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U.S. Marines and sailors from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit carry out a simulated amphibious assault on June 4, 2018, in Nemersita, Lithuania, during Baltic Operations, a major NATO exercise in the Baltic region designed to enhance national teamwork on land, air and sea.

U.S. Marines and sailors from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit carry out a simulated amphibious assault on June 4, 2018, in Nemersita, Lithuania, during Baltic Operations, a major NATO exercise in the Baltic region designed to enhance national teamwork on land, air and sea. (Dengrier Baez/U.S. Marine Corps)

U.S. Marines and sailors from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit carry out a simulated amphibious assault on June 4, 2018, in Nemersita, Lithuania, during Baltic Operations, a major NATO exercise in the Baltic region designed to enhance national teamwork on land, air and sea.

U.S. Marines and sailors from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit carry out a simulated amphibious assault on June 4, 2018, in Nemersita, Lithuania, during Baltic Operations, a major NATO exercise in the Baltic region designed to enhance national teamwork on land, air and sea. (Dengrier Baez/U.S. Marine Corps)

Sailors from Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit 8 practice countermeasures on inert mines on June 4, 2018, in the Baltic Sea during Baltic Operations. The annual maritime exercise is aimed at strengthening teamwork among NATO forces in the Baltic Region.

Sailors from Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit 8 practice countermeasures on inert mines on June 4, 2018, in the Baltic Sea during Baltic Operations. The annual maritime exercise is aimed at strengthening teamwork among NATO forces in the Baltic Region. (America A. Henry/U.S. Navy)

Vice Adm. Lisa M. Franchetti, 6th Fleet commander, speaks to the crew of the dock landing ship USS Oak Hill on June 4, 2018, during Baltic Operations, a large maritime exercise that brought together 22 NATO countries this year in the Baltic region.

Vice Adm. Lisa M. Franchetti, 6th Fleet commander, speaks to the crew of the dock landing ship USS Oak Hill on June 4, 2018, during Baltic Operations, a large maritime exercise that brought together 22 NATO countries this year in the Baltic region. (Michael H. Lehman/U.S. Navy)

A U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker refuels F-15E Strike Eagles and F-16C Fighting Falcons during a training mission over the Baltic Sea in on June 5, 2018, during Baltic Operations, a major allied exercise in the Baltic region aimed at bolstering teamwork among NATO countries.

A U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker refuels F-15E Strike Eagles and F-16C Fighting Falcons during a training mission over the Baltic Sea in on June 5, 2018, during Baltic Operations, a major allied exercise in the Baltic region aimed at bolstering teamwork among NATO countries. (Roidan Carlson/U.S. Air Force)

Members of the Romanian 307th Naval Infantry Battalion board the USS Oak Hill on June 2, 2018, to begin training with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit in Klaipeda, Lithuania, during Baltic Operations, a large-scale allied exercise in the Baltic region that dates back to 1972. This year 22 nations participated, with 16 of them contributing military forces.

Members of the Romanian 307th Naval Infantry Battalion board the USS Oak Hill on June 2, 2018, to begin training with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit in Klaipeda, Lithuania, during Baltic Operations, a large-scale allied exercise in the Baltic region that dates back to 1972. This year 22 nations participated, with 16 of them contributing military forces. (Dengrier Baez/U.S. Marine Corps)

A team member from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit explains the M4A1 carbine rifle to Romanian marines from the 307th Naval Infantry Battalion on June 4, 2018, in Kairai, Lithuania, during Baltic Operations, a major maritime exercise that brings together NATO countries in the Baltic region.

A team member from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit explains the M4A1 carbine rifle to Romanian marines from the 307th Naval Infantry Battalion on June 4, 2018, in Kairai, Lithuania, during Baltic Operations, a major maritime exercise that brings together NATO countries in the Baltic region. (Dengrier Baez/U.S. Marine Corps)

The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit prepares to launch amphibious assault vehicles from the well deck of the dock landing ship USS Oak Hill on June 5, 2018, during Baltic Operations, a large-scale maritime exercise that brings together NATO nations to improve teamwork on land, air and sea in the Baltic region.

The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit prepares to launch amphibious assault vehicles from the well deck of the dock landing ship USS Oak Hill on June 5, 2018, during Baltic Operations, a large-scale maritime exercise that brings together NATO nations to improve teamwork on land, air and sea in the Baltic region. (Michael H. Lehman/U.S. Navy)

An M1A1 Abrams tank attached to the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit fires at targets during a nighttime training drill on June 9, 2018, in Ustka, Poland. The live-fire training was part of Baltic Operations, a yearly NATO maritime exercise designed to strengthen allies’ tactical teamwork.

An M1A1 Abrams tank attached to the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit fires at targets during a nighttime training drill on June 9, 2018, in Ustka, Poland. The live-fire training was part of Baltic Operations, a yearly NATO maritime exercise designed to strengthen allies’ tactical teamwork. (Dengrier M. Baez/U.S. Marine Corps)

A Sea King helicopter from a German supply ship assists in a personnel recovery exercise June 7, 2018, on the Baltic Sea. Search-and-rescue drills were intensified this year for Baltic Operations, a NATO maritime exercise that brought together 22 nations to improve tactical teamwork in the Baltic region.

