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Major maritime exercise in the Baltic region could be scaled back over COVID-19

The annual large-scale maritime exercise in the Baltic region dubbed BALTOPS is still slated to kick off but could be scaled back or canceled over COVID-19, according to the commander of U.S. European Command.

Air Force Gen. Tod D. Wolters, the EUCOM commander, told reporters Thursday that the BALTOPS exercise — which usually kicks off around June — was still on the table, but EUCOM and NATO are still assessing “each and every one” of its activities.

Wolters is also serves as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe.

“With each passing second of the day we are taking a look at each and every one of our activities to make sure that we can potentially preserve as many as possible,” Wolters said Thursday.

Canceling or scaling back the BATLOPS exercise would be another setback for the U.S. and NATO in their preparation to prepare the alliance to confront a bellicose Russia.

EUCOM was already forced to drastically scale back the large-scale Defender Europe exercise.

A number of linked exercises associated with Defender Europe such as Dynamic Front, the Army Joint Warfighting Assessment, Saber Strike and Swift Response, were canceled over COVID-19 concerns, according to Defense News.

“When we think it’s feasible based off the size of the exercise, the complexity of the exercise, the location of the exercise, obviously the time of the exercise, we are willing to make adjustments,” Wolters said Thursday.

The EUCOM commander said they’ve been “constantly adjusting the scop and scale of our exercises” over the last 70 to 80 days.

The BALTOPS exercise that kicked off in 2019 from June 9 to June 21 involved 18 countries, 50 surface ships, 36 aircraft, two submarines and 8,600 personnel, according to a news release.

The training during BALTOPS includes air, maritime and ground coordination interoperability among allies and partners and air defense, maritime interdiction, anti-subsurface warfare, mine countermeasures, and amphibious operations.

Wolters told reporters that EUCOM and NATO would review lessons that would have been learned during canceled exercises.

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