CAPT PERKINS: Welcome to the 9th episode of “On The Horizon: Navigating the European and African Theaters.”
In this episode, we will discuss the Arctic, dual aircraft carrier strike group operations in the Mediterranean, and examine what our forces are doing in the Black Sea and in the Baltic Sea, as well as the great stuff Coast Guard cutter Thetis is doing with our partners in Africa.
CAPT PERKINS: For those of you that have listened to the podcast, I am CAPT John Perkins and I will be your guest host today, sitting in for LT Dixon. Admiral Foggo, great to see you sir.
ADM FOGGO: Thanks for having me, CAPT Perkins.
CAPT PERKINS: At the beginning of this year, Sir, you talked about how busy the Navy was in 2018 and you said the Navy would be just as busy, if not more busy, in 2019. I think it’s safe to say the first part of the year has been busy for our Naval Forces in Europe and Africa. That said, how would you grade the Navy’s efforts so far in 2019?
ADM FOGGO: So, our folks do incredible work and always give it their all. And, I’d have to give our Sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, and civilians an A (+) for their efforts.
Now, Jon Huntsman, the United States Ambassador to the Russian Federation, was with me when I embarked USS Abraham Lincoln in late May and he told CNN during an interview:
“When you have 200,000 tons of diplomacy that is cruising the Mediterranean, this is what I call diplomacy, this is forward operating diplomacy, and nothing else needs to be said. You have all the confidence you need to sit down and try to find solutions to problems that have divided us now for many, many years.”
Now that’s what I call an expeditionary diplomat. Ambassador Huntsman and I were onboard Abraham Lincoln while a strike group was conducting dual carrier ops with the John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group in the Mediterranean.
Having two carrier strike groups operating in the Med is a visible demonstration of our commitment to the NATO alliance and to our partners, and sends a very strong signal to any potential adversary.
So John, while I was onboard I had the opportunity to address the crew of USS Abraham Lincoln. My visit to the carrier came upon the heels about one week after the horrendous terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka.
And most of our listeners will remember those. I told the crew my heart goes out to the innocent people of Sri Lanka… terrorists killed more than 250 men, women and children, with many more injured. Those senseless terrorist acts tore apart families and changed lives forever.
So, at that time it was one week after those events that took place on Easter Sunday and I asked the Abraham Lincoln crew a rhetorical question, “I said so, what happened in the United States of America last weekend.”
I answered my own question on the 1MC absolutely nothing. And this is because of you, the members of the United States Navy! The men and women operating out here on the tip of the spear – playing the away game to keep terrorism as far as possible from our shores. This was a powerful message to each of these Sailors and I meant every word of it.
So, CAPT Perkins, in the final analysis what grade would you give our forces?
CAPT PERKINS: Well that’s easy, an “A Plus” Sir.
ADM FOGGO: Good answer, CAPT Perkins.
CAPT PERKINS: Job security, Sir.
ADM FOGGO: At least for the next week shipmate.
CAPT PERKINS: Thank you, sir. And speaking of security, China made some noise at its 70th anniversary (of the birth of its Navy), during which the People’s Liberation Army Navy displayed its first operational aircraft carrier.
Now, this was the same day that you and Ambassador Huntsman were on USS Abraham Lincoln. Can we talk about this from the perspective of the great power competition?
ADM FOGGO: Sure John, and to answer your question, let me provide three points. First of all, let’s establish a few facts. No other country in the world comes close to the power projection capability offered by one of our U.S. nuclear powered aircraft carriers, much less two of our carriers.
And our being able to host two carriers at once and for them to successfully complete dual carrier strike group operations is an awesome display of naval power projection.
Between USS Abraham Lincoln and John C. Stennis, we had 130 aircraft, 10 ships, and more than 9,000 Sailors in action, working together, side by side in the Mediterranean. No other country in the world can do that.
Secondly, and something extremely important, we had three foreign warships operating with and alongside these two strike groups. When I was aboard Abraham Lincoln, CNN correspondent Fred Pleitgen from the Moscow bureau was with me.
