June 8, 2016: Vice Admiral James G. Foggo, III on BALTOPS 2016

Vice Admiral James G. Foggo, III, Commander
Naval Striking & Support Forces NATO

Rear Admiral Paddy McAlpine, CBE, Royal Navy
Deputy Commander, Naval Striking & Support Forces NATO

Rear Admiral Francesco Covella, Italian Navy
Deputy Chief of Operations, Naval Striking & Support Forces NATO

Lieutenant Colonel Per Gottfridsson, Staff Officer, Swedish Naval Warfare Center
BALTOPS Liaison Officer aboard USS Mount Whitney

Commander Jarmo Holopainen, Staff Officer, Finnish Navy Command
BALTOPS Liaison Officer aboard USS Mount Whitney

Telephonic Press Briefing on BALTOPS 2016
Hosted by the Brussels Media Hub
June 8, 2016

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

Today we are very pleased to be joined from aboard the USS Mount Whitney by Vice Admiral James Foggo who is the Commander, Naval Striking and Support Forces, NATO.  He is also joined today by several members of his team who are sitting in the room with him.  We’ve got Rear Admiral Paddy McAlpine of the Royal Navy; Rear Admiral Francesco Covella of the Italian Navy; Lieutenant Colonel Per Gottfridsson of the Swedish Naval Forces; and Commander Jarmo Holopainen of the Finnish Naval Forces.

So we’ve got quite a group here today and quite a bit of expertise sitting around the table on the USS Mount Whitney.

They’re going to be talking to you today about the ongoing BALTOPS 2016 exercise, which as all of you know kicked off earlier this week in Tallinn.  We’re going to begin today’s call with opening remarks from Vice Admiral Foggo, and then we’re going to turn to your questions.

As a reminder today’s call is on the record and we’re going to try to get to as many questions as we can during the time that we have.

With that, I will turn it over to you, Vice Admiral James Foggo.

Vice Admiral Foggo:  Thank you, Mireille, and let me thank all of the members of the media who show an interest in BALTOPS and have taken time out of their busy schedules to be with us here today.

As Mireille said, my name is Vice Admiral Jamie Foggo.  I’m the Commander of Strike Force NATO, and I have the privilege of leading BALTOPS 2016 for the second year in a row.  Not many commanders have been able to do that in the past.

I just want to articulate a little bit about my team here.  You heard sitting with me today is Rear Admiral Paddy McAlpine, a very accomplished two-star admiral of the Royal Navy.  He is my Deputy Commander for Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO and my right hand man in Lisbon.

Joined by Paddy is Rear Admiral Francesco Covella of the Italian Navy.  He is Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, and for many many months Francesco has been busy doing all of the pushups, all of the hard work to prepare and coordinate for this marvelous exercise.

We’re delighted today that we have two liaison officers who represent our two partner nations.  Swedish Marine Officer Colonel Per Gottfridsson, and Commander Jarmo Holopainen from the Finnish Naval Forces.  They have been extraordinarily helpful in the last couple of days as we have operated in and near the Gulf of Finland.

Briefly, some statistic about BALTOPS.  We have 15 of 28 NATO allies participating with our two partner nations from Finland and Sweden.  This is the 44th year of BALTOPS, but it is only the second year that BALTOPS has been commanded by a NATO commander, and I am fortunate to be that commander.

Our mantra this year is Baltic Unity, Strength, and Security — BUSS.  And we believe that through unity and strength we will have a more secure and prosperous Baltic Sea region.

We’ve just finished a very exciting amphibious phase in Finland which started with an amphibious operation on Hanko Island.  Over 500 Marines from Finland, Sweden, Italy, Germany, and the United States disembarked large amphibious platforms, went ashore, and conducted a myriad of operations ashore for the last couple of days.

This morning all of us were up early.  We flew out on a helicopter to the Dutch command ship, an amphibious warfare ship Johan de Witt.  From there we left in a Finnish 700 fast attack craft that took us to Hasto Buso Island where the Finns and the Swedes were conducting island-hopping operations which is very commensurate with amphibious warfare.  And from there, we moved further inland and observed the United States Marines on a Finnish training range run by Finnish trainers doing a live-fire exercise.  We were there, walking just behind the Marines as they took down adversary machine gun nests and snipers, and it was very very impressive.  In fact, I was so impressed with one of the squad leaders, Lance Corporal Miller, United States Marine Corps, I gave him one of our BALTOPS coins because he really impressed me as a young leader of the Marine Corps.

