US warships are now in the Baltic ahead of BALTOPS as Sweden and Finland progress through the NATO membership process
At least three US warships are operating in the Baltic Sea ahead of two weeks of international exercises in the region, according to the US 6th Fleet.
USS Large Deck Amphibious Warfare Ship Kearsarge (LHD-3), USS amphibious Gunston Hall (LSD-44), USS guided missile destroyer Seriously (DDG-107) and command ship USS Mount Whitney (LCC-20) are operating in the Baltic Sea ahead of the BALTOPS 22 series of exercises, USNI News has learned.
Gunston Hall and Seriously stopped over in Helsinki, Finland on Friday.
“Before their port call, Gunston Hall and Seriously conducted extensive operations with Allies and Partners in the Baltic Sea, including a series of maneuver exercises with the Finnish and Swedish navies,” a 6th Fleet statement read.
Last week, Kearsarge and elements of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit drilled in the Estonian-led exercise Siil – Estonian for hedgehog – around the island of Saaremaa, the town of Pärnu on the west coast of Estonia and the town from Võru, about 15 miles from the Russian border.
“The exercise scenario will consist of an amphibious landing followed by a multi-day force-on-force exercise, as well as the execution of a vertical assault raid,” a Navy statement on the exercise reads. led by Estonia.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February, the United States has been pouring ships into Europe.
The exercises with the Baltic countries precede the NATO-led exercise BALTOPS 22, which will take place in Sweden this year.
In addition to the United States, the countries concerned by the exercise are Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway , Poland, Sweden, Turkey and the United Kingdom.
“More than 45 ships, more than 75 aircraft and approximately 7,000 personnel will participate in BALTOPS 22,” read a NATO statement.
The exercise will include “amphibious operations, artillery, anti-submarine and air defense exercises, as well as minesweeping, explosive ordnance disposal, unmanned underwater vehicle and ‘medical intervention”.
The US contingent for BALTOPS will include Kearsarge, Gunston Hall and the Spanish-based guided-missile destroyer USS Rota Carry (DDG-78), Navy officials told USNI News on Tuesday.
The 51st version of the exercise comes as longtime participants Sweden and Finland began the process of joining NATO amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Swedish officials, in particular, have called for the United States to operate more in the Baltic, a move Navy and Marine Corps leaders have endorsed, USNI News reported.
“I look forward to the prospect of Sweden and Finland joining NATO and I foresee a day when we will really increase our maritime operations in the Baltic Sea,” Navy Secretary Carlos Del said. Toro at the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee earlier in May.
While the majority of the 30-nation alliance supports the entry of the two Nordic countries, Turkey continues to oppose Sweden and Finland’s protection of what Ankara calls terrorist organizations, including the Party Workers of Kurdistan (PKK), and the cessation of arms exports.
On Tuesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey would not allow Finland and Sweden to join unless Helsinki and Stockholm agree to “end their support for the PKK and to other groups, to ban them from holding events on their territory, to extradite those wanted by Turkey on terrorism charges, support Ankara’s military and counter-terrorism operations and lift all restrictions on the export of weapons”, according Reuters.