From the flag bridge we could see a warship just a few hundred feet off the carrier’s port side doing a plane guard operations. I told Fred “Hey look at the flag on that warship it’s not an American flag, rather it’s the flag of the Spanish Armada.”
That ship was the Spanish frigate Méndez Núñez, an Aegis ship, which joined the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group during workups in the United States and as an escort throughout its deployment to current day.
The French Navy had a frigate Languedoc and the British Navy had their destroyer HMS Duncan as a part of the John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group in the eastern part of the Med. WOW! Just think about that.
And before John C. Stennis entered the Mediterranean, the strike group conducted dual carrier ops with the French aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle and successfully completed operations with the Essex Expeditionary Strike Group, which by the way, was flying the new F-35B Lightning embarked onboard the ship.
What other country can successfully conduct dual carrier strike group operations with its own country and conduct dual carrier operations with another country, one week apart in different bodies of water, just after working with the most advanced fifth generation strike fighter in the world?
Now I’m sure that China’s maritime parade was a great event, but I’d have to say the U.S. Navy had its own operational fleet review in the Mediterranean at the same time.
Third, our dual carrier operations were conducted in the Mediterranean Sea, a strategic body of water that can support three different combatant commands and three separate continents at the same time. And only the U.S. Navy can conduct these operations from the Mediterranean across these three boundaries simultaneously. Enough said.
CAPT PERKINS: Going back to the beginning of April, you visited Bergen, Norway. What was the purpose of your visit to Bergen?
ADM FOGGO: Yeah it was great and I’ve been to Bergen before, many times as the commanding officer of USS Oklahoma City and in subsequent assignments.
It was great be back in Norway and talk with my friend and Norwegian Chief of Operations, Rear. Adm. Nils Stensones, and to hear perspectives from Arctic scholars during the Naval War College Regional Alumni Symposium that was held in Bergen. The focus of the symposium was the Artic.
The main point from my talking points during that symposium was the Arctic is nobody lake. It is an international domain, and that is why we’re interested in keeping it free and open.
If you remember, John, I spent much of October and November in Norway leading exercise Trident Juncture 2018, which was the largest NATO exercise since the end of the Cold War. For my long-time listeners, you may remember Trident Juncture from episode 4 of this podcast, where we discussed the exercise in great detail.
It’s important to mention Trident Juncture, because many people ask me what the U.S. and NATO are doing in the Arctic and say that Russia seems to be militarizing the region, forgetting or just not aware that we just completed the largest NATO exercise north of the Arctic Circle since the end of the Cold War.
Trident Juncture included all 29 NATO allies, as well as partners Sweden and Finland.
Military participation was enormous: 50,000 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines participated, along with 70 ships, 10,000 vehicles, and 250 aircraft.
For this reason, we simulated an Article 5 scenario, where we focused on answering a NATO ally’s call for help. We picked the most challenging operating environment we could think of – Norway in late fall, which poses significant operational difficulties.
But it is critical to train and fight in any environment, and we gained valuable Arctic experience while we improved our collective defense capabilities.
So, my trip to Bergen, John, was just a continuation of a bigger conversation concerning support to our allies and partners, ensuring the defense of Europe and the United States, and preparing for the future. And it was also good to highlight what we’ve done up until this point.
CAPT PERKINS: Admiral, we see that the melting of the ice in the High North is opening up previously closed off shipping lanes. What role do you see us playing in the future of the growing Arctic Ocean due to de-icing of the region?
ADM FOGGO: Well John, first and foremost, the U.S. Navy has long operated in the Arctic region.
The Arctic has long been strategic terrain, and it is critical to defend the interests of the United States and our partners and allies.
We work with our Arctic allies and partners in numerous forums to address shared regional concerns including fisheries management, search and rescue, shipping safety, and scientific research.
It is imperative that we remain actively engaged in the region, especially with Arctic allies and partners, where all Arctic nations conduct military training and exercises on a regular basis.
By leveraging experience and knowledge through Nordic partners, we have much to gain: they have a wealth of experience in northern latitude operations and are highly skilled, technologically advanced, and neighbors who are interoperable with our NATO force.
