June 7, 2017: Telephonic Briefing on BALTOPS with Vice Admiral Christopher Grady and Rear Admiral Paddy McAlpine

Telephonic Briefing on BALTOPS with

Vice Admiral Christopher Grady

and Rear Admiral Paddy McAlpine

Brussels Media Hub

June 7, 2017


Moderator:  Good afternoon to everyone from the U.S. Department of State.  I would like to welcome all of our participants dialing in from across Europe, and thank all of you for joining this discussion.

Today we are pleased to be joined from the Danish ship Absalon in the Baltic Sea by Vice Admiral Christopher Grady who is Deputy Commander of the U.S. Naval Forces Europe, and Commander of the Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO; and Rear Admiral Paddy MacAlpine, CBE, Royal Navy Deputy Commander, Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO.  Vice Admiral Grady and Rear Admiral MacAlpine look forward to discussing the 45th iteration of the BALTOPS Multinational Maritime Exercise.  We thank you Vice Admiral Grady and Rear Admiral MacAlpine, for taking time to join us today.

We will begin today’s call with opening remarks from Vice Admiral Grady and Rear Admiral MacAlpine, and then we will turn to your questions.  We will try to get to as many as we can during the time that we have, which is approximately 45 minutes.  As a reminder, today’s call is on the record.

With that, I will turn it over to Vice Admiral Grady and Rear Admiral MacAlpine.

Vice Admiral Grady:  Thank you, Kathy, and good afternoon ladies and gentlemen.  I’m delighted to be able to spend some time with you today.  This is Vice Admiral Christopher Grady, and it is my honor as the Commander of Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO and the Commander of the United States 6th Fleet, to talk with you about exercise BALTOPS 2017.

As Kathy mentioned, I’m joined today by my Deputy, Rear Admiral Paddy MacAlpine of the Royal Navy.  And we are, in fact, currently underway in the Danish command ship Absalon in the Baltic Sea as BALTOPS 17 progresses.

I think it’s fitting that an American naval officer, a Royal naval officer, are operating from a Danish ship, because we know in NATO that we are stronger together, and NATO is always here in the Baltic, united and committed to deterring conflict and ready to defend the sovereignty of the Baltics.

As you may know, this is the 45th year we are conducting this exercise, and it is the premier annual maritime exercise in the Baltic region, and one of the largest in northern Europe.  This is the third year that Strike Force NATO has been the exercise director for BALTOPS.

Just as background, the mission of Strike Force NATO is to integrate U.S. Navy and Marine Corps striking forces into alliance operations, and I think that’s what makes the Strike Force NATO headquarters ideally suited to lead BALTOPS.

So, since 2015, Strike Force NATO has focused on building our key NATO relationships and improving the training value for all exercise participants.  Indeed, for this year we have incorporated many national inputs and feedback on the training process, and we have made some significant improvements for BALTOPS 2017 to include a stronger emphasis on command and control, an increased integration of joint forces, and the longer, more challenging free play portion of the exercise.

We know that in real world situations the air, ground and maritime forces from many nations would work together, and that’s what we are going to do here, and we are doing here in BALTOPS ’17.  Allies and partners standing together to defend the Baltic Sea region.

With that, I’d like to turn it over to my able Deputy, Admiral MacAlpine. He’s got a few opening comments as well.

Rear Admiral MacAlpine:  Thanks, sir.

Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon.  This is Rear Admiral Paddy MacAlpine, Royal Navy, and the Deputy Commander, as you’ve heard, at STRIKFORNATO.

This year we’ve got 50 ships and submarines and 55 aircraft from 12 allied nations and two NATO enhanced opportunity partners, Finland and Sweden, that are participating in BALTOPS.

This exercise has been designed to improve all our warfighting capabilities by conducting complex, challenging training, and therefore strengthening relationships, and relations and unity amongst the participating nations.

