The UK's new Joint Expeditionary Force showed what it can do for the security of the Baltic with an all-action demonstration in Estonia.
In Kolga Bay, two dozen miles east of the capital Tallinn, British and Estonian air, ground and naval forces combined for the first act of the final stage of the Baltic Protector deployment for political and military leaders of nine nations – all committed to the region’s safety, security and prosperity.
The demonstration opened with a pair of RAF Typhoon fighters screaming overhead, missing the trees by inches.
As spectator’s eyes followed the disappearing jets, a Merlin of the Commando Helicopter Force appeared over the water and eight Royal Marines ‘heli-casted’ – jumping from the helicopter into the choppy waters below before swimming towards two inflatable raiding craft that sped towards the Baltic coastline.
They silently dropped the marines on to the sand and as the men moved up the beach, an Estonian reconnaissance trooper emerged from the woods to guide the commandos ashore.
This is the first run-out for the Joint Expeditionary Force – a UK-led task force supported by eight nations bordering on the Baltic and North Seas – which could be used to reinforce partner nations from the ‘maritime flank’ during a crisis in northern Europe.
As the demonstration continued, two Royal Marines Wildcat helicopters hovered just off the beach, using their thermal imagery cameras to scan for enemy units before Army Air Corps Apache thundered in to provide cover for the main landing.
A group of Offshore Raiding Craft, capable of speeds of up to 40 knots, disembarked groups of commandos to forge a beachhead ahead of the marines’ heavy kit brought ashore by larger landing craft: a column of Viking armoured vehicles rumbled on to the beach and into the treeline to link up with their Estonian comrades.
As they rolled up to the outer perimeter, more Merlins, Wildcats and Apaches flew overhead and commandos ‘fast roped’ on to the ground to reinforce the outer cordon – bringing the demonstration to an end.
“We’re no longer in the game of opposed landings,” explained Major Sam Hughes, in charge of X-Ray Company, 45 Commando.
“We now have the ability to land at a time and place of our choosing before hitting the enemy where they least expect it. In this scenario, the Estonians had secured the beach and we moved in to reinforce their position.”
Among those watching the set-piece was Estonia’s President Kersti Kaljulaid who was “very pleased with the course of the exercise, the co-operation and lessons already learned”.
“The Royal Navy and Royal Marines – and British Armed Forces more generally – have a long and deep relationship with the Estonian Defence Forces,” said Commodore James Parkin, Commander Amphibious Task Group.
The demonstration was the curtain-raiser to the final exercise of the two-month-long Baltic Protector deployment which has tested the Royal Navy-led task group in the North Sea (working with the Danes and Norwegians) and central Baltic (working with the US Navy and NATO).
In the final stage the deployment, the emphasis on working with the traditional ‘Baltic states’ to demonstrate how UK forces – in this instance led by flagship HMS Albion – would be deployed to the region in the event of a possible crisis.
"This exercise demonstrates our continuing commitment to Estonia and the security of the Baltic Sea Region," said task group commander Commodore James Parkin.
"The Royal Navy and Royal Marines – and British Armed Forces more generally – have a long and deep relationship with the Estonian Defence Forces.
"We are partners in the Joint Expeditionary Force and allies in NATO, the Royal Marines, along with other British troops, fought alongside Estonian soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Royal Navy fought to assist Estonia in winning its independence 100 years ago."
When the deployment ends later this month, it will have involved 4,000 personnel from the JEF nations – the UK, Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – and seen nearly 40 ships join the kernel of the task group formed around HMS Albion.