US and UK joint operations mount a show of force in the Arctic
US and UK Navy return home from military exercises in the north into the Barents Sea, Arctic, after a show of force aimed at showing that COVID-19 has not blunted NATO’s swords and to assert freedom of navigation on the Northern Sea Route (NSR).
US Navy guided-missile destroyers and a Royal Navy frigate departed the Barents Sea on May 8, following seven days of Arctic operations.
The melting Arctic ice has opened up the possibility of a new northern shipping lane, the NSR. This new maritime passage has the potential to become the fastest way of transport between major ports of East Asia and Western Europe. The NSR is the shipping route that runs along the Russian Arctic coastline from the Kara Sea to the Bering Strait.
The decision to dispatch destroyers in the region was considered a bold one. Although last week’s exercise did not enter the NSR, it hints at a willingness to do so in the future.
As a key maritime domain, the Arctic is a key area of interest for NATO members. The Alliance has been rediscovering its cold-war interest in the Arctic region in recent years. In 2018, for the first time in three decades, a US Navy aircraft-carrier sallied into the Arctic, during a major military exercise in Norway.
Russia’s navy, whose Northern Fleet is based at the naval base of Severomorsk, was told in advance of the joint military exercise.
The Arctic is a growing factor in NATO strategic plans.
As a result, Russia has been beefing up its Northern Fleet in recent years.For example, Russian submarine fleet’s activity is reportedly at its highest level since the cold war.
The main task of Russian submarine is defensive: to protect the Kremlin’s strategic interests the area in the Barents Sea and Sea of Okhotsk.
But NATO is worried that, in a conflict a separate Russian naval force known as the Main Directorate of Deep-Sea Research (GUAR) could potentially target undersea data cables that cross the Atlantic and maintain the trans-Atlantic internet network.
As a result, NATO is now reinvesting in anti-submarine capabilities.
“The Arctic is an important region and our naval forces operate there, including the Barents Sea, to ensure the security of commerce and demonstrate freedom of navigation in that complex environment,” said Adm. James G. Foggo III, commander, Naval Forces Europe and Africa. “Our operations with the U.K. demonstrate the strength, flexibility, and commitment of the NATO Alliance to freedom of navigation throughout the Arctic and all European waters.”
“It was great to be operating in the Barents Sea again,” said Capt. Joseph A. Gagliano, commodore, Combined Task Force 65, and commander, Destroyer Squadron 60. “This is what it means to be a global Navy, sailing wherever international law allows. And it is even better that we returned with the Royal Navy by our side,”
“NATO Allies are working together to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, even as the Alliance continues to deliver credible and effective deterrence and defense throughout the European region,” said Foggo. “Our ability to conduct maritime operations hasn’t been undermined, our forces remain ready and engaged in our critical work to ensure maritime trade continues and vital supplies are able to move where they are needed the most.”
“These Arctic operations in the Barents Sea demonstrate the ability of our crews to execute every mission in any maritime environment,” said Cmdr. Craig Trent, commanding officer of USS Porter (DDG 78) and surface action group commander (SAG). “Our steady exercises, operations and presence in waters surrounding Europe and Africa have prepared our ships to work seamlessly with each other and our allies to provide maritime security.”