For some years now Combined Air Operations Centre (CAOC) Uedem has been the main actor coordinating and controlling NATO Air Power in support of the BALTOPS exercise series on behalf of Allied Air Command.
"During the exercise we controlled fighter aircraft, airborne early warning aircraft, refuelling aircraft and helicopters and ensured their missions were deconflicted with maritime air assets," said Major Jani Åkerman, Finnish Air Force and liaison officer at the CAOC responsible for the BALTOPS support. "Our team in the Air Operations centre was connected to the sensors of the control and reporting centres and had direct comms channels with the Navy controllers at Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO (STRIKFORNATO) and a lot of our daily business was deconflicting and prioritising missions," he added.
BALTOPS is always an invaluable opportunity to practice air and maritime integration in a large scale exercise.
The CAOC team build on the experience from previous BALTOPS iterations as they have supported the exercise for the fifth times. A dedicated team at the NATO unit was assigned to BALTOPS 20 as the 24/7 mission of the CAOC overseeing NATO's Air Policing mission north of the Alps continues.
One asset the CAOC employed to execute its control role is the NATO Airborne Early Warning and Control Force at Geilenkirchen.
"We had a certain number of NATO AWACS missions that we flew for BALTOPS to provide airborne command and control in support of CAOC Uedem and our Navy colleagues. These missions included direct control of NATO and Partner aircraft during
various scenarios like simulated air defence and anti-surface warfare," said Lieutenant Colonel Kurt Cepeda, Director of Flying Operations for the NATO E-3A Component.
"BALTOPS is always an invaluable opportunity to practice air and maritime integration in a large scale exercise. What we did in BALTOPS 20 was a key part of our mission, specifically the command and control function in support of maritime operations. Basically, we acted as a flying command and control centre and provided battle management functions that link the air and maritime domains," he explained.
"The other part of the AWACS mission is the surveillance function; in this role, one AWACS aircraft can monitor an area of more than 312,000 sq km and detect low-flying targets within 400 km, and medium-altitude targets within 520 km. NATO AWACS is an excellent force multiplier to naval operations, since our radar has the advantage of looking over the battlespace from 9,000 meters, whereas a ship's radar is close to sea level. NATO AWACS provides a truly impressive and critical early warning capability to NATO," he adds.
"I was really excited to support BALTOPS 20 at the CAOC, as my colleagues from the Finnish navy and air force participated in the exercise," said Major Åkerman from the CAOC. "Together with Sweden, we have been traditional Partners in the maritime-led major international exercise - and it is only natural given our geographic location on the shores of the Baltic Sea and interest in contributing to peace and security in this area with our friends and colleagues in the NATO navies and air forces," he concludes.