The comments from our Marines was that this was an extraordinary experience and a wonderful place to operate, and something different for them.  In an archipelago with 100,000 islands and in an area with forest and trees and dirt and mud, quite different from the sand that they’ve been operating in for the past decade.

I’m going to stop there, and I want to encourage you when you ask questions, to please indulge us as we allow our allies and partners to also address your questions.  So thank you, and over to you.

Moderator:  Thank you so much for setting the stage for us.  We are going to begin the question and answer portion of today’s call.  While we wait for folks to line up to get into the question queue, I do have a question that was sent to me via email, so I will go ahead and start with that question.

It’s coming to us from Octavian Manea from Romania, and he’s with Foreign Policy Romania and Defence Matters.  Octavian’s question is, “Increasingly the Baltic and Black Seas have something in common, the so-called Anti-Access/Area Denial or A2/AD bastions that are developed in Kaliningrad and Crimea.  What are the dangers of these access denial bubbles?  What dangers do these access denial bubbles pose for the regional common public good, like freedom of navigation and overflight?  And what can be done to avoid the creation of some exclusion or keep-out zones in both seas?

Vice Admiral Foggo:  I’ll start with an answer to that question.  That’s a very good question.  As we see the proliferation of weapons of asymmetric warfare, and I would say submarines, mines, anti-ship cruise missiles, and very sophisticated and accurate coastal radars, Octavian is correct that in some areas of the world, including here in the Baltics and in the Black Sea, and now also in the Eastern Mediterranean, we are observing an Anti-Access/Area Denial strategy, which is one that we need to keep an eye on because it can restrict the ability of commerce and freedom of navigation and sea lines of communication that are in international waters.  Those waters are called international waters for a reason.  They belong to no one and they are there for all nations to be able to navigate with commercial vessels that contribute to prosperity, and as well, naval vessels that contribute to security.

So the one answer I will give, and then turn over to my colleagues for additional comments, is that we should continue to operate with both merchant vessels and our naval vessels in those waters so that they cannot be restricted from anyone’s access.  So a firm naval presence there contributes to security and dissuades anyone who might think that they can restrict our access.

Paddy, what do you think?

Rear Admiral McAlpine:  This is Rear Admiral Paddy McAlpine, the Deputy Commander of STRIKFORNATO.  I clearly agree with my Commander and his assessment of the ability of our right to use international waters and international airspace.  We have these challenges around the world that we use, that we have faced, and many times in the past.  The Commander mentioned the other forms of A2/AD, one that has been prevalent for a long time, and that’s mines.  Mines that have been laid.

I should say that it’s interesting operating in the Baltic Sea here, because we are training for all types of different environments — in the air, on the surface, and under the waves.  I’m a mine warfare intense diving specialist by background.  I’m interested to see the amount of effort that was going into this exercise to continually train all our many nations in mine warfare and diving in these areas.  And actually we’ve laid our own practice mines to continue to maintain the efficiency of our crews.  But actually in finding those practice mines we have found an awful lot of old World War II ordnance which is, an awful lot of it is in these areas, and therefore we’re making use of all the assets that we’ve got to help the Baltic nations continue to clear all of this old ordnance.

So A2/AD, yes, has caught the public attention over the last number of years, but actually area denial and access denial has been part of warfare and national policy for nearly 100 years, for as long as mines have been around.  We continue to deal with these, and we will continue to deal with them in the future.  It’s an outstanding opportunity for training in this area.

Vice Admiral Foggo:  Gentlemen, any other comments?

Rear Admiral Covella:  Sir, this is Rear Admiral Francesco Covella, Italian Navy, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations.  I have little to add to what has been said except that definitely this assist in this area denial posture will not impinge on any possibility to conduct safe passage, safe commerce, safe security.  But will require an increased level of attention and definitely safe and professional conduct from everyone involved, of course in the security area specifically.

