By VADM James G. Foggo
Commander, 6th Fleet
Commander, Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO
“A good Navy is not a provocation of war. It is the surest guarantee of peace.” -Theodore Roosevelt
The reason we are assembled as the maritime arm of the NATO alliance for this exercise is to show unity of effort and purpose, and to strengthen the combined response capabilities of our NATO allies and partners in the Baltic Sea region.
We come with 49 ships of all varieties large and small, over 60 aircraft, 5,600 air, ground and maritime forces from 17 participating nations to include 700 Marines from Finland, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.
During the first day of operations, we were over-flown by Russian Air Force and shadowed by three Russian Navy surface ships. This was not unexpected based on recent experience.
The Russian planes made a few passes and then a couple of Russian Corvettes came up on either side of the formation as we were conducting our exercises – nothing untoward, just showing interest and an acknowledgement that they know we are here.
As Navies have done for centuries, we have taken a dual track approach to maritime security. What do I mean by that?
While BALTOPS 2015 is demonstrating a sizeable and highly capable force at sea, we are pursuing other avenues to assure security in this and other maritime regions in Europe. As an example, we invited a Russian Navy delegation for the annual Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Seas (INCSEA) review, which took place yesterday at the U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet Headquarters in Naples, Italy. The Russian delegation was headed by Vice Adm. Oleg Burtsev and the U.S. delegation by Rear Adm. John Nowell, Chief of Staff, U.S. 6th Fleet.
Discussions between the two delegations were frank and professional with the intent of alleviating any miscues, misunderstandings or miscalculations between our two naval and air forces wherever they might encounter one another.
Established in 1972, the bilateral INCSEA agreement between our two countries codified the mutual interest of both sides in promoting safety of navigation and safety of flight when operating on and over international waters and specified an annual meeting to review compliance with the articles of the agreement.
The last time our two navies met was in November 2013, in St. Petersburg, Russia.
BALTOPS 2015 and the subsequent INCSEA review is a good example of naval forces and naval officers acting as an extension of diplomacy.
For me, as Commander of BALTOPS, I look forward to the positive outcome of the INCSEA discussions filtering down to the deck plate level of the Baltic Fleet. The true measure of success will be when ALL Navies operate ships, submarines and aircraft safely and professionally not just here in the Baltic Sea, but elsewhere around the world. Stay tuned…