CAPT PERKINS: And Sir, there are other players in the region who are making moves to control the Arctic, in some cases even saying they are “changing the rules”.
In previous podcasts, we have discussed Russia’s growing military footprint in the Arctic and China’s ever-growing desire to traverse through the northern routes. What do you see as the main challenges for us in the Arctic?
ADM FOGGO: While the Arctic has largely been peaceful since the end of the Cold War, John, the geostrategic environment is changing. Warming trends have sparked increased interest in the Arctic’s abundant natural resources and potential maritime trade routes – even from non-Arctic states.
Russia has recently embarked on a robust Arctic militarization plan. Russian forces have reoccupied seven former Soviet bases in the Arctic Circle and have also built new bases, to include the Trefoil base in Franz Josef Land and the Northern Clover base on Kotelny Island.
They have renewed their capabilities in the North Atlantic and are aggressively extending their reach in the Arctic. The improved capability of Russia to project power into this region, from the Northern Sea Route to the Greenland-Iceland-UK Gap, is something that we must pay particular attention to… Especially as we witness Russia’s aggressive actions in the Black Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean to include jamming of GPS signals during exercise Trident Juncture.
Even though not an Arctic nation, China, too, is seeking greater influence in the Arctic. With last year’s release of China’s Arctic Policy, it became clear that the Chinese are looking to the north.
Identifying themselves as a ‘Near-Arctic State,’ China has eyed investment opportunities that range from natural resource exploration to the future commercial maritime traffic potential of the “Polar Silk Road.” And that’s their term.
At the recent International Arctic Forum in St. Petersburg, representatives signed an agreement for a new Chinese-Russian Arctic Research Center, further strengthening Sino-Russian Arctic ties.
However, you know John, Russia and China remain wary partners, given their differing stances on Arctic governance and development, which could cause friction between these two powers.
Earlier this month, the Arctic Council held its ministerial meeting in Finland, where Finland turned over Chairmanship to Iceland. Arctic diplomacy has been solid since the creation of the Council in 1996, but – like the ice of the High North – we’re starting to see some fissures.
The increased involvement of non-Arctic states in the region – to include China, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, and the United Kingdom, amongst others – has thus far been in accordance with customary international law, but it will be vital to ensure that this continues.
The influx of non-Arctic states into the region has posed challenges, but the Council is well-equipped to confront most of these issues. Yet it has one limitation – the mandate explicitly excludes military security. That’s where the U.S. Navy comes in, as an extension of diplomacy and guarantor of peace and stability.
Yet, Russia has made alarming statements that could question the freedom of the seas in the Arctic. Recently, the Russian government enacted a policy change that intends to require foreign governments to provide 45 days of an advance notice for transits of sovereign immune vessels along the Northern Sea Route, which is the Arctic route that connects the Kola Peninsula with the Bering Strait.
This new law further requires foreign warships to embark a Russian pilot as well as provide details about the vessel – a clear violation of sovereign immunity. Russia has also noted that they might bar innocent passage through the territorial sea for any reason, and they have threatened to sink any craft that defies Russian mandates while sailing in the Northern Sea Route.
Restrictions such as these are inconsistent with international law. The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Article 45, clearly states that there should be no suspension of innocent passage through straits used for international navigation.
The U.S. Navy has long abided by – and upheld – customary international law. We provide freedom of navigation for all nations, regardless of the international body of water, whether it’s the South China Sea, the Black Sea, the Arctic Ocean, or anywhere else.
If Russia attempts to enforce beyond what the law of the sea allows, it could set a dangerous precedent for the entire international community. That is, powerful coastal states may amend the law of the sea whenever they want to for their benefit and because they possess weapons capable of enforcing their new policies.
Russia is not the only concern in the region; while China has called for the Arctic to be treated as global commons and advocated for unhindered passage of maritime traffic, their behavior in the South China Sea and elsewhere stands in stark contrast.
