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Cyber warfare tests BALTOPS exercise participants for the first time

The 50th iteration of the Baltic Operations exercise, known as BALTOPS, includes defensive cyber warfare tactics, techniques and procedures for the first time.

Both U.S. and NATO networks will be challenged in the exercise, which kicked off Sunday and runs through June 18., according to Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Marcus Annibale, chief of staff for Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO.

“The scenario will incorporate cyber warfare challenges to ensure practice capability in every warfare domain,” Annibale told reporters Thursday. “This training environment closely simulates real world operations and will provide a comparable training to our operating commanders and all the crews.”

“We’ll also test new systems and technological capabilities while developing asymmetrical skill sets to include NATO integration of amphibious ops, mine warfare, anti-submarine warfare, diving and construction operations,” Annibale said.

Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO is set to oversee the exercise from its Joint Operations Center in Oeiras, Portugal, a suburb of Lisbon, while the II Marine Expeditionary Brigade and Expeditionary Strike Group 2 are set to manage Marine forces from the USS Mount Whitney.

The amphibious command ship will receive instructions from the Joint Operations Center. Meanwhile Col. Anthony Henderson, commanding general of 2d Marine Expeditionary Brigade and Rear Adm. Rob Katz, commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 2, will be commanding amphibious task groups.

“We have adversaries that will role-play and test some of those TTPs to make sure that we’re doing all the right, smart cyber defensive techniques to defend those networks,” Annibale said.

The exercise, which involves 4,000 personnel from 18 countries, will feature air defense, anti-submarine warfare, amphibious operations, maritime interdiction and mine countermeasure operations events. Forty maritime units and 60 aircraft will take part in two at-sea training phases — the first targeting maritime operations at critical chokepoints and freedom of navigation in the Baltic Sea, and the second to focus on tactical programs.

“We want to train like we fight, and certainly part of our training is to train on realistic examples, real world geography, and we don’t want it to be too synthetic,” Capt. David Pollard, commanding officer of the Mount Whitney, said. “So, this opportunity that we have allows us to take advantage of the natural geography in the Baltic.”

NATO and partner nations joining the U.S. in the exercise this year are Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and the United Kingdom.

BALTOPS stands as the keystone of our exercise season, demonstrating half a century of the unwavering commitment of our partners and Allies,” U.S. Vice Adm. Gene Black, commander of Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO and U.S. 6th Fleet, said in a news release. “Lessons learned in BALTOPS enable international strike group operations, advanced missile defense capabilities and seamless surface action group missions.”

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