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On the Horizon: Navigating the European and African Theaters - Episode 14

| Dec. 6, 2019

LT DIXON: Welcome to the 14th episode of "On the Horizon:  Navigating the European and African Theaters."  In this episode, we will discuss what the U.S. Navy has been doing throughout Europe and Africa over the past year, from dual-carry operations to exercises throughout the theater, to seeing the 2016 article, "Fourth Battle of the Atlantic," play out these past few months.

Admiral, it is good to be back to discuss what the U.S. Navy's been doing throughout Europe and Africa.

ADM. FOGGO:  Hey, thanks, Lieutenant Dixon.  And great to see you again.  I'm looking forward to our discussion today.

LT. DIXON:  Admiral, before we discuss Europe, the CNO released his guidance to the fleet. What were your thoughts?

ADM. FOGGO:  So to start off, last night, CNO Mike Gilday released his new guidance to the fleet, CNO FRAG Order number one, 2019.  It's simple:  warfighting, warfighters, Future Navy, WWF. 

Warfighting, a Navy that is ready to win across the full range of military operations. 

Warfighters, a Navy that is world-class.  We will recruit, educate, train and retain America's most talented men and women, and they will be warfighters. 

Future Navy, a Navy that is fully prepared to fight and win.

So, Lieutenant Dixon, it's important to note that the Navy is America's away team.  We confront threats before they can reach our shores.  We protect U.S. national interests and those of our allies.  We help maintain security and stability in the maritime domain so all law-abiding nations can freely use international waters for commerce and trade.

So how do we do this in Naval Forces-Europe and Africa?  Well, all year long, our war ships, support vessels, maritime patrol aircraft and personnel conducted 130 port visits, over 40 straits transits, and participated in more than 40 exercises.  That's just amazing.  Warfighting, warfighters, Future Navy at work, right here in Europe and Africa.

LT. DIXON:  Admiral, this year, we have been busy conducting the full spectrum of maritime engagements, including various exercises and operations in Europe and Africa.  In these two geographical areas, the U.S. Navy supports 105 countries, close to 30 percent of the world's GDP and almost 30 percent of the world's population.

And now, sir, have you seen an increase in our presence in Europe and Africa?

ADM. FOGGO:  Yes I have.  Every year has its new challenges, and we reprioritize our posture and allocation of forces that we dedicate to specific areas in the maritime domain in response to these new challenges.

You take the Black Sea, for example. We had more naval presence there last year than ever before.  In 2019, Lieutenant Dixon, we had eight warships operating in the Black Sea.  When combined with our naval allies, friendly naval forces in the Black Sea covered about two-thirds of the year for presence.  That's roughly 240 days of presence.  That's a wonderful demonstration of our commitment to our Black Sea allies and partners.

Another area we've seen an increased tension is in the eastern Mediterranean.  And just five years ago, in 2014, there was almost no Russian presence, let alone any sustained Russian presence in the eastern Mediterranean.  Now, you fast-forward to 2019 and you have a Russian naval base in Tartus with submarines and warships transiting between the Northern Fleet, the Black Sea fleet and the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

And finally, on that point, because of Russia's recent history of not following international laws, norms and standards of behavior, their increased presence in the eastern Mediterranean could cause the potential for escalation and-or misunderstanding that could lead to possible tension.

For our part, we conducted dual-carrier operations between the USS Abraham Lincoln and USS John C. Stennis carrier strike groups in Eastern Mediterranean earlier this year.  During these carrier operations, we embarked the then-U.S. ambassador to the Russian Federation, Jon Huntsman, aboard USS Abraham Lincoln, where he told CNN Correspondent Fred Pleitgen, and I quote,

"When you have 200,000 tons of diplomacy that's cruising the Mediterranean, this is what I call diplomacy, 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 for many, many years," end quote.

So Lieutenant Dixon, the ambassador was right.  Having two carrier strike groups operating in the Mediterranean is a visible demonstration of our commitment to the NATO alliance, to our partners, and it sends a very strong signal to any potential adversary.

Last month, we embarked ABC World News Tonight Anchor David Muir aboard one of our guided missile submarines, USS Florida.  David saw firsthand the awesome capabilities that USS Florida provides to our national leadership.

LT. DIXON:  And Admiral, what an incredible year with dual-carrier operations, David Muir on submarines, highlighting our high-end war fighting capabilities.  Continuing on that same topic, what other high-end exercises and operations would you like to discuss?

ADM. FOGGO:  So moving from the Mediterranean to the high North, we've been conducting anti-submarine warfare in the Fourth Battle of the Atlantic.  ASW is a team sport.  It involves ships, submarines and aircraft from allies and partners. 

Aside from submarine and surface patrols, we've had a few other key activities, including a P-8 Poseidon aircraft conducted the first-ever aerial refueling of a P8 in northern Europe, which further strengthens our maritime patrol capabilities by extending our time on station to track the bad guys. 

This was also significant for our NATO allies and partners as they acquired the Poseidon aircraft and its kit.  For example, the United Kingdom and Norway have purchased the P-8, and the U.K. received its first P-8 this year.

Staying in the North Atlantic, Exercise Formidable Shield 2019 included participation from 13 ships, 10 aircraft and about 3,300 personnel representing nine countries, all taking place on the Hebrides range off the coast of Scotland.  And it's just quite simple, Lieutenant Dixon. 

The Integrated Air and Missile Defense Network provides an umbrella of protection over Europe from the threat of ballistic missiles.  For the third time, we showcased the fact that we can hit a bullet with a bullet at Mach speed thousands of miles above the surface of the earth. 

This was significant, because we successfully conducted an exo-atmospheric intercept of a ballistic missile in the European theater. 