In order to improve our joint interoperability, we’ve included more exercise air activity from the Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) at [Inaudible] in Germany.  And with more aircraft integration, that then increases the level of complexity and improves the quality of the training for the exercise participants, and that’s something that we were very keen to do this year.

And during BALTOPS this year, we’ll practice and demonstrate our ability to deliver sea control and power projection at and from the sea.

Yesterday we had Marines conducting the first of three amphibious landings at Ventspils in Latvia, and then they’ll conduct a second landing in Putlos, Germany, and a final landing will be in Ustka in Poland.

And [inaudible], the ships and aircraft are also training in mine warfare, anti-surface, anti-submarine warfare, and in air defense.

We’re currently in a scripted training phase, so that’s very much following a program that we know what’s happening, we know who’s taking part, and we know which exercise areas we’re using.  Next week we transition into more realistic, scenario-driven, free play, if you like, training, during which we’ll start to expect the participants and the CTGs to demonstrate that they would take part and train as they would fight.

That’s all from me to start with.  Over to you for your questions.  Over to you, Kathy.

Moderator:  Thank you both for those remarks.  We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call.

Our first question comes to us from Janis Rancans, from the Latvian on-line news portal Tvnet, who submitted his question in advance.

The question is, according to Russian media reports, in a few weeks the Russians are going to deploy a nuclear ballistic missile submarine and a rocket cruiser in the Baltic Sea.  In light of the upcoming Zapad Exercise, do you see Russian naval deployments as possible threats in the Baltic Sea for NATO allies and/or 6th Fleet operations?

Vice Admiral Grady:  Okay, thank you for the question.  Admiral Grady here.

I don’t see it as a threat.  I see it as a demonstration of naval capability and capacity, and deployments are what navies do.  So the Russians are going to deploy, as you say, perhaps this nuclear ballistic missile submarine and a cruiser to the Baltics for their own exercise, Zapad, which will be taking place in international waters and in international airspace.  I see that more as a demonstration of capability and capacity, and not a threat.

Again, it’s what navies do.  We deploy and we train.  And they will be deploying and training that capability and capacity to their own exercise series.  And what we would hope for is as we are doing with BALTOPS, that that will be conducted with full and open transparency, which is what we endeavor to do here in BALTOPS, and maintain the professionalism and the safety of operating in international airspace and international water.

So that’s how I would view that potential deployment.

Paddy, what might you like to add to that?

Rear Admiral MacAlpine:  I would also add that since the start of the exercise is also being [inaudible] general intelligence, AGI gathering ships in company with us, watching our activities, and there’s also two frigates in the area thus far that have been keeping a safe distance completely, professionally handled, and are not getting in each other’s way in the international waters.  They’re watching us, we’re watching them, as we normally do.  So it’s a very routine business that we’re engaged in at the moment.  Thank you.

Moderator:  Thank you to you both.

Our next question will come to us from Pavel Koshkin from RBC Daily in Russia.

RBC Daily:  Hello, thank you very much for your time and inviting us to participate in this briefing.

I have two questions.  The first question is, do you agree with the, some representatives of [inaudible] intelligence and other representatives of its top brass, that Russia is posing a threat to the United States and the Baltic states?  Do the BALTOPS exercise really pursue [inaudible] some Russian officials and top brass claim?  And to what extent are Russia’s concerns about NATO’s increasing military crowd near its borders justified?  Thank you.

Vice Admiral Grady:  Thank you, Pavel.  Admiral Grady here.

I guess that I would relate the question to what we’re doing here in BALTOPS ’17 and what we have always done in BALTOPS, and as you know, this is the 45th iteration of that.

In my estimation and the way that we build BALTOPS, it’s not directed at any one nation.  BALTOPS serves as merely a framework to help nations meet their training objectives.  So in that regard, BALTOPS should not be seen as in response to any particular threat throughout the region.  What it should be seen as is an opportunity for us to get together, to train together, and to thus demonstrate our ability to deliver sea control and power projection.  And in that regard, I think it does speak to our commitment to each other and to the security and stability of the Baltic region.

