Royal Navy vessels join Baltic counterparts in large-scale JEF operation

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Royal Navy, Merevägi and Latvian and Lithuanian naval vessels involved in this week's Operation Expone. Source: U.K. Ministry of Defense/social media

Britain's Royal Navy is spearheading a joint naval operation off the coast of Estonia and in the southern Baltic this week, involving vessels from all three Baltic States, plus the Swedish Air Force. The operation, which is also dealing with the tough weather conditions, is part of the United Kingdom-led Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF), which has conducted large-scale exercises in the Baltic in the past.

Maj. Gen. Indrek Sirel, Deputy Commander of the Estonian Defence Forces (EDF) said: "Security and defense of waterways are our priorities during times of crises," said.

"The majority of our allies' military equipment and other goods is transported by the sea. This operation strengthens deterrence at sea in the same way as NATO's Enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) strengthens deterrence on the land," Maj. Gen. Sirel continued, according to a defense ministry press release.

The UK-led naval Operation Expone is part of the wider activities of the JEF, a coalition of British, Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Finnish, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and Netherlands forces formed in 2014.

Operation runs until Sunday

The operation runs from March 10 to 14, and is focusing on maritime security and freedom of navigation in the southern Baltic Sea.

The JEF will rehearse guarding waterways and escorting transport vessels by countering different air, submarine and ship attacks, also conducting mine countermeasures operations and naval surface fire training.

U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said of the operation that: "Some of the UK's closest and most steadfast allies are to be found in the Baltics. This deployment is both the latest example of a long and proud history of defense cooperation and a clear demonstration of the capability of the UK-led JEF."

"As the first maritime patrol of made up of exclusively JEF nations, we are ensuring our ships and people are ready to operate in challenging conditions alongside our Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian and Swedish allies," Wallace continued.

Meanwhile, Cdr Will Blackett, commanding officer of HMS Lancaster, a Type-23 frigate taking part in this week's maneuvers, said: "It is a real privilege to command the first task group of this type and I have been impressed by the capabilities on display from our partner nations."

"My ship's company are continuing to deliver success on operations against the hugely challenging backdrop of the Coronavirus pandemic," Cdr Blackett added.

Warfare specialist AB James Hearn of HMS Lancaster added that: "It is hugely exciting to be working with allied navies on live operations and a real privilege for me to experience."

In addition to HMS Lancaster, HMS Westminster, also a Type-23 frigate, and Tide-class replenishment tanker RFA Tiderace from the Royal Navy, together with frigate-borne helicopters are taking part, joined by auxiliary ship ENS Wambola from the Estonian Navy (Merevägi) Estonia, patrol vessel P-08 Jelgava (Latvia), minehunter P15 Sėlis and minelayer N42 Jotvingis (Lithuania).

The JEF says it is determined to maintain security and to react rapidly to crises in the northern Europe, the Baltic States, the North Atlantic and elsewhere as needed, and that it contributes in a key way to NATO´s deterrence posture in the region, via planning, training and operating, all of which enables member state to react rapidly to any hostile activities, and to prevent early the escalation of possible crises.  

The JEF provides a high-readiness intervention capability involving over 10,000 personnel across a range of activities, from combat operations to humanitarian assistance and defence Engagement.

As such it is a key contribution to European Security, on the principle of the nine contributing member states and their naval and other forces being stronger together. 

HMS Lancaster's Wildcat helicopter is flying patrols day and night, using its cutting-edge tech including thermal imaging camera used in identifying shipping, and practising secondary tasks such as search and rescue and winching.

The changeable weather in the Baltic in general and with recent cold and snowy conditions in particular makes this even more of a challenge, and the Royal Navy vessels underwent a week of 'full-throttle' individual and combined training in the North Sea ahead of the deployment, including firefighting, medical training, damage control, ships sailing in close formation, at-sea refueling, gunnery, air defense, and intensive training and coordination with helicopters.

The JEF Comprehensive Memorandum of Understanding (CMoU) was signed on 28 Jun 2018 by the U.K. and the eight partner nations, namely NATO members Denmark, Estonia,Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, and Norway, together with non-NATO members Finland and Sweden.

Previous JEF endeavors in the region include the May 2019 large-scale exercise Baltic Protector.

 

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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