US and NATO partners use exercise to better protect waters where Russia operates

U.S. divers used underwater drones to find and clear simulated mines and submerged explosives in a NATO exercise that seeks to boost security in the Baltic Sea area, where Russia has grown more active. Eighteen countries, 40 vessels and 3,000 personnel are participating in this year’s two-week Northern Coasts exercise in the Danish straits, which link the Baltic Sea and the North Sea.

“The Baltic Sea is of vital importance for the Alliance and is bordered by six NATO countries,” NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the security environment in the region has deteriorated after Russia’s illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea and its continuing military-build-up.”

Northern Coasts, which runs until Thursday, is not only a show of force to potential adversaries, but also provides troops with tactical training, NATO officials said in a statement.

In this year’s exercise scenario, a fictitious country made territorial claims over islands in the Baltic Sea and used naval forces to threaten freedom of navigation.

Allies and partner nations countered the simulated threat through a coordinated effort that included maritime surveillance, naval combat, air-defense, anti-submarine warfare and mine clearance.

Sailors used underwater drones to detect, identify and take images of threats, and then cleared simulated mines and improvised explosives from the shore and the water, the Navy said.

Unmanned submersibles, such as the torpedo-like Remote Environmental Measuring Unit, or REMUS-100, help cut the time divers have to spend in dangerous waters, reducing the risk of loss of life, it said.

Mine warfare continues to be waged throughout the world, and nations work together in exercises like Northern Coasts to practice neutralizing these underwater threats so commanders know where to direct landing forces, the Navy said.

Two U.S. units — Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 8 from Rota, Spain, and Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2 based in Virginia Beach, Va. — worked alongside allies in the mine-clearance exercises.

As Russia grows more assertive, it has become increasingly important for the U.S. and its allies and partners to combine forces to safeguard the Baltic region, Adm. James Foggo, head of Naval Forces Europe and Africa, has said.

“We must commit and invest in a robust and capable naval presence to maintain regional stability,” Foggo wrote Friday in an Atlantic Council newsletter. “Not doing so could be far more costly.”

Belarus positively evaluates the first stage of the exercise “Union Shield-2019”

Oleg Belokonev, Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Belarus, positively assessed the results of the first stage of the joint Russian-Belarusian military exercise “Union Shield-2019”, the Belarus’ Ministry of Defence reported on Monday on its website.

“The first stage of the joint operational exercise of the armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation “Union Shield-2019 ” was completed at the Mulino training ground. The governing bodies showed a high ability to manage subordinate units in the course of fulfilling their mission in difficult conditions,” the statement emphasizes.

Chief of the General Staff, Belarusian First Deputy Defense Minister Oleg Belokonev, who is in charge of overseeing the exercise, said: “Today we’ve started the second stage of the exercise, which will focus on practical actions, on the implementation of the decisions and steps we made during the first stage. The army units will have to practice defensive action in assigned positions, continue stabilizing the situation, organizing interaction, support, and logistics. Command and control units will continue giving orders to subordinate units in a complicated environment. I believe the main goal of the event will be reached. We will get some practice of working together with the Armed Forces of Russia to ensure the military security of the Union State of Belarus and Russia.”

Belokonev also said that “military units fairly confidently carried out a set of measures to search, block, destroy illegal armed groups and sabotage and reconnaissance groups, to stabilize the situation in the designated areas of responsibility.”

Joint exercise of the armed forces of the two countries takes place at the Mulino training ground in the Nizhny Novgorod region. The Union Shield-2019 drills are set to involve a total of 12,000 troops and 950 pieces of military equipment, including combat vehicles, aircraft and helicopters. OSCE member states have been notified about it in line with the 2011 Vienna Document on Confidence- and Security-Building Measures. The Belarusian army is represented by over 4,000 military personnel, more than 30 tanks, 80 armored fighting vehicles, about 50 MLRS, artillery, and mortar units as well as aircraft and helicopters.