The US Navy-led multinational maritime-focused exercise Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2019 has commenced in the Baltic Sea.

The annual exercise will involve maritime forces from 18 countries and will be held until 21 June.

BALTOPS is a key maritime exercise in the Baltic region and one of the largest exercises in northern Europe. It is designed to enhance flexibility and interoperability among allied and partner nations.

Nato spokesperson Oana Lungescu told Naval Technology: “The Baltic Sea is of vital strategic importance for the alliance and is bordered by six Nato countries. BALTOPS is now in its 47th year and is not directed against anyone but clearly the security environment in the region has deteriorated after Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea.

“BALTOPS tests how well our forces work together and shows that Nato can defend itself against any adversary.”

The US 2nd Fleet is leading the exercise on behalf of Naval Forces Europe. The command achieved initial operational capability (IOC) last month.

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US 2nd Fleet commander vice-admiral Andrew Lewis said: “No one nation can face today’s challenges alone, we are much stronger together.

“Our partner and Nato alliances must continue to strengthen our deterrence and defence efforts and adapt through improving readiness and responsiveness.”

During BALTOPS 2019, ground, maritime and air forces will work together in exercising air defence, maritime interdiction, anti-subsurface warfare, mine countermeasures and amphibious operations.

These operations will help bolster the development of joint teams across all layers of the battlespace.

Around 8,600 troops are taking part in this year’s exercise. BALTOPS 2019 will also involve 50 surface ships, 36 aircraft and two submarines in a joint operational environment.

UK Royal Navy rear admiral Andrew Burns said: “I think BALTOPS represents the habit we have made in operating in a coalition environment and in a multinational environment.

“BALTOPS tests how well our forces work together and shows that Nato can defend itself against any adversary.”

“One of the advantages, particularly in the Nato framework, as we operate together more and more we standardise our procedures so we now have a generation of military folk who are used to operating together with standard procedures.”

The training exercises will include finding and destroying sea mines and submarines, and the use of air defence and landing troops onshore.

Forces will also practise defence against attack from enemy navy vessels, while aircraft will be responsible for air defence, surveillance and providing cover for amphibious operations.