NATO navies carry out intricate maneuvers in major Baltic operation

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RFA Tiderace (center) flanked by HMS Westminster (top) and HMS Lancaster during an Operation Baltic Dash replenishment exercise. Source: Royal Navy/MoD

Vessels from the United Kingdom's Royal Navy recently completed a large-scale NATO operation in the Baltic together with navies from several allies, including Estonia. The operation's challenges included conducting a night vertical replenishment – in other words shifting helicopter-borne supplies, at sea at nighttime, in changeable conditions.

The vertical replenishment was one of the major challenges of the operation, termed  Operation Expone/Baltic Dash, organized under the framework of the  U.K.led Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF), the Royal Navy said on its website.

An AgustaWestland AW101 Merlin helicopter from Type 23 Frigate HMS Westminster was engaged in the hazardous activity, with the downwash from the helicopter's blades, equating to winds of 70 knots (36 m/s), buffeting the flight deck.

Lt. William Shenton, the helicopter's observer, said that: "A night vertical replenishment is a great example of the professionalism required between ground crew and air crew to make a very dangerous evolution seem efficient and effortless."

The UK-led naval Operation Expone/Baltic Dash ran March 10-14 and was 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.

HMS Westminster along with another Type 23 Frigate, HMS Lancaster, plus Tide-class replenishment tanker  RFA Tiderace, spent a week in the confined waters of northern Europe on Baltic Dash, the navy says, with the aim of working seamlessly with other Baltic nations in close-company maneuvers, gunnery skills tests and maritime security operations, at a time of year when conditions can be challenging.

Estonia's Navy (Merevägi) also contributes to Standing NATO Maritime Group 1, with ENS Ugandi, a British-built Sandown-class minesweeper, being the vessel so tasked at present.

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.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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