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 Jun 17 2020

Control of NATO Air Power during BALTOPS 20

RAMSTEIN, Germany - Allied and Partner navies and air forces wrapped up exercise BALTOPS 2020 on June 16. During this year’s event again, NATO’s Air Surveillance and Control System ensured NATO Air Power assets could execute coordinated and efficient air interoperability missions enabling realistic training.

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.

Story by Allied Air Command Public Affairs Office

A NATO AWACS plane being refuelled during a mission. The airborne control centre played a key part in BALTOPS 20 providing command and control functions in support of maritime operations. Archive photo courtesy NATO E-3A Component
Partners Finland and Sweden have been traditional force providers for the BALTOPS series showcasing Allied-Partner cooperation in Air-Land-Integration. A Finnish F-18 fighter jet flying over a Swedish Frigate. Photo courtesy Finnish Air Force.
Allied-Partner Cooperation in the air during BALTOPS 20 - A US Air Force KC-135 refuelling a Finnish Air Force F-18 as a Polish Air Force F-16 is awaiting its turn. Photo courtesy Finnish Air Force
Allied-Partner Cooperation in the air during BATLOPS 20 - A US Air Force KC-135 refuelling a Royal Air Force Typhoon fighter aircraft from NATO's Baltic Air Policing mission as a Finnish F-18 is standing by. Photo courtesy Finnish Air Force.

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