Moderator:  Thank you, thank you very much.

Our next question is coming to us from Bulgaria, and we have Gabriela Naplatanova with bTV Media Group.  Gabriela, go ahead.

Question:  Hello, this is a question from Bulgaria. I was wondering if you are prepared for Russia’s response to these Baltic activities since the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov yesterday threatened to do so.

Vice Admiral Foggo:  Thank you very much for your question.  We did read some of the remarks that came from Foreign Minister Lavrov in Moscow.  I did not consider that threatening.  I know that he commented on BALTOPS operating in the Baltic Sea and said that there would be some kind of a response.

We have not seen a lot of Russian activity.  We’ve seen actually less this year than we saw last year.  There has been a Russian intelligence vessel out shadowing the BALTOPS flotilla for the last couple of days.  They’ve been here since we began and they have acted very professionally and haven’t interfered with our operations.

We look forward to the same kind of professional behavior in the next week and a half as we continue our operations and we move further south and west in the Baltic Sea.

We’re prepared for any contingency.  However, I’d remind you that this is Phase Zero. In our vernacular that translates to peace time steaming and training.  So we are here to train naval forces, both Navy and Marine Corps and Air Forces in maneuvers that include a variety of different military requirements and milestones such as anti-submarine warfare, maritime interdiction operations, most importantly amphibious operations and air defense exercise operations.  So we don’t anticipate any problems, and we will adjust accordingly if we run into any snags in the schedule.

Anybody else like to comment on that?

Rear Admiral McAlpine:  This is Rear Admiral Paddy McAlpine, the Royal Navy Deputy Commander, STRIKFORNATO.

We’re operating mainly in international waters over the next seven, eight days as is our right.  It’s everybody’s right to operate in international waters, and we’re operating in the territorial waters of those countries that have invited us to actually participate and be part of BALTOPS ‘16.  Finland at the moment, then it will be Sweden, then Poland.  We’re completely transparent in what we’re doing and what we’re going to do.  We’ve advertised all of these activities and as the Admiral said, there’s a Russian auxiliary general intelligence vessel that has been nearby operating very professionally and on a non-interfering basis, and we hope that that’s going to continue.  We know exactly what we’re going to do.  We just need to make sure that we continue to operate in these international waters and these confined waters and confined airspaces professionally and safely such that we can all conduct the training that every country wants to take part in.

Rear Admiral Covella:  Just confirm, this is Rear Admiral Francesco Covella, just confirm that the activities that accompany this particular exercise are performed in the Baltics.  That is a theater that provides us with great opportunity to train, and that is what we are looking forward to do.  So very specific, as Admiral Foggo said before, very specific theaters for amphibious operations in areas that are so different from our own, and the added capability that we can exercise in the Baltics like, for example, the shallow water operation for submarines.  Those are things that are specific to this area, and that is one of the reasons we are training here, apart from the possibility to integrate and familiarize with our allies and partners of the area.  So this will be the professional conduct that we’ll be putting forward for the next week and a half or so.

Commander Holopainen:  Good afternoon.  My name is Commander Jarmo Holopainen.  I’m representing Finnish Navy here, and I’m a liaison officer on board USS Mount Whitney.

I would like to just add that from a Finnish point this exercise has been budgeted and scheduled over a year ago.  And the reason why we are having this exercise together with our Swedish neighbor and with the NATO Striking Force, the reason is that we have been in this BALTOPS exercise since 1993.  What has happened during the past one year I cannot comment on that, but I’m just telling that this exercise has been planned over a year ago.  Thank you.

Lieutenant Colonel Gottfridsson:  This is Lieutenant Colonel Per Gottfridsson, Swedish Naval.

This year is the 25th time that Sweden participates in BALTOPS and this gives the Swedes the chance to train and exercise in a multinational environment, together with the partners as Finland and NATO, preparing us for doing missions, international missions under the mandate of the United Nations.

Last year the Swedish Marines together with the Netherland ship Johan de Witt, participated in Operation Atlanta and support into that mission.

Moderator:  Thank you.  Were there any other comments from our guests?

Vice Admiral Foggo:  That’s it, Mireille.

Moderator:  Thank you.