Paddy, I don’t know if you have anything you’d like to add to that.

Rear Admiral MacAlpine:  I think that, you know, NATO has been here, NATO will always be here, and NATO remains, what we’re doing here is showing that NATO remains a capable force and a capable team of nations and ships and units from different navies, from the region and from further beyond the regional borders.  And that NATO is committed to the Baltic regions.

So I see what we’re doing here as not any sort of escalation, nor are we here to raise any sort of threat against anyone at all.

Thank you, Pavel.

Moderator:  Thank you.  Our next question comes to us from Dmitry Kirsanov, from TASS in Russia.

TASS:  Hello.  Thanks a lot for doing the call, guys.

Listen, I wanted to ask you something that you might have went over at the top of the briefing.  I apologize, I couldn’t access in a bit later [sic].  I was transferred actually to the IMF Greece call, thanks AT&T.

Anyways, what I wanted to ask you is, at this point, do you expect any Russian observers to attend the upcoming BALTOPS?  And the Zapad, vice versa, do you expect to send some of your observers to attend the Zapad?

Vice Admiral Grady:  Well, again, thank you for the question, Dmitry.  I think what you’re asking me is, have we seen Russian forces underway in international waters observing our exercise here during BALTOPS ’17, and the answer is yes.  And it’s what I would expect to happen during the conduct of an exercise that with full transparency has been announced and so that the professional force that is the Russian Federation Navy, I would have expected them to be out here, and there are, in fact, at least three combatants and an auxiliary intelligence ship underway.  To this point, it has been very professional and exactly what I would expect mariners to do.

Looking forward to Zapad, again, in the full interest of transparency and operating within international norms and within international standards, I think it would be likely to expect that we will watch and observe that exercise as well.  I think that’s what we do in international waters, and as long as we keep it professional and safe and within the bounds of international standards and good seamanship, airmanship, then I think we’re in good shape, and that’s what we’ve seen thus far.  Totally what we would expect.

Great question, though.  Thanks.

Moderator:  Okay, thank you.

Our next question comes to us from a journalist in Romania, Xenia Croitoru, who sent a pre-submitted question from Antena 3 TV station.

She asks, Romania will host military exercises comprising 30,000 NATO soldiers this summer in July.  What do you think about this exercise?  Will a NATO exercise in the Black Sea follow that?

Vice Admiral Grady:  Xenia, thank you for the question.

The exercises that are being planned in the Black Sea I think are a good idea.  Again, that’s international waters, and it’s important for partners, regional partners, to work together to develop their capability and capacity together.  And as to follow-on exercises, I know of at least two that will take place in the Black Sea with multiple partners, and we’re looking forward to the levels of participation in those.

Beyond that, you might want to ask the Romanian Navy, our partners down there, what type of exercises they’re going to be doing.  I was just there two weeks ago.  They are a very capable force, excellent partners for us in NATO, and I look forward to working with them either in our NATO hat or via MARCOM or with the 6th Fleet.

Paddy, I think you have something you’d like to offer.

Rear Admiral MacAlpine:  Yeah.  I would just take it a bit more broader.  As military officers we look for every opportunity to exercise.  We exercise every skill set at every opportunity during the day, at sea, there’s never a quiet moment.  Somebody’s working and training and exercising throughout the actual day.  As in this exercise, we just try and make it as demanding as possible.

So we always look for an opportunity and therefore, our year is full of an awful lot of exercises spread across all of the NATO [inaudible] —

Vice Admiral Grady:  And let me just add one more thing.  The idea of operating throughout the European area of operations is very very important.  What I like about the question is that it acknowledges Romanian leadership in the Black Sea, which is very very important.  They bring a lot of capability and capacity to the Black Sea region, a very important part of the world, and the exercises that they will lead and take the leadership in will contribute to security and stability in that very important part of the world too.  So my hat’s off to my Romanian counterparts for their leadership in the Black Sea region.

Moderator:  Thank you to you both.

