NAVAL leaders charged with running the biggest Nato military exercise of the year have insisted the action wasn’t a drill for a war with Russia.
A massive force of more than 50 warships – including vessels from Portsmouth – submarines, aircraft and 8,500 military personnel from 18 nations joined the war game in the Baltic.
The two-week exercise, known as Baltops 19, wrapped up today and was a chance for Nato forces to flex their muscles with large-scale fleet manoeuvres, amphibious assaults, stealthy commando raids and helicopter attacks.
And the action was closely monitored by Moscow, who deployed Russian warships to shadow the Nato fleet.
But British and American military top brass downplayed the deployment and denied their exercise was a dress rehearsal for a conflict with Russia.
Vice Admiral Andrew Lewis, commander of the recently re-established US Second Fleet, oversaw this year’s scenario and told The News: ‘This training has no target or enemy, but rather is to demonstrate that Nato allies and partners can and will defend against any adversaries.
‘By training together we enhance our interoperability and we show our collective commitment to deterring potential adversaries while ensuring our shared strategic interests are preserved.’
Much of Baltops was directed from the American Navy command ship USS Mount Whitney, home to the UK maritime battle staff and Rear Admiral Andrew Burns, a Royal Navy officer who’s been made deputy commander of the US Second Fleet.
He said Nato’s presence was helping maintain stability in the region and insisted it wasn’t ‘provocative’.
But the naval veteran admitted he was ‘not surprised’ Russia had been observing the exercise.
‘What they’ve been doing has been within national norms, which is precisely what we are here to demonstrate and uphold,’ he said.
During the exercise – which has been running for more than 40 years – almost every aspect of naval warfare was tested: manoeuvring large task groups, pounding enemy positions with gunfire, fending off submarine, air and fast boat attacks.
UK flagship HMS Albion oversaw an amphibious assault spearheaded by 3 Commando Brigade who honed their combat and tactical skills on ranges in Sweden and Germany before Baltops reached its climax with ‘free play’: an unscripted clash between the two ‘sides’ drawn up for the exercise.