Minehunting exercise in Scottish waters is of vital importance – Ukrainian navy

The importance of a training operation in Scotland to help Ukraine and its allies find and dispose of mines in the Black Sea “cannot be underestimated”, a senior Ukrainian navy officer has said.

Final preparations are underway ahead of the launch of Exercise Sea Breeze 2024, which this year aims to help Ukraine and its allies to train for a post-conflict era in the Black Sea.

Held every year, the exercise begins on Wednesday, will last for two weeks, and will provide the Ukrainian sailors with new skills to help detect mines underwater.

Members of the US navy, the Royal Navy and the Ukrainian navy, who together form a joint mine countermeasure team, gathered at the King George V Dock in Glasgow this week ahead of the exercise.

Crewmen aboard a vessel that will serve as a training hub during the operation
Crewmen aboard a vessel that will serve as a training hub during the operation (Jan K Valle/PA)

Training is to take place on two former Royal Navy vessels, which have been repurposed and given to the Ukrainian navy.

The operation focuses on the integration and command and control of mine countermeasure vessels and a Ukrainian task group HQ augmented by international staff officers and mentors.

Commodore Dmytro Kovalenko, chief of training command of Ukrainian navy command, said: “The ships are fully capable and combat ready.

Asked about what threats they are concerned about, and how things will change after the war, he said: “The main danger now in the Black Sea is Russian aggression against Ukraine obviously, but after the war ends we expect to use these assets and the skills the forces gain to secure port areas to de-mine, dispose of all the mines, to provide security of the ships.

“This will boost not only the security of the Black Sea region but also the economy of Ukraine – it will help its development.

“Taking into account the mine danger is a really specific one that not only threatens Ukrainian shores, we have a lot of cases of mine dangers near the Romanian and Bulgarian waters as the current works in that way”.

Crews aboard a vessel that will aid the Ukrainian Navy in tackling mines in the Black Sea (Jan K Valle/PA)

Countries and organisations scheduled to participate, observe, or mentor during Sea Breeze include Bulgaria, Estonia, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Japan, Poland, Romania, Sweden and Turkey.

The exercise is scheduled to run from June 26 to July 5 in the Firth of Clyde near Glasgow and Loch Ewe on the north-west coast of Scotland.

It is the first of three Sea Breeze exercises to be held in 2024, with another two to be held in Bulgaria later this year.

He said: “What I think Europe’s known for a long time is that once a mine is in the water, it can take a very long time to get them out.

“I know you’re used to it here in the United Kingdom, where we’re still dealing with mines from the First World War.

“And it’s going to take a coalition, or a team effort, whether that be NATO or whether that just be European partners working together to make the seas safe for both personal watercraft and also for commercial industry and for shipping.”

“The Ukrainian navy has unmanned systems as well, so that’s the big threat, it’s keeping up with technology and transitioning to the technologies”.

The two-week training course is split into two, with the first week being mainly theory-based, and a more practical second week, which aims to simulate what real naval mine disposal is like.

Admiral Thomas Wall, commander of submarines for Nato, said: “I think the crews that are training here are going to experience things just like they were out at sea trying to hunt mines and I’m looking forward to their results and how well they do”.

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