For our next question, we will turn to Eleanor Montague from BBC.

BBC:  Eleanor Montague from London.

I just wanted to know about yesterday, the interception by the Su-27, the Russian jet with the B-52 U.S. bomber over the Baltic Sea.  Surely that, I mean the fact the interception happened, did something go wrong that this happened, this event occurred?

Vice Admiral Grady:  Eleanor, this is Admiral Grady.

Nothing went wrong.  The B-52 is here, as they routinely do, working with their allies and partners here in this part of the world.  That they would be intercepted by Russian fighters is as expected.  Again, it was done in international airspace, under the construct of sound airmanship, and I would characterize it as safe and routine.

So that that happened is not that extraordinary, Eleanor.  It is what we would have expected to happen and it was done very very professionally.  So again, we all operate in international waters and in international skies, and it’s a routine interaction in that type of airspace, and as long as we’re doing it within international laws, as we would expect all to do, and the Russians in this case did it that way, fine.

Rear Admiral MacAlpine:  Not that dissimilar to the quick reaction aircraft that would fly from the United Kingdom when Russian aircraft come down over international airspace, over the North Sea.  So pretty routine.

Thanks, Eleanor.

Moderator:  Our next question will come to us from Lisbeth Kirk who is with the EU Observer.

EU Observer:  Hello, I’m calling from Brussels.

Today it was announced by the European Commission that EU money for the first time is going to be spent directly on military assets.  I was wondering if you see that as a positive development that could strengthen BALTOPS in the future.


Vice Admiral Grady:  I’m sorry, Lisbeth, I didn’t catch the preamble part of that.  Could you restate your question?  I’m sorry.

EU Observer:  Yes.  The European Commission in Brussels is about to table a proposal for spending EU money for the first time directly on military assets, and I was wondering if you’d welcome such a development, and if you see it as something that can strengthen potentially BALTOPS in the future?

Vice Admiral Grady:  I’m actually not familiar with that announcement.  And I don’t feel comfortable commenting on that because I don’t have the specifics of it.

I guess what I would say is that we all have our contributions to security and stability, and I think it’s important that we live up to that, but beyond that, I really don’t have any insight into your question.

I don’t know, Paddy, do you have anything to add?

Rear Admiral MacAlpine:  We always take the opportunity to increase the intensity of the training up in BALTOPS.  STRIKEFORNATO has led BALTOPS for the last three years.  We continue to seek opportunities to make the training better in every way.  That then helps us improve our interaction and relationships with our Baltic allies, and also with our NATO allies and partners, strengthening that relationship.

So I’m not sure about how that money would be used.  We don’t really understand, don’t know anything, the background of the story.  But we will continue to try and give the participants in this exercise the best opportunity to get the most training out of the time that they spend with us.

Vice Admiral Grady:  It’s really important to us that we do it efficiently and effectively and be good stewards of all those taxpayer dollars.  So beyond that, we have no further thoughts on the EU pronouncement.

Moderator:  Thank you.

For our next question, we will hear from Marco Ginnangeli from The Sunday Express in the UK.

The Sunday Express:  Hello, everyone.

If I could address this first of all to Rear Admiral MacAlpine, please.  Hello, Rear Admiral.  We sailed together briefly in sea trials on HMS Daring when you were captain.  It’s nice to speak with you again.

This isn’t a political question.  From a military standpoint, how important is Britain’s contribution to NATO and the Baltics at the moment, and what would it mean if a new government deflected from that contribution in the future?

Rear Admiral MacAlpine:  Hello, Marco.  It’s very nice to speak to you again.  As soon as I heard your name I thought oh, I know that person.

The Sunday Express:  It rang a bell.

Rear Admiral MacAlpine:  Yeah it did, absolutely.  And the fantastic coverage that you gave Daring at that time was really, really useful and very much appreciated.

