U.S. Carrier Enters Arctic Circle For The First Time in 28 Years As New Cold War Heats Up
The region is notorious for rapid changes in weather conditions, frigid temps, rough seas, high winds…and Russian submarines.
The American nuclear-powered supercarrier USS Harry S. Truman sailed into the Norwegian Sea on Friday, a move that marks the first time a U.S. Navy carrier has been in the Arctic Circle since USS America participated in a NATO exercised dubbed North Star back in September of 1991. USS Harry S. Truman is accompanied by her escorts that make up Carrier Strike Group Eight (CSG-8). The flotilla is in the area to practice in the notoriously unforgiving maritime environment before participating in exercise Trident Juncture, the largest NATO exercise in decades.
Harry S. Truman's Commanding Officer, Captain Nick Dienna, said the following about the carrier's mission in a recent Navy press release:
“We are unbelievably excited to be operating in the Norwegian Sea... It has been over three decades since carrier aviation has been tested by this environment, and, despite the arduous weather and sea conditions, these men and women are demonstrating this ship can bring a full-spectrum of capabilities to bear anywhere in the world.”
The Norwegian Sea is well known for large swells, stiff winds, very low temperatures, and sudden changes in weather that all make for a big challenge to any naval vessel, but especially to an aircraft carrier that has to conduct around-the-clock flight operations.
Although Carrier Strike Group Eight will get invaluable training in an area the Navy's surface fleet hasn't had a huge interest in for many years, Trident Juncture is the real attraction. The exercise, which includes assets from a whopping 30 countries, will take place in the North Atlantic and the tense Baltic Sea regions. Airspace around and over Norway, Finland, Sweden, and even Iceland will be used for aerial portions of the exercise. The best way to wrap your head around just how massive this set of drills are is to let the numbers speak for themselves. 50,000 participants—14,000 of which are American—65 vessels, 10,000 land vehicles, and 150 aircraft will be the very real pieces on NATO commanders' massive wargaming board.
Carrier Strike Group Eight's head honcho, Rear Admiral Gene Black, described the incredible scope and importance of this big gathering of allied combat forces:
“Trident Juncture represents the best of NATO—a coalition of allies and partners working toward the shared interests of lasting peace and economic prosperity in the European region... This exercise is also a fantastic opportunity to learn from our Allies on their home turf... The combined and bilateral operations we have conducted in the region over the last several months embody the U.S.’s commitment to our NATO allies and partners... Together, our maritime partnership creates a global network of navies capable of uniting against any potential threat.”
'Any potential threat' is an overtly diplomatic statement from the Admiral. This, and the recent reactivation of the Navy's dormant 2nd Fleet, are all about checking Russia and its expanded, and in some ways downright troubling, naval and other military operations in the region. The exact area that The Harry S. Truman is operating is one of a handful of prime locales that a Carrier Strike Group would rush to if tensions were to boil over with Moscow.
Northern Europe and the North Atlantic region, in particular, are rife with Russian naval capabilities as Russia's most powerful naval force, its North Sea Fleet, is based in the Barents Sea well within the Arctic Circle. It is this harsh area of the globe where the Russian Navy literally feels the most at home. To the east, in the Baltic Sea, Russia's Baltic Fleet, which is made up of smaller and more nimble submarines and surface combatants that are especially adept at littoral warfare, is based out of St. Petersburg, but also has capabilities forward based to the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.
The greatest threat to a carrier operating in this area comes from Russian nuclear and diesel-electric attack submarines which can lay in wait or actively hunt for America's most valuable capital ships. Russian submarine activity, in particular, has drastically expanded in the region since the invasion of Crimea in 2014.
The thing is that operating on a near combat footing in the potentially very hostile and environmentally challenging area that the Arctic Circle represents is something of an atrophied skill set for America's carrier forces. With that and all the rest in mind, CSG-8's arrival there really is a more significant event than the sum of its parts.
You may be thinking to yourself that this all sounds very Cold War-esque, doesn't it? You aren't mistaken. It is becoming clearer with each passing day that a new Cold War is upon us, one that now has the very real possibility of sprouting another nuclear arms race.
Nobody knows exactly how Russia will take such a large NATO presence at their front door, but NATO has invited Russian observers to the drills in an attempt to preempt a potential escalation of tensions. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated the following to reporters on October 2nd, 2018:
"All members of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, including Russia, have been invited to send observers... This is one of our biggest exercises in many years... The scenario is fictitious but realistic... It will simulate NATO’s collective response to an armed attack against one ally. And it will exercise our ability to reinforce our troops from Europe and across the Atlantic... The exercise is defensive. And it is transparent."
It's doubtful Russia will see it that way regardless of the assurances. In fact, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters the following on the same day as the NATO Secretary's statements:
"The escalation of NATO’s military and political activity in the Arctic region, namely, in the immediate vicinity of Russia on the territory of northern Norway, hasn’t gone unnoticed... In violation of all time-tested traditions of good neighborliness and against the policy of the Norwegian government established way back in the Cold War period on self-restraint, [which says] 'not to provide bases on Norwegian territory for armed forces of foreign powers unless Norway is under attack or under threat of attack,' Oslo set the course for unprecedented militarization of its northern latitudes.
In a series of recent unfriendly steps taken by Norway there is the agreement to double the existent contingency of US Marine Corps from 330 to 770 people, to extend their rotating, that is, virtually permanent, presence by five years, to expand their placement in the north. [They also agreed] to hold the most large-scale military drills in the history of Russia near the Russian border at the end of October - NATO Trident Juncture 2018, with the participation of more than 40 thousand people from over 30 countries..."
We have to state that such irresponsible actions will inevitably destabilize the military and political situation in the north, increase tensions and undermine the fabric of Russian-Norwegian relations... All these NATO preparations cannot be ignored, and the Russian Federation will take the necessary tit-for-tat measures to ensure its own security..."
Reckless saber-rattling in this previously calm region can have far-reaching consequences, and not through any fault of ours."
We will keep you update as to further developments once Trident Juncture 2018 kicks off. The exercise is slated to run for an entire month, from October 25th to November 23rd.
Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com