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.”