So Iron Duke is up here contributing.  It was going to be HMS Dragon.  Her program changed at the last minute, so the flexibility that the Royal Navy shows, you know, really kicked in.  So there was the opportunity to send Iron Duke, who is a [inaudible] readiness ship, and so therefore, they put additional people on.  I spoke to the captain a couple of days ago, and he’s getting an enormous amount of additional training for him and all the augmentees that are on board, so that’s really good news.

We also have the small patrol boats up working as part of the exercise for the first time, and that’s a fantastic opportunity for them and the young cadets that come from all the universities across England that have a university, a [inaudible] university unit.  So really excellent.

The Royal Navy and the UK is absolutely completely, part of STRIKFORNATO’s ability to put together this sort of exercise and continues to be here as a key partner, a key participant, and takes every opportunity to engage with allies and partners around the world, not only in the Baltics.  So it remains a very capable part of NATO.

I am certainly not going to comment on what is happening today and what might happen tomorrow on the political sphere, but I know that the Royal Navy continues to be flexible and a very important part of NATO planning and of all NATO’s exercises.

So Marco, I hope that answers your question.  The Royal Navy, we’re really involved up here and actually not just the ships, there’s an awful lot of Royal Navy people and other [inaudible] staff that’s part of STRIKFORNATO that are part of the training, part of the planning, and part of the delivery of the exercise.

So it’s nice to speak to you.  I hope that helps.

Moderator:  Thank you.

Our next question will come to us from the reporter at Metro News International in Russia whose name is Victor Oleynik.

Metro News International:  Hello, Mr. Grady, Mr. MacAlpine.  Thank you very much for this briefing.

I would like to ask in your opinion, armed forces of which country represent the biggest threat for NATO nowadays?

And one more, in your opinion will Ukraine and Georgia join NATO in the near future?  Thank you.

Vice Admiral Grady:  What was the first part of your question, Victor?

Metro News International:  In your opinion, armed forces of which country represent the biggest threat for NATO nowadays. Like the biggest threat for allies.

Vice Admiral Grady:  Right.  Thank you, Victor.

The world is a very dangerous place and that’s why we do exercises like BALTOPS or those that were referred to down in the Black Sea.  I would just offer that BALTOPS is designed not against any particular threat, but against, to allow for participating nations to achieve their training objectives.  And that’s what BALTOPS has done for 45 years and will do again as we come back again for the 46th year.

So the exercise itself is not designed against any particular threat, but serves as a framework for those training objectives.

In that regard, though, it still provides a strong message of our commitment to the NATO Alliance, it allows us to demonstrate the ability to bring power projection and sea control to express our commitment to each other and to regional security.

I’m not in a position to comment on whether Ukraine or Georgia will eventually become NATO members.  I might refer you to those two individual countries to have that question answered.

Thanks for the question.

Moderator:  Thank you.

We do have time for a couple more questions.  We have one more question submitted in advance from a journalist at Foreign Policy in Romania.  It concerns Access Denial, or A2AD challenges, a key point in the NATO operating environment.

The question is, in your opinion, in what way do these specific capabilities shape the regional security trends, affect the deterrence potential of NATO in the Baltic and the Black Seas, and what can be done to gradually offset their effects?

Vice Admiral Grady:  Kathy, we lost you there.  Could you say the last half of your question again, please?

Moderator:  Certainly.  This is regarding A2AD challenges, a key point in the NATO operating environment and concern over those access denial challenges.  In your opinion, in what way do these specific capabilities shape regional security trends, and affect the deterrence potential of NATO —

Rear Admiral MacAlpine:  If you can still hear us, we didn’t get that question.

Moderator:  Okay.  All right. Can you hear us now?  We’re having a little trouble with the line at this moment.

Moderator:  All right.  Thank you to all our participants.  Unfortunately, it does not seem like we’re going to be able to get our two Admirals back on the line at this point since they were calling in from a ship.  It seems like their line has dropped.

So I want to thank all of you for joining the call, and thank also the two Admirals for speaking to us.  A digital recording of today’s call will be available for 24 hours.  Thank you very much.