Our next question is coming to us from Brooks Tigner with Jane’s Defence Weekly.

Question:  Thank you.  I’m calling in from Brussels here.

NATO’s naval anti-submarine exercise Dynamic Mongoose, takes place in Norway during 19-21 June.  One of you earlier mentioned that BALTOPS includes shallow water submarine operations.  My question, wouldn’t it have made sense to combine the two operations together?

Vice Admiral Foggo:  Brooks, great question, but two different geographic areas.  We’re here in the Baltic where Baltic nations who are unable to get out to Dynamic Mongoose or participate in Dynamic Mongoose can conduct ASW operations here in the Baltic Sea.  The environment and salinity, and the environmental conditions and commercial traffic and noise in the underwater domain is different, and so for the Swedes, for the Finns, for other nations of the region, the Germans that have submarines, there’s a particular set of environmental conditions that are characteristic to this region, as there is in and off the coast of Norway.

We’re very fortunate that this year we have a return deployer of the Polish submarine Kobben and she is joined by a Portuguese submarine Tridente and a Swedish submarine Halland.  Yesterday I had the pleasure of actually embarking Halland and diving in the Baltic Sea, conducting portions of the exercise and then surfacing and coming back here to the command ship.  I was very impressed with the professionalism of that team, and what those submarines bring to the table here is an opportunity for the surface ships to exercise their skills in ASW against a very quiet, high-end diesel electric submarine that is very difficult to track when it’s on battery.  So I think there’s benefits for both exercises, BALTOPS 2016 and Dynamic Mongoose.

Anti-submarine warfare skills are a continuum.  They’ve got to be exercised all the time.  We can’t let them atrophy.  We’ve got to maintain that edge and so it’s nice to be able to spread that around amongst the allies and partners at different times throughout the year.

Rear Admiral McAlpine:  This is Paddy McAlpine, Deputy Commander of STRIKFORNATO, I’m a Royal Navy rear admiral.

This year, as the Admiral said, three submarines.  That’s more than we’ve had for quite some time, and having three is a great opportunity to have these boats operated in associated and direct support to the surface units, such that we can actually use them to go hunt against each other.  That’s the first time we can pitch one sub against another, and that really is now starting to become advanced ASW tactics.  It’s very good for us as a command team to have these boats available, and that really starts to increase the complexity of the training, so we’ll take every single opportunity to train in a complex environment, and take this opportunity to improve our skills in advanced warfare.

So I’d like to train now, here, and if I was involved in Dynamic Mongoose I’d enjoy the training there as well.  I hope that makes sense to you.

Question:  I was just wondering, it seems to me that if you want complexity in anti-submarine warfare, it would have made sense to combine the two and to move a little bit between the Baltic and the North Sea areas.  But maybe that’s just a question of different logistics agendas.

Vice Admiral Foggo:  It is different logistics agendas and timing and force offerings and the availability for nations to host these exercises, and then what particular skills they want to exercise.  As Paddy said, sub on sub is something new for BALTOPS.  Last year we had one submarine.  This year we have three.  So we have the luxury of pitting one very quiet, diesel electric submarine against another, and that is probably the most difficult challenge for those boats.

At the same time, we have maritime patrol aircraft overhead.  We have one of our new P8s, we have P3s, and other maritime patrol aircraft that are providing queuing to bring Blue forces in where Orange forces are operating.

So fairly sophisticated.  Your point is well taken.  Again, I would fall back on ASW training as a continuum.  And the more we can get the better off we will be as an alliance.

Moderator:  Thank you.

Our next question is coming to us from the UK and it’s from Nick Childs who is at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Question:  Thank you, and thank you to you, Admiral Foggo, and your colleagues for this opportunity.

My question is last year’s BALTOPS exercise was characterized in a way in a break from the past and enhanced commitment in light of the changed strategic circumstances.  I just wonder if you could characterize how this year’s exercise compares in terms of scale and whether there are any differences in terms of focus.  Is it more on ASW and air defense, compared to the amphibious element which existed last year as well?  And also in view of what’s been discussed already about the development of Anti-Access/Area Denial from high end to low end, how you envisage BALTOPS evolving in the future, perhaps?

