Drone assaults, torpedo attacks, plucking casualties from the water, and taking on supplies from unusual ships – on the go, in narrow waters – have marked the opening stage of the biggest war game in the Baltic this year.
NATO’s Baltops enters its second week today after a demanding opening stage which tested the crew of HMS Kent to the limit.
The frigate is one of two Royal Navy warships joining more than two dozen vessels, a similar number of aircraft and upwards of 3,000 military personnel in the annual international test of naval and air power, in 2020 in its 49th year.
Portsmouth-based Kent has covered well over 500 miles during Baltops 2020 from the southern Baltic and around the Danish island of Bornholm, to the Latvian coastline.
As the exercise name suggests, the goal of Baltops is to test the ability of NATO and allied/partner nations to guarantee the freedom and security of nations with a Baltic coastline.
In that context, the exercise runs the gamut of seafaring and naval warfare: air and submarine defence, surface warfare, manoeuvring with other vessels in close proximity, sailors falling overboard (and being rescued by the swimmer of the watch), refuelling (courtesy of the American USNS Supply).
The upper deck gunners tested their marksmanship with machine-guns and Miniguns (ship-mounted Gatling guns) and the 30mm Automatic Small Calibre Gun (ASCG) against dummy surface targets before ‘air attacks’ as Banshee drones – 9ft long, 8ft wingspan, moving at about 120mph – were deployed against Kent.
Also put to the test were the flight team as maintainers prepared and loaded a dummy Sting Ray for the Merlin helicopter, which promptly headed off on a sortie with the torpedo at the ready.
The anti-submarine warfare elements of the exercise allowed Kent’s underwater warfare team to consolidate their training – and the maintainers from 814 Naval Air Squadron to hone their skills in readying a torpedo for a potential attack; a Sting Ray-armed Merlin is the frigate’s premier weapon against any submarine foe.
The frigate joined the exercise after a brief stop in Gothenburg. Precautions to safeguard the crew from coronavirus meant there was no opportunity to step ashore in the Swedish port which would, ordinarily, have given the sailors a night off. To ensure the chefs in the galley at least enjoyed one night’s rest, however, the frigate put an order in for 220 pizzas, paid for by the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity, from local restaurants.
Aside from HMS Kent, minehunter HMS Ramsey is also involved in the exercise, working as part of a NATO mine warfare task group which she joined last month.