Fleet Commander: “German Navy shows alliance solidarity”
Fleet Commander: “German Navy shows alliance solidarity”
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Since 1 February, Germany’s naval forces have been stepping up their activities on NATO’s northern flank. A tangible expression of solidarity with its allies.
A P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft, two mine countermeasure vessels and the frigate “Sachsen” are involved in the measures in the Baltic Sea. At the same time, the German Navy is intensifying its participation in the NATO’s standing naval forces in the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean.
“If any navy shows alliance solidarity, it’s ours,” said Rear Admiral Jan C. Kaack, German Fleet Commander. “After all, we are the only navy in NATO that almost consistently provides all four permanent NATO task forces with top trained ships and highly motivated crews.” There are currently more than 500 naval personnel on six vessels deployed for NATO activities north and south flank.
More navy into the Baltic Sea, but also into the Black Sea
On 14 February, a P-3C Orion undertook a national, i.e. German flagged, intelligence gathering flight with a stopover at the Turku air base of the EU partner Finland. German Navy aircraft have been conducting reconnaissance similar to this since 2014 as part of the so-called NATO Assurance Measures. They support allies in Eastern Europe, and especially in the Baltic States, with specific military capabilities. P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft are particularly flexible: They not only monitor the seas, but also areas on land, and if need be they are primarily used for anti-submarine warfare.
On the morning that the German maritime reconnaissance aircraft landed in Turku, German minehunters “Fulda” and “Datteln” arrived in Tallinn, Estonia. On short notice, German Navy Headquarters had diverted them from a planned exercise in the North Sea to the Baltic Sea. After a short stay in port, they will supplement maritime surveillance in the Gulf of Finland, the sea area between Estonia and Finland. At the same time, they will train together with assets of the Finnish and Estonian navies.
A day later, on 15 February, Fleet Commander Kaack decided to send air defence frigate “Sachsen” into the southern Baltic Sea. There, she will train her crew as well as interoperability with allies. With its powerful SMART-L main radar, the warship can monitor practically the entire airspace over the Baltic Sea. “This is another signal of our alliance solidarity,” said Kaack.
Twenty-four-seven operational naval vessels and task groups
As early as 1 February, the Bundeswehr sent replenishment ship “Berlin” to Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 (SNMGStanding NATO Maritime Group 1), also at short notice. With fuel and other supplies on board, the German ship greatly increases the multinational’s sea endurance. In addition, “Berlin” serves as its new flagship. The operational area of the SNMGStanding NATO Maritime Group 1 extends to the Baltic Sea.
Finally, on 1 March, the mine clearance diver vessel “Bad Rappenau” will join the Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group 2 (SNMCMGStanding NATO Mine Countermeasures Group 2) in the Black Sea. With frigate “Lübeck” in SNMGStanding NATO Maritime Group 2 and mine countermeasures vessel “Bad Bevensen” in SNMCMGStanding NATO Mine Countermeasures Group 1, the German Navy will then provide one naval vessel for each of the alliance’s four naval formations.
These permanently operational task groups form the maritime part of the NATO Response Force. For the Baltic Sea and North Atlantic area, these are the SNMGStanding NATO Maritime Group 1 and the SNMCMGStanding NATO Mine Countermeasures Group 1. Both, like the two other groups in the Mediterranean, can response immediately to crises. The Germany Navy participates in them almost continuously. “These formations are, so to speak, the naval equivalent of NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence. Always ready, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” emphasizes Kaack.
The German Navy as framework partner for Baltic States and Scandinavia
The rear admiral also accompanied the P-3C’s eight-hour flight over the Baltic Sea and to Finland on 14 February. At noon in Turku, Kaack discussed the maritime security situation in the Baltic Sea with the Finnish Navy’s chief of staff, Commodore Tuomas Tiilikainen.
“For political decision makers, this also shows that the Navy can demonstrate political priorities in this difficult situation – with little effort, maximum attention and mostly in the sovereignty-free area of the high seas. To the potential adversary as well as to the ally and value partner who is in distress,” says Kaack. To do this, the German Navy, the Bundeswehr and the entire alliance need a reliable situational picture. The Navy contributes to this with its aircraft and other reconnaissance assets.
The current reason for these measures is the currently escalating Russia-Ukraine crisis, as well as the increased threat that Germany’s partners in Eastern Europe in particular are perceiving. Finland has been a member of the EU since 1995, and Estonia joined NATO and the EU in 2004.
Even after the beginning of the crisis, which has been ongoing since 2014, German naval forces have expanded their maritime share in national and collective defence. These are not just the above-mentioned Assurance Measures, but also new forms of cooperation with NATO and EU partners in the greater Baltic Sea region.
In 2015, Germany’s chief of navy established the Baltic Commanders Conference (BCC). With this format, fleet commanders of the Baltic Sea countries Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Germany meet annually. The next conference will take place on 1 and 2 March in Gdynia, Poland.
“The very existence of this discussion forum is an asset. It promotes mutual trust in one another, creates understanding for one another and networks that endure,” explains Commander Kaack. “It welds us together.”
Naval staff DEU MARFORGerman Maritime Forces Staff stands ready for crises and conflicts
One result of the BCC is the participation of Germany’s Baltic Sea partners in DEU MARFORGerman Maritime Forces Staff. The German Navy has been building up this naval staff since 2019. Its first certification, and thus its initial operational capability, is scheduled for 2023. In the future, it will be able to command larger NATO naval formations – such as the four standing maritime groups of the alliance.
Around 100 naval personnel belong to DEU MARFORGerman Maritime Forces Staff, a body of experts who are able to implement complex assignments within the maritime environment. A good quarter of them are international exchange and liaison officers. In the event of a crisis, the staff can even expand to 170 people. If a crisis occurs in the Baltic Sea region, the German Navy can make DEU MARFORGerman Maritime Forces Staff staff available to NATO as a so-called Baltic Maritime Component Command. Together with headquarters for land and air forces, all military domains in a conflict zone are thus covered.
Short-term, flexible reinforcement of the maritime Northern Flank and long-term, expanded cooperation with Germany’s Baltic Sea partners – the aim of all these measures is to support the NATO alliance in the maritime domain between Copenhagen and Helsinki, between Gdansk and Stockholm. This reassures allies in North-Eastern Europe and contributes to NATO deterrence in the region.