NATO carrier exercises continue amid rising tensions with Russia

by Kate Tringham

From right to left, Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S Truman (CVN 75), Italian aircraft carrier ITS Cavour (C 550), and French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle (R 91) transit the Mediterranean Sea in formation on 6 February. (US Navy)

As tensions continue to rise with Russia, maritime forces from France, Italy, and the US conducted a rare tri-carrier operation in the eastern Mediterranean Sea on 6–7 February while conducting naval exercises in the region.

During the exercises, the Harry S Truman carrier strike group (CSG) integrated with the French Charles de Gaulle Task Force 473 and Italian carrier ITS Cavour strike groups for the two-day period. The joint operation included more than 20 ships and at least two submarines, with more than 100 aircraft also being made available from the three carriers.

The Truman CSG has been operating mostly in the eastern Mediterranean Sea for the past several weeks as part of a scheduled deployment in the US Sixth Fleet area of operations. Elements of its strike group include nine squadrons of Carrier Air Wing 1, the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers USS Gonzalez, USS Bainbridge, USS Gravely, USS Cole, and USS Jason Dunham, the Royal Norwegian Navy's frigate HNoMS Fridtjof Nansen, and the Ticonderoga-class cruiser USS San Jacinto.

Ahead of the tri-carrier manouvres, the Truman CSG on 4 February concluded a two-week long NATO-led exercise called ‘Neptune Strike 22' in the Adriatic Sea, where it operated alongside forces and personnel from 28 allied nations, including the Italian Navy's carrier ITS Cavour and elements of its own respective strike group.

The exercise, which included joint manoeuvres, anti-submarine warfare training, and long-range strike training, involved a long-planned handover of command and control of the Truman CSG from US Sixth Fleet to Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO. This was the first time a US strike group has been commanded by NATO since the end of the Cold War.

Meanwhile, France's Charles de Gaulle Task Force 473 has been operating in the Mediterranean since the beginning of February while conducting its ‘Clemenceau 22' deployment, which will continue until April. While the deployment will focus mainly on the Mediterranean region, the French Navy has confirmed that a frigate and some fighters are will also be deployed to the Black Sea due to the rising tensions in the region.

In addition to joint exercises with the Italian and US strike groups and other NATO ships operating in the Mediterranean, the French task force will also support Operation ‘Chammal', the French component of Operation ‘Inherent Resolve' against ISIS.

Units integrated into the Charles de Gaulle CSG include the Horizon-class air defence destroyer FS Forbin, the FREMM frigates FS Alsace and FS Normandie, the Durance-class replenishment ship FS Marne, and a nuclear attack submarine. Contributions from partner countries include the US Navy destroyer USS Ross, Spanish Navy Alvaro de Bazán-class frigate ESPS Juan de Borbon, Hellenic Navy Elli-class frigate HS Adrias, and Royal Moroccan Navy Tarik Ben Ziyad-class corvette Sultan Moulay Ismail, as well as a Hellenic Navy submarine.

The embarked air group aboard Charles De Gaulle includes 20 Rafale F3R fighters, two E-2C Hawkeyes airborne early warning and control aircraft, one Dauphin and one Panther helicopter, and an NH90 NFH Caïman anti-submarine warfare helicopter.

As tensions continue to rise with Russia, maritime forces from France, Italy, and the US conducted a...

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