And a second corollary question, again in the context of the A2/AD challenge, does what we are seeing unfolding with BALTOPS represent a credible, operational scenario, really, in the context of a full-on confrontation, surface engagement and surface operations in the confined waters that you’re operating in?  You know, a credible operational response.  So how does it fit into that element of whatever message you’re sending?

Vice Admiral Foggo:  Nick, it’s great to hear your voice.  I wish you were out here with us.

Let me take the first question and I’ll ask my UK counterpart, Paddy, to take the second question, then we’ll open it up for the international members on our side of the telephone here.

First of all, the differences between last year, and it was a break from the past because as we said earlier and as we said last year, this was the first time that it had been an indigenous NATO exercise, commanded by a NATO commander.  So that was a big change.

We put ships to sea at about the same numbers last year as we did this year, and about the same numbers of people.  But I harken back to a meeting that actually, an encounter that took place between myself and another British officer at the Steadfast Pinnacle Course which is a course for three-stars that is given periodically, every year.  And before I came over here to take command of STRIKFORNATO I attended that course up in Riga, Latvia.

The Deputy Commander of SACEUR, Sir Adrian Bradshaw, General Bradshaw, was one of the senior mentors of the course.  He is responsible for coming up with force offerings for NATO.  And as a newly arriving component commander for NATO I asked him, how can I help you improve or increase the force offerings from the allies in naval exercises.  And he said, well, I’m not a naval officer.  I’m an army officer, but I will tell you this.  If you want people to come and participate, then make it challenging, make it interesting, go to sea and do complex exercises and solve complex problems.  And so I committed to him to do that.

BALTOPS 2015 was an example of that.  When we finish BALTOPS 2015 around June 19th or 20th of last year, we did an immediate after-action report.  What you would call in the submarine force, a hot wash-up, you know, after you shot a torpedo.  So you can improve your skills next time around.  That was an all-day event in Kiel, Germany.  And what came out of that is our desire to improve interoperability, specifically communications connectivity, and a common operating picture, to expand our horizons in anti-submarine warfare.  We were limited by the fact that we had one submarine.  I’m pleased to say this year we have three.

To say that we’ve improved the scenarios I think would be correct in terms of air defense exercises and the ability of ships to do live fire against targets, and moving targets that are being towed from aircraft, and we decided last year that we would stress the force.  So we started off first time with NATO in command last year in a crawl, walk, run kind of tempo.  This year I think we started walking pretty fast because we added an additional amphibious landing, starting in Finland, just a day after we went to sea on the 6th of June.  And I think that was a good move.  It got everybody motivated prior to coming here, knowing that they would be in a situation where hundreds of Marines were going to load up on ships, have to go into the Archipelago where there’s lot of rocks and shoals, anchor, and get those Marines ashore safely.  And we’re going to do it again as we head now to Sweden and again for a third time in Ustka, Poland.

So as far as scheduling, logistics, operations, and difficulty, we increased the difficulty of the exercise this year, and I hope that like last year that will attract even more participants next year.

As to the A2/AD challenge and whether or not we’ve been credible in our training with a view towards A2/AD, let me turn to Paddy to take that question for you.

Rear Admiral McAlpine:  Nick, it’s Paddy McAlpine, Royal Navy, Rear Admiral and Deputy Commander of STRIKFORNATO.

When it comes to what we’re trying to do here, and take every opportunity to improve as a collective body, you know, 17 nations and all the units that are represented here, we have to operate within a challenging environment.  We have to come out here and do this.  We need to operate in confined waters and confined airspace because if they’re confined for us, guess what, they’re confined for the opposing forces as well.  We need to operate within non-permissive environments.  If that means it’s in a high air threat or a submarine threat or a mine threat or a surface threat, if that threat comes from warships or from coastal batteries, well we’re going to come out here and we’re going to operate in an exercise environment so we can do it for real.  And we have to do that because it’s complex, what we do.  And you know that from your background and your interaction with us.  We have to improve our interoperability in all domains.  What we do is complex.  If it takes 15,000 hours to be good at something, well then we have to take every single hour that’s made available to us to actually improve ourselves.  We have to be able to build a common operating picture.  We need to be able to pass information around.  We need to actually operate out here safely.

