It’s now the time for your questions. Please give me a hand, and please address whom of the three admirals you would like to ask. (Inaudible.)
Q: (Off mic.)
VICE ADM. BLACK: The Russian reaction to us was pretty much the standard reaction to BALTOPS. Nothing exceptional. Some of their ships were at sea. They handled their ships professionally. We handled ours professionally. It’s international waters, international airspace. And there’s really nothing to report other than we operated safely together.
VICE ADM. LENSKI: OK. (Inaudible.)
Q: (Off mic)
VICE ADM. BLACK: We’ve enjoyed a long partnership with Sweden in particular, as more of a maritime force than Finland. But they brought their diesel submarine to sea. They’re among the best diesel submariners in the world, and they’re very, very professional and challenging. They operate in archipelagic waters with remarkable skill. And their ability to integrate is substantial. Them coming into NATO when that is approved, there will be no gap and they’ll just fall right into step.
I can’t speak for Finland in the same way because they’re largely a land power. But having met with them, I am absolutely certain they are more than ready. And they make us better and stronger.
Q: (Off mic)
ADM. GILDAY: So we kept the Kearsarge at sea due to an ongoing mission, along with a destroyer to operate in tandem with her. And so duty calls, and so she’s out there performing right now. But we hope in the future to be able to get her into a port visit soon.
Q: (Off mic.)
ADM. GILDAY: It is. It is. But having visited one of those ships yesterday, and although there was disappointment that they couldn’t come into Kiel – who wouldn’t be disappointed – at the same time they understand with a high degree of seriousness how important it is for them to remain out on mission right now.
ADM. GILDAY: Well, I can’t speak specifically about where she’s going to operate, but she will be in the region. And she will – and she will – she will have a very distinct presence.
Q: This is the first time that a ship like this is – (off mic). Will we see again a ship like this or maybe a carrier group here?
ADM. GILDAY: Well, I don’t want to disclose exactly what the exact nature of our presence will be, but it’ll be robust. And there’s nothing like a carrier strike group. Right now, you know, we have a carrier strike group down in the Mediterranean. But a ship like the Kearsarge, with some very capable Marines, F-35s as well embarked, bring quite a powerful punch to the area. And we’re proud to have them here operating alongside not only the German navy, but the other 15 – 14 navies that Admiral Black mentioned as well. Thank you.
VICE ADM. LENSKI: One more question. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s your chance. One more.
ADM. GILDAY: Do you want to take that one, Gene?
VICE ADM. BLACK: They’re not all my ships. I am sure they’re off doing what their nations have them doing. And I know they all wish they were here.
Q: OK. Are they on duty at sea?
VICE ADM. BLACK: That’s my assumption. When we finish the exercise, I detach them. They return to their tasking from their nations.
Q: (Off mic) – to the Navy Public Affairs. Could you elaborate a little bit on the specific scenario you were using for the exercise and whether this was an exercise or a scenario which led to – (off mic) – fighting war or (is it ?) fighting war averted by demonstrating and reassuring allies and deterring possible antagonists?
VICE ADM. BLACK: The scenario that we operated on is a make-up scenario. It doesn’t represent any country specifically. It builds on what we did last year. Last year was how would we fight our way into the Baltic. And then this year is how will we operate in the Baltic. You all have asked about the Kearsarge, well, that’s an amphibious ship with tremendous capability to put Marines ashore by air, by helicopter, by LCUs or LCACs – by hovercrafts, sorry to use the jargon. And so we flexed all of that. And to your question about the carrier strike group support, in a very innovative manner we were able to bring a training detachment of Super Hornets to Sweden. And they operated from there. So we had even more high-end aircraft interaction across the exercise. Of course, BALTOPS is all about reassurance and deterrence. And I think were successful in this, the 51st iteration.
VICE ADM. LENSKI: Looks like no more questions.
CMDR. HILLSON: Thank you very much for your time.
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