The Baltops naval exercise kicked off Saturday, bringing to Estonia the largest NATO fleet to date numbering 50 ships. The exercise will see participation from the ground, air and naval forces of 20 countries.
Held for the 52nd time, the Baltops 23 exercise will host 6,000 troops. The allies will practice anti-submarine and anti-aircraft warfare, explosives clearing, medical and rescue operations over two weeks.
Estonia has been planning for the exercise for three years.
Commodore Jüri Saska, head of the Estonian Navy, said that Tallinn has never hosted this many ships.
"We have seen a smaller contingent, just marines and their ships in 2016. But there has not been a Baltops exercise yet where all ships start from Tallinn," Saska said.
One of the larger vessels to have arrived in Tallinn is the amphibious command ship USS Mount Whitney that is part of the U.S. Sixth Fleet and functions as the command ship of Baltops 23.
"The reason we're doing this exercise is to ensure that we have the trust amongst our forces that develops the interoperability and interchangeability that will, if we are tested in a fight, allow us to have a unified response," said Real-Admiral Thomas E. Ishee, commander of the Sixth Fleet.
The Swedes also brought an interesting craft. Their electrically powered submarine can spend a month at sea without having to surface. For a part of the ship's crew, the Baltops exercise is their first international experience.
"We hope to learn from this bigger composition of forces. With the resources they have here, such as bigger ships, stronger sonars, helicopters, patrol aircraft. That whole composition is a rare thing you get to exercise with," Lt. Cpt. Moberg said.
Lt. Gen. Luis Lanchares, deputy commander of NATO JFC Brunssum, said that it is only a matter of time before Sweden becomes a NATO member. It is also the first time the Finns are taking part in the Baltops exercise.
"The message I would like to send to everyone doubting NATO is that it is an amazing defensive alliance, and we are more than ready to support all its members," Lanchares said.
Estonia is contributing two Navy vessels to the exercise, with coordination from the Estonian Air Force.
The Baltops 23 exercise will culminate in Germany on June 16.
Editor: Marcus Turovski