A Sea King helicopter from a German supply ship assists in a personnel recovery exercise June 7, 2018, on the Baltic Sea. Search-and-rescue drills were intensified this year for Baltic Operations, a NATO maritime exercise that brought together 22 nations to improve tactical teamwork in the Baltic region. (Justin Stumberg/U.S. Navy)

U.S. Marines and AAV-P7/A1 assault amphibious vehicles assigned to Fox Company, Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, stage prior to returning to the Harpers Ferry-class dock landing ship USS Oak Hill (LSD 51) during exercise Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2018 at Nemersita, Lithuania, June 6, 2018.

U.S. Marines and AAV-P7/A1 assault amphibious vehicles assigned to Fox Company, Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, stage prior to returning to the Harpers Ferry-class dock landing ship USS Oak Hill (LSD 51) during exercise Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2018 at Nemersita, Lithuania, June 6, 2018. (Dengrier M. Baez/U.S. Marine Corps)

A U.S. Marine Corps M1A1 Abrams tank attached to Tank Platoon, Fox Company, Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, engage targets at night during live-fire training as part of exercise Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2018 at Ustka, Poland, June 8, 2018.

A U.S. Marine Corps M1A1 Abrams tank attached to Tank Platoon, Fox Company, Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, engage targets at night during live-fire training as part of exercise Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2018 at Ustka, Poland, June 8, 2018. (Dengrier M. Baez/U.S. Marine Corps)

A U.S. Marine assigned to Fox Company, Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, and Romanian Marines assigned to the 307th Naval Infantry Battalion, return to AAV-P7/A1 assault amphibious vehicles as part of an amphibious landing demonstration during exercise Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2018 at Ustka, Poland, June 7, 2018.

A U.S. Marine assigned to Fox Company, Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, and Romanian Marines assigned to the 307th Naval Infantry Battalion, return to AAV-P7/A1 assault amphibious vehicles as part of an amphibious landing demonstration during exercise Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2018 at Ustka, Poland, June 7, 2018. (Dengrier M. Baez/U.S. Marine Corps)

Thirty maritime unit ships from 12 nations maneuver in close formation during exercise Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2018 in the Baltic Sea, June 9, 2018.

Thirty maritime unit ships from 12 nations maneuver in close formation during exercise Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2018 in the Baltic Sea, June 9, 2018. (Justin Stumberg/U.S. Navy)

Romanian Marines assigned to the 307th Naval Infantry Battalion, conduct a joint personnel recovery (JPR) training scenario during exercise Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2018 Ustka, Poland, June 8.

Romanian Marines assigned to the 307th Naval Infantry Battalion, conduct a joint personnel recovery (JPR) training scenario during exercise Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2018 Ustka, Poland, June 8. (Dengrier M. Baez/U.S. Marine Corps)

BORNHOLM, Denmark – Russia wasn’t invited to a 22-nation exercise aimed at deterring them, but the U.S. and NATO military planners of the event knew they’d be watching.

The point of Baltic Operations 2018 at the tactical level is training, but at the strategic level, analysts say it is a show of strength — and that means the allies want Russia’s full attention.

The two-week exercise is scheduled to end Friday, after bringing together 5,000 servicemembers from 16 militaries, as well as six nations who observed or provided staff, for training operations on and around the Baltic Sea.

“It sends a strong message of commitment to the stability and security of this region,” Vice Adm. Lisa Franchetti, 6th Fleet commander, told Stars and Stripes in Bornholm. “So on many levels it’s a very important exercise.”

Several participating nations have been wary of Russia’s intentions since 2014, when it invaded and annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

NATO countries must strengthen their teamwork and resolve in exercises like this one as the Russian threat grows “more forbidding,” said James Holmes, professor of strategy at the Naval War College.

“Deterrence is the name of the game in our strategic competition with Russia, and alliances only deter if they display power and unity,” Holmes said.

The exercise known as BALTOPS began in 1972 and has gone through considerable changes since the end of the Cold War and wavering relations with Russia.

Russia participated in BALTOPS 19 times, Franchetti said, but NATO rescinded the invitation after Russia annexed Crimea.

“This year they (Russians) are uninvited observers at BALTOPS,” said Adm. James Foggo, U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa commander.

The Baltic Sea poses many challenges – heavy ship traffic, inclement weather, murky water – that give visiting navies like those of the U.S. and Britain a chance to learn from regional navies familiar with this sea, said British Rear Adm. Guy Robinson.

“It’s a very busy and complex environment,” Robinson said. “The underwater conditions as well – whether it’s submarine warfare or mine warfare – they’re very challenging. (Regional navies) bring a lot of expertise for this very difficult place to conduct warfare.”

This year’s event included several training mainstays. Warships fended off simulated attacks from smaller, faster vessels; teams practiced anti-submarine warfare and mine countermeasures; Marines launched amphibious landings; and others simulated search-and-rescue operations for sailors and downed pilots.

However, the “free play,” or unscripted parts of the exercise, intensified to better train navies to react to unanticipated tactics. The red teams, which play enemy combatants, had freer rein to improvise and attack.

British Navy Lt. Lauren Weber said the boat she commands, the HMS Puncher, and four other small vessels comprised a red team that simulated assaults on warships from the U.S., Britain, Denmark, Germany and Finland.

They attacked the ships one at a time, using different tactics on each one, she said.

In the first assault, they pretended to be a Green Peace flotilla and then rushed the ship from every angle.

“We generated chaos. It was mass confusion,” Weber said.

Franchetti said BALTOPS remains an evolving exercise, with room for new elements.

“It’s good to have this exercise that’s run for 46 years,” Franchetti said. “Build capabilities, but also build relationships between the navies.”wyland.scott@stripes.comTwitter: @wylandstripes

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