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NATO exercise tests operations in North Atlantic and close to Russian border

The NATO exercise ‘Hedgehog' included the US amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge . (Winter & Findler)

This week, NATO forces will be participating in the Estonian-led exercise ‘Siil' (‘Hedgehog'), marking the first time NATO forces will conduct such operations in waters around Estonia's strategic eastern Baltic Island Saaremaa that protects both the Gulf of Finland leading to St Petersburg and the Gulf of Riga.

The exercise also includes the operations of NATO ground forces less than 40 km from the Russian border.

Participating in the exercise are about 15,000 Estonian and other NATO forces, including the US Navy (USN) Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) accompanied by USNS Patuxent (T-AO-201) resupply vessel.

As part of the exercise, the ships docked in Tallinn, Estonia on 27 May.

Under the command of the US 6th Fleet in Naples, Italy, the warships form part of the US Marine Corps 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and Task Group 61/2.4.

The manoeuvres, which include an amphibious landing, multiday force-on-force exercises, and an air assault, are designed to exercise and evaluate command-and-control, combat readiness, and the threat response of Estonia's 2nd Infantry Brigade and other NATO forces.

Scheduled to run through May 30, the exercise also includes operations in Saaremaa, offshore aroundthe coastal resort of Pärnu, and in the Võru training area, less than 40 km from the Russian border and 90 km from the headquarters of the 76th Guards' Air Assault division at Pskov, which has played a crucial role in all recent Russian military campaigns. It, however, suffered more than 200 fatalities on 26 February when two II-76 military aircraft carrying paratroopers were shot down south of Kiev.

In April, the Kearsarge

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