So, the Arctic presents a new challenge for freedom of the seas – but one were prepared to meet. It is critical for the U.S. Navy to maintain a presence in the region to protect the American people, our sovereign territory and rights, natural resources and interests of the United States and our allies and partners.
As the Arctic enters a new era of unprecedented access, the U.S. Navy will work with its allies and partners to actively shape the future of the world’s smallest ocean, in line with our shared values and interests. U.S. Naval Forces Europe is committed to ensuring peace and stability across our area of operations – to include the High North.
CAPT PERKINS: Great stuff, Sir. Along that same line and to reinforce this message that our Navy is committed to ensuring peace and stability…. we talked about dual carrier ops in the Mediterranean and our Navy’s efforts in the Artic, where else have Naval Forces Europe and Africa been this year?
ADM FOGGO: Well John, to answer that question, I think it’s important to provide you my perspective on Europe. If you were in the international space station right now looking down at the earth, you’d see Europe as a land mass surrounded by water. So if you think of Europe as large peninsula, not only do you see the importance of maritime forces, but you could also see where U.S. Naval Forces are operating.
While we were conducting dual carrier operations, USS Ross was busy in the Black Sea conducting maritime security operations. This year we’ve had ships work with the navies of Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine, and Georgia.
We also had USS Mitscher operating in the Atlantic and USS Carney operating in the North Atlantic.
Finally, we had USS Gravely, the flag ship for Standing NATO Maritime Group 1, in the Baltic Sea conducting maritime operations and providing a continuous NATO maritime presence throughout Northern Europe.
CAPT PERKINS: Shifting to the south of our area of responsibility, U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Thetis just completed their deployment to Africa, where they exercised and operated for three months, primarily in the Gulf of Guinea. Can you provide some highlights of their time in our area of responsibility?
ADM FOGGO: I sure can and first, I really have to thank Adm. Karl Schultz, the Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, for sending the US Coast Guard Cutter Thetis to us. This was the first cutter since 2012 that has operated off the coast of Africa, and this was the first time a cutter has participated in exercise Obangame Express, which was hosted by Naval Forces Africa and Nigerian Navy this year.
As you said, John, the cutter was in theater for a total of three months and conducted training with our African partners for the remainder of its deployment following exercise Obangame Express.
The accomplishments of the ship were impressive. First of all, the crew rescued two sea turtles stuck in fishing nets, they also saved the lives of two stranded fisherman who had been previously declared dead at sea and worked alongside the Nigerian Navy and Cabo Verdean Coast Guard during Operation Junction Rain for the law enforcement at sea.
Operation Junction Rain is the capstone of the U.S. African Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership, where our Coast Guard boarding teams advise and assist African partners with tactics and techniques to combat illegal fishing, human and narcotics trafficking, piracy, and pollution during real-world enforcement operations.
This is United States experts working with African security forces to help enforce their laws in their waters and provide them with the tools and training to help them succeed, while also providing our teams the ability to learn from our African partners.
Thetis did a lot of training exercises, and operations while it was in the region. There was also a personal story that I shared during our last podcast, episode 8, about an Ensign I met who is originally from Herare, Zimbabwe, immigrated to the United States, graduated from the United States Coast Guard Academy, joined the Coast Guard, and returned to the continent of Africa that he came from onboard U.S. Coast Guard cutter Thetis.
Truly a great story, and I encourage those of you who missed it to check out episode 8. You can also see a video interview on our website and Facebook page – called “The American Dream”.
As I’ve said before, we work by, with, and through our African partners during exercises like Obangame Express and operations like Junction Rain, which only further our partnerships and our friendships.
CAPT PERKINS: Admiral, thank you for your time and for allowing me to fill in for LT Dixon.
ADM FOGGO: Thank you CAPT Perkins. And I look forward to seeing LT Dixon next time.
LT. DIXON: “We hope you have enjoyed this episode of “On the Horizon; Navigating the European and African Theaters.” Please share the Podcast with your friends and family. And don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram.
Join us next time to hear more about what the U.S. Navy is doing throughout Europe and Africa. Until next time, thank you.