Royal Navy warships and RAF jets join UK-led NATO battlegroup right under Putins nose

British Royal Navy ship HMS Richmond sails along the Thames

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HMS Northumberland and sister ship HMS Richmond arrived in the Baltic Sea and conducted freedom of navigation patrols and exercises. The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced on Sunday that the ships were sent on a mission to deliver military vehicles and equipment and resupply the UK-led NATO Battlegroup in Estonia.

The military forces were joined by ships, aircraft, and personnel from six Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) nations, with an aim to support NATO and bolster security in the area.

Other countries that took part in the maritime patrols in the strategically important region were Denmark, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

Commenting on the operation, Major General Jim Morris DSO said that “there has never been a more important time” to increase alertness in the area.

The Commander of the UK Standing Joint Force HQ (SJFHQ) which leads the JEF, said: “Activities such as these in the Baltic Sea are routine business for us and our JEF partners, in one of our principal areas of geographical interest.”

Major Morris added: “Given the current level of aggression being displayed by Russia, there has never been a more important time to ensure that freedom of navigation is maintained in the Baltic Sea.”

The move comes after the UK doubled the number of troops in Estonia, where troops from the UK and Denmark are serving side by side.

The MoD said the operation was part of wider NATO efforts to strengthen its eastern defences following Russia’s illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

As well as patrolling and delivering the vital supplies, the warships and aircraft conducted a series of joint exercises to “demonstrate and hone their seamless interoperability,” the MoD said.

Danish F-16s and Swedish Gripen fighter jets rehearsed air defence tactics with the vessels, while one of the UK’s new RAF Poseidon P8A submarine hunter aircraft practised working with the ships to spot enemy vessels.

All seven warships involved in the operation are: UK ship HMS Northumberland, UK ship HMS Richmond, Danish ship HDMS Niels Juel, Estonian ship EML Wambola, Latvian ship LVS Varonis, Lithuanian ship LNS Kursis, and Swedish ship HSwMS Karlstad.

Major Morris’ words were echoed by the Chief of the Royal Danish Navy, who said: “The current situation calls for increased focus on the security of the Baltic Sea and stability of our region.

Rear Admiral Torben Mikkelson added: “The Danish Navy will, with our partners in the JEF alliance, do our utmost to contribute to that.”

According to the Royal Danish Navy Chief, a busy schedule of activity over the coming months and years will see the JEF operating across its core areas of the North Atlantic, High North, and Baltic Sea Region, with a particular focus on the upcoming Command Post Exercise Joint Protector later in 2022, followed by the Live Exercise JEF Warrior in 2023.

The commanding officer of frigate HDMS Niels Juel, commented: “It is clear that the tense security situation resulting from the war in Ukraine means that we also want to make sure that we do things in the best possible way and most safely.

Lieutenant Commander Simon Schultz-Larsen added: “When we have to escort a ship like Finlandia Seaways, we have a very precise picture of what happens on the surface and in the air around us, using our sensors and our helicopters.

“This means we can respond effectively, if something should happen.”

Finally, the Commanding Officer of HMS Richmond, Commander Chris L’Amie RN said: “Our short but intense period in the Baltic Sea has seen Richmond integrate with a number of JEF nations and I have been highly impressed with the adaptability and professionalism of the ship’s company.”

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The JEF is a UK-led force, comprising 10 nations working together to deliver forces at high readiness, across a range of roles, complementing NATO and European security.

The coalition focuses on security in the Baltic Sea region, the High North and the North Atlantic, where its members are located.

In March, the Prime Minister hosted JEF leaders in London for the first-ever leader-level summit.

At the leaders’ summit, JEF members committed to supporting Ukraine with defensive military aid and ensuring that JEF continued to play a credible role in contributing to defence and deterrence in the region.

The meeting followed meetings of Defence Ministers and Chiefs of Defence in February.

The coalition is complementary to NATO’s wider strategic posture which originated from the 2014 NATO summit in Wales.

Led by the UK as framework nation, the coalition is “agile and responsive, acting flexibly either in smaller groupings or as ten nations communicating with one voice,” according to the MoD.

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