U.S. guided-missile destroyers and a British frigate departed the Barents Sea May 8, following seven days of Arctic operations.
The surface action group (SAG) comprised of U.S. 6th Fleet (C6F) Arleigh Burke-class Aegis destroyers USS Donald Cook (DDG 75), USS Porter (DDG 78), USS Roosevelt (DDG 80), fast combat support ship USNS Supply (T-AOE 6), and Royal Navy’s HMS Kent (F 78) entered the Barents Sea on May 4 to conduct training and operations in the challenging conditions of the Arctic region. Along with the warships, U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft (MPRA) and U.S. Air Force RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft provided support during training and operational events.
“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.”
As the Arctic continues to become more accessible to maritime traffic, naval proficiency in the region is critical to regional security, global commerce, and American national interests. The SAG’s operations provided the opportunity for Sailors to demonstrate their readiness for sustained Arctic operations in the unique and challenging environment.
“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,"
The joint SAG, made up of approximately 1,200 Sailors from two nations, conducted high-end, sustained operations, combined and divisional surface warfare tactics, refined coordinated operations with U.S. Air Forces Europe, and reinforced Arctic communications capabilities, while maintaining proficiency in critical warfare areas.
“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.”
With support from Supply, the ships maintained continuous operations through replenishments-at-sea. Conducting these complex evolutions allow U.S. and allied ships to remain uninterrupted on station for long periods of time.
“These operations demonstrate the importance of logistics, the sixth domain of warfare, especially when operating during a pandemic, in the seventh domain,” Foggo. “We are seeing the importance of presence, as we work together to fight the coronavirus pandemic. Working with our allies and through our presence, we continue to send a power message – we’re open for business.”
Porter, Donald Cook, and Kent recently completed a bilateral naval anti-submarine warfare exercise in the Norwegian Sea. A U.S. nuclear-powered submarine and a P-8A also participated in the exercise. This exercise reinforced the combined training that the nations received last month while participating in the U.K.’s Submarine Command Course.
"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."
U.S. ships in the SAG have been operating with partner nations throughout European seas over the last month. Porter conducted a communications and maneuvering exercise with Romania in the Black Sea, April 13. Following her departure from the Black Sea, Porter met with Supply and Roosevelt to work with the Italian Navy in the Mediterranean and with the French Navy in the Atlantic, April 27 to conduct interoperability exercises. Prior to joining the SAG, Donald Cook operated in the Baltic Sea, sailing with the Lithuanian Navy.
Allied and partner navies must remain proficient in all operating environments to ensure the continued security and access to the seas. This is especially critical in the Arctic, where the austere weather environment demands constant vigilance and practice.
"Usually, having the midnight watch is tough as you're straining to see contacts and obstructions in the water, but it doesn't get dark here -- it just gets dim as the sun dips below the horizon for a few hours and then it's sunrise again," said Ensign Jeremy Shockley, Roosevelt’s assistant chief engineer.
The ships are applying lessons learned from recent operations in the Arctic while increasing their navies’ abilities in cold weather conditions. To successfully operate in the region, Sailors must master navigation, logistics, and communications in the harsh environment. The SAG operations in the High North are the latest in a series of U.S. ships operating in the Arctic Circle. In 2018, elements of the USS Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group and the USS Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group operated above the Arctic Circle in support of NATO exercise Trident Juncture. In 2019, Donald Cook and a SAG from U.S. 2nd Fleet led by USS Normandy (CG 60) and USS Farragut (DDG 99), also operated separately north of the Arctic Circle.
"One of the best attributes of our surface force is that we can aggregate at will, transitioning seamlessly from independent ships to coordinated operations," said Gagliano. "Our interoperability with our allies is so good that we can deploy multinational naval forces with minimal notice. That's the real power of NATO."
The three U.S. destroyers, based out of Rota, Spain, support NATO’s integrated air missile defense architecture and maritime security operations throughout the global commons in Africa and Europe. Commander, Task Force 65 ships consistently demonstrate the flexibility to operate throughout the waters of Europe and Africa, from the Cape of Good Hope to the Arctic Circle, exhibiting a mastery of the maritime domain.
U.S. 6th Fleet, headquartered in Naples, Italy, conducts the full spectrum of joint and naval operations, often in concert with allied and interagency partners, in order to advance U.S. national interests and security and stability in Europe and Africa.