So yes, there is a lot of A2/AD talk, there’s a lot of A2/AD regions and the names that are coming around and different areas in the world where others may look to actually restrict our freedom of movement, freedom of navigation, and freedom of action.  But we need to continue to come out here and challenge ourselves such that we can answer those challenges should they arise in the future, and we’ll take the opportunity to do so.

It has been really good out here.  There have been issues that have come up.  We deal with those issues every day.  We have improved our picture.  We have improved our communications.  We have improved our command and control, which is exactly why we want to come up into all of the areas, and why we’ve come further north into the Baltic Sea this year than we have in the past because, well firstly, we’ve been invited by the Finns to do so; secondly, it’s a new area for us so we continue to demonstrate and continue to challenge ourselves and improve our understandings of the environment and take every opportunity to do so, and every opportunity to train.

So yes, there are challenges under this new A2/AD environment, as it seems to be springing up around the world.  But we will take every opportunity to improve our ability to counter those challenges as they arise.

I hope that makes sense.

Vice Admiral Foggo:  I’d add one thing to that, Nick.  This is Jamie Foggo again.  And that is something Paddy mentioned on a previous question.  When we define Anti-Access/Area Denial, certainly offensive mine warfare is part of A2/AD, and so in this scenario as we did last year, we have seeded minefields, inert, practice minefields.  The mine-countermeasure ships and divers and experts don’t know where those mines are actually located.  They know that there’s a choke point.  They know a general geographic location, and we tell them, go and find the mines and clear the mines.

So just two days ago while they were down looking for one of these minefields that had been seeded a couple of days before, as they scouted around the area they actually found four pieces of unexploded ordnance, mines probably from the World War II era, and some other ordnance that had been dropped off of aircraft that was on the bottom of the sea.  We’ve reported that back to the host nation and over to them to carry out the clearance.

But that’s something that’s very real, in a real world, real A2/AD training that’s complex and dangerous and difficult, and so far, so good.  We’re going to do it again.  We’re going to continue that through the other amphibious landings because those will be opposed landings through a variety of different means.

Francesco or LNO’s?  Do you have anything to add?

Rear Admiral Covella:  This is Rear Admiral Francesco Covella, Italian Navy, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations.

For my job, my main focus here is definitely training, and training for this force in order to counter the threats that are connected in this particular operation to the A2/AD posture.  Well, this is exactly what we are doing in the BALTOPS exercise.  We are exercising the single groups and the single ships to pass from one to another different threat.  From the air warfare threat to the anti-submarine threat to the surface threat and so on.  And to the mine threat specifically.

And in the second part of the exercise when groups will be trained and will be interoperable, to improve their interoperability, they will go into an activity, some previous activities that will not only be putting Marines on the beach, but doing that in a scenario that is very complex and starts from clearing a minefield, getting into a system and being attacked or threatened by different kinds of threats.

So this is the preparation that this exercise is offering the allies and the partners, and this is why this is so popular and so very well treated by the partners.

Commander Holopainen:  Sir, my name is Commander Jarmo Holopainen, representing Finnish Navy Command, and I’m here on USS Mount Whitney as Finnish liaison officer.

I’d like to add that the BALTOPS exercise is really a great opportunity for a Finnish Navy unit, FNS Uusimaa, a frigate size surface ship with mine laying capability and the Nyland Brigade coastal jaeger company, to improve our maritime warfare and anti-access capabilities and ultimately defending Finland in our own territory.  Thank you.

Lieutenant Colonel Gottfridsson:  This is Lieutenant Colonel Per Gottfridsson, Swedish Navy.

To conduct exercises in the area of the Baltic, this is normal for us, as well as for Finland.  It’s our backyard, and that we share with all other nations around the Baltic Sea. And to do this, to exercise here together with many other nations makes us more skillful and perhaps we can give inputs to the other nations, how they can improve their skills to be able in this kind of environment.

Moderator:  Thank you.

For our next question we’re going to jump over to Poland, and we have a question coming in from Jakub Borowski, who is with Polish Press Agency.

Question:  Thank you.

Is there a common path between with the ongoing exercise, Anaconda?  And apart from the intelligence vessel, do you have any official observers from Russia?

