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Defence secretary emphasises deep UK commitment during Baltic NATO visit

(London Post) Hundreds of personnel serving at the heart of exercises and operations across eastern Europe have shown the UK’s commitment to NATO reassurance, the Defence Secretary has said.

During a visit to HMS OCEAN on Exercise Baltops in Poland and to the RAF Typhoon detachment conducting Baltic Air Policing in Estonia, Michael Fallon said an increase in the number of troops co-operating across the region sent a clear message about the Alliance’s resolve

OCEAN, the Royal Navy’s flagship, is taking part in the NATO-linked maritime and amphibious warfare exercise, which brings together air and maritime forces from 17 nations to enhance their capabilities to conduct joint operations.

The Defence Secretary met UK personnel on board as well as representatives of other nations’ armed forces stationed aboard the British vessel during the exercise. Mr Fallon was briefed on HMS OCEAN’S role and her capability to launch helicopter-borne assaults and landing craft carrying Royal Marines and armoured vehicles.

Along with HMS OCEAN, the UK has deployed HMS IRON DUKE, a Type 23 frigate, and HMS QUORN, a mine-hunting vessel, to practice joint operations such as maritime interdiction, anti-submarine warfare and amphibious assaults.

In addition, over 200 soldiers from The Royal Gurkha Rifles are conducting land warfare exercises with NATO allies across the Baltic States and Poland, as part of Exercise Saber Strike.

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said:

The participation of nearly 1000 UK personnel and the Royal Navy’s Flagship HMS OCEAN in these exercises sends the strongest possible message about our determination to defend and support our allies in the face of any threat.

This exercise is a demonstration of what the Royal Navy does best, and why our Armed Forces are among the most respected in the world; our ability to combat any threat to the security of the UK, to defend and strengthen our partners and to project UK capabilities anywhere in the world.

During the visit, Mr Fallon was flown to shore where he observed amphibious landing exercises launched from HMS Ocean and USS SAN ANTONIO, along with defence ministers and senior military commanders from across Europe.

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon

The Defence Secretary later travelled on to Amari air base in Estonia, where four RAF Typhoons and their support crews are deployed until August in support of NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission.

Mr Fallon met RAF Typhoon pilots and ground crew to discuss their role in defending the skies above the UK’s NATO allies in the Baltic region including the recent mission which saw RAF jets intercept two separate undeclared Russian aircraft near Baltic airspace.

The Defence Secretary said:

I am hugely proud to see the men and women of the RAF continuing their watch over our allies on the eastern borders of the NATO alliance. Our on-going presence here sends a clear message that we will stand with our Eastern European partners.

The UK has a pivotal role to play in ensuring global security, and if we fail to defend our allies as well as ourselves, we risk encouraging adventurism and instability elsewhere in the world.

The visit to Estonia coincided with three scrambles by RAF Typhoon by 6 Squadron in the past 24 hours, which is not untypical during major NATO exercises.

Typhoon pilot Flight Lieutenant Oli Fleming, who flew on the first scramble, said:

It’s not unusual for Russian aircraft to appear in the vicinity of our military assets during large exercises nevertheless, we remain ready, willing and able to intercept and defend the Baltic nations airspace as we have demonstrated today

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