Theoretical Russian aggression: Pentagon leads large-scale airborne exercises in Baltic, Black Seas
Rick Rozoff

U.S. Army Europe is now conducting the annual Swift Response airborne exercise in that part of the world where war games have become nearly a daily occurrence: Eastern Europe from the Baltic to the Black Sea. The 30,000-troop, 27-nation DEFENDER-Europe 21 war games are underway currently, taking in the Baltic Sea, the Balkans and the Black Sea region. Swift Response is part of that meta-exercise. The Trojan Footprint 21 special forces exercise is underway in the Balkans and Black Sea. The 9,000-troop, 22-nation Steadfast Defender exercise will start shortly in the same area. NATO’s Noble Jump II 21 will begin in Romania on May 19.

Swift Response is conducted under the aegis of the Global Response Force, a high-readiness airborne force, with the participation of American paratroopers and airborne units from ten other NATO nations. Its purpose is to practice deployment of rapid or immediate response forces to a conflict area “while advancing airborne interoperability among NATO allies.”

This year’s iteration includes “joint forcible entry exercises” in Estonia, Bulgaria and Romania. It began with 800 82nd Airborne paratroopers engaging in a large-scale, night-time jump over central Estonia, linking up with other American paratroopers already in Lithuania. In all an estimated 7,000 airborne troops are involved in this year’s Swift Response.

Estonia’s NATO air base at Ämari was also involved, and President Kersti Kaljulaid inspected the above exercise, which included the British Army’s Parachute Regiment. The nation’s press reported, “the airborne exercise is designed to test the American fast response defence of Estonia in case of a theoretical aggression by the Russian Federation.” This year’s exercise was described as unique by U.S. Army officials as it featured 82nd Airborne troops flown directly from Fort Bragg to the jumping site in Estonia. The Pentagon, NATO and the EU are jointly improving the capability to move troops and equipment to Russia’s western border in a rapid and coordinated manner.

The jumps shifted to Bulgaria today and will continue through to Thursday in Romania. On May 10 hundreds of paratroopers from the U.S., Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and Romania will parachute into Romania. The nation’s Mihail Kogalniceanu Airbase is the headquarters for the entire Swift Response exercise this year. The base was employed by the U.S. for the 2003 war against Iraq even before Romania joined NATO in 2004. Since then it has been used for the U.S.’s and NATO’s war in Afghanistan. In 2009 the Pentagon established a Permanent Forward Operating Site there. Since 2018 the British Royal Air Force has based four Eurofighter Typhoon combat aircraft at the air base as part of NATO’s Enhanced Air Policing mission targeting Russia in the Black Sea.