Vice Admiral Foggo:  The second part of the question, no.  We have no official observers from Russia.

On the common path between BALTOPS and Anaconda, BALTOPS and Anaconda were planned separately.  We have always conducted BALTOPS at about the same time every year, so our planning began immediately after BALTOPS 2015.  And the Anaconda planning, which is quite a large exercise, coming up from the south primarily with army forces from the alliance, is something that has been done coincident, but in a separate set of planning cells than the naval operations that are going on up here in the Baltic Sea.

Moderator:  We have one more question in the queue, and that question is coming to us from Carmen Gavrila, who is with Radio Romania.

Question:  Hello.  Thank you for this briefing.

Romania is promoting a permanent naval NATO presence in the Black Sea.  Does that, from your point of view, make sense, knowing that Russia is increasing its arsenal and all types of arsenal in the Crimea?  Thank you.

Vice Admiral Foggo:  Carmen, if I understood your question, you said Romania is advocating for a permanent naval presence in the Black Sea, and does that make sense.  Is that correct?

Question:  Romania is promoting this and needs to promote this because not all the allies agree with that.  Thank you.

Vice Admiral Foggo:  Okay.  Yes, I think several of the officers that are here sitting with me today know a great deal about the Romanian Navy and I count your Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Alexandru Mirsu, as one of my good friends.  And I think Admiral Mirsu and I share the belief that the Black Sea is also a very important body of water, like the Baltic Sea.  It is important for those nations who have a coast line touching or on the Black Sea, in order to maintain economic prosperity, stability, and security of that region.  And in those areas which are international in the Black Sea, everybody should have an opportunity to conduct commerce over water or to be able to safeguard their critical infrastructure, whether that be oil-gas pipelines, or communication connectivity under the Black Sea.  So it’s a very important region for a number of different countries.

As to a naval presence in the Black Sea, yes, I think that’s very important.  We operate the standing NATO maritime groups periodically in the Black Sea with our partners from Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, the Ukraine, and Georgia.  The nation of Turkey has been absolutely critical in maintaining lines of communication in and out of the Black Sea as one of the primary responsibles for the Montreux Convention which controls access and size of ships, tonnage of ships as they move in and out of the Bosporus.  And I think they’re doing a superb job of that.  And that is critical to sea lines of communication.  It is a choke point, and it should remain open so that commerce and also naval vessels can get in and out to maintain security.

I probably have a U.S. warship up there about 120 days a year.  That combined with NATO presence and the allies like your country, Romania, very strong and impressive Navy, and the Bulgarians, and the Georgians with their very effective Coast Guard and the Turks, of course, with a wonderful and very powerful Navy, and even the Ukrainians who come out and participate in our exercises with their flagship Sahaidachny.

It’s important that we all work together for one common goal, and that is stability and security in that very important body of water.

Let me ask my colleagues if they have any comments.

No, everybody’s saying no.  So thank you for that question.

Moderator:  Thank you.

That does conclude our question and answer session today.  I would like to thank you, Admiral Foggo, and thank all of you in the room there for participating today.  And of course, thank all of our journalists for dialing in and for their excellent questions.

Admiral Foggo, did you have any parting words that you would like to leave with our participants?

Vice Admiral Foggo:  Thanks, Mireille.  We’re only about half a week into this.  This is now Wednesday of the first week.  We have lots to look forward to with our upcoming amphibious exercises in Uto, in Sweden, and we are steaming there right now.  Then again, our big graduation exercise in Utska, Poland.  Those are, like Finland, two great ranges for training.

While we are going ashore in those places, the preponderance of the BALTOPS flotilla will be operating out in the Baltic Sea.  Some where people will be able to see them.  Others over the horizon.  And certainly the submarines I talked about earlier, working beneath the waters and conducting their training and operations and surveillance operations and anti-surface warfare operations in a very stealthy manner.

So it’s great to be out here with all of our friends and allies and partners.  I thank you for your indulgence today, the time you’ve dedicated to this and your spectacular questions that are pretty good.  A challenge to all of us to put on our thinking caps and think, and I would ask you to stay tuned for some more great ops and exercises as we continue our run throughout the Baltic Sea.  So thank you.