All of the participating nations in this year's exercise conducted more than 12 successful live-fire engagements against subsonic, supersonic and ballistic missiles using NATO's coordinated command-and-control structure. 

We demonstrated our ability not only to deal with ballistic missiles threats, but also how to deal with the proliferation of anti-ship missile threats, which we know are not just getting larger in volume, but are becoming significantly more lethal.

LT. DIXON: As we've talked about in the past, concerning exercises with our NATO allies and partners, how does that help prepare Europe for future conflicts that may arise?   Why do you think we still need to continue to do exercises in the region?

ADM. FOGGO:  A great question.  I'll give you a couple of examples to answer that question.

This year's BALTOPS was the first time that the newly-established U.S. Second Fleet staff, under the leadership of Vice Admiral Woody Lewis, practiced operating in the European command area of responsibility

I live vicariously through Woody Lewis.  In 2015, I got underway from Gdynia, Poland with 49 ships in formation in command of BALTOPS 2015.  Our first exercise in formation steaming was the PHOTOEX at the end of the day, 52 ships were in the formation: 49 of ours and two Russian frigates and one Russian AGI. 

Henceforth, I never claimed less than 50 ships in BALTOPS 2015.  They were with us most of the time. 

So they did the same thing to Woody this year with three Russian ships as observers.  Must've been pretty intimidating for those Russian skippers.  What's interesting about this, Lieutenant Dixon, is that Russia used to participate in the exercise, but that was before their illegal annexation of Crimea. 

The next exercise I want to hone in on is Exercise Sea Breeze, the largest exercise we have done with our Ukrainian partners, and this has been going on since 1997.  Exercises like Sea Breeze show the value of working with our NATO allies and Black Sea partners aspiring to join the alliance. 

More than 3,000 sailors and Marines from 19 different countries conducted real-world training opportunities and mission sets during Sea Breeze.  As I've said before and will continue to say, our presence there is to deter any aggressors who seek to threaten our allies and partners, and that's what Sea Breeze and other exercises like it are all about.

LT. DIXON:  Thank you, sir, and before we move to naval operations in/around Africa, you and Dr. Fritz wrote an article back in 2016 called "The Fourth Battle of the Atlantic" that was published by USNI. 

In the article, you walk us through the various battles in the Atlantic from World War I through 2016.  You noted that Russian subsurface deployments would only increase, and that NATO must take note. 

Have you seen that increase in Russian out-of-area submarine deployments?  And secondly, have you seen the NATO alliance, and particularly, the U.S. Navy address those challenges?

ADM. FOGGO:  Lieutenant Dixon, we're living now what Dr. Alarik Fritz and I wrote about in 2016.  We're seeing the Fourth Battle of the Atlantic play out every day before our eyes. 

This article from 2016 in Proceedings Magazine was a warning order for the United States and NATO.  A key passage from the article states, quote, "To encourage responsible behavior by Russia, we must engage from a position of strength, not weakness," unquote.

We're seeing the Russians deploy more submarines in the North Atlantic, and these subs are deploying for longer periods of time and with more lethal weapon systems.  Russia has returned to Soviet-era outposts and has built new military facilities in the Arctic Circle.  Russia's even built an icebreaker that can carry the Kalibr missile.

So I've got to ask, who builds an icebreaker with a missile battery onboard?  We've seen an increase with Russian submarines out on patrol in 2019 and more than I've seen throughout my time in Europe over the last 10 years. 

The Russians are operating with state of the art nuclear submarines.  That said, we still have the competitive advantage, but they're good and getting better. 

Russia isn't 10 feet tall but they're very capable and President Putin has made it clear that he's willing to seize any and all opportunities to reestablish regional hegemony that even extends to partnering with China when it serves both interests.

Dr. Fritz and I wrote a follow on article to the fourth battle in 2018 and it articulated NATO's response to our warning order from 2016.  If you recall, Lieutenant Dixon, we discussed this article in detail in episode three. 

The U.S. and NATO have answered the call by increasing our naval presence across the theater and increasing our exercises and operations with allies and partners.  And not only did we reestablish the Second Fleet but the Second Fleet conducted BALTOPS this year and Second Fleet Forward deployed to Iceland, where it led a surface action group operating in the Arctic Circle.

The U.S. Navy, through forward presence, power projection and technological advantage, is the epitome of demonstrating resolve and capability in the service of conflict prevention and deterrence.

LT. DIXON:  And Admiral, thank you for that rundown over this past year of what U.S. Navy's been doing in Europe.  Moving to Africa, the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard have been busy this year. 

What can you tell us about those activities?

ADM. FOGGO:  Sure, Lieutenant Dixon.  To answer this question, I think we have to step back and discuss why Africa is important and why the U.S. Navy is doing what it's doing in the African maritime domain.

First, we've got to look at the incredible potential of Africa writ large, the potential for prosperity and the potential for instability in Africa that could lead to security concerns in Europe and North America. 

Africa is well positioned for economic and industrial expansion with its strategic location and fast growing population, which represents microeconomic opportunities in many villages and cities across the continent. 

The statistics are encouraging and somewhat staggering.  By the UN Population Division's estimate, there are about 1.3 billion people on the African continent today.  By 2050, projected population growth estimates on the continent are as high as 2.5 billion people.  That exceeds India and that exceeds China in total population growth.

By that time, 60 percent of the population will be below the age of 24.  Their collective potential will only be realized, however, if Africa bolsters its security institutions across national, regional and local levels, on the land, on the sea and in space.

This is why U.S. Naval Forces Africa aspires to work with our African partners to achieve shared objectives centered on the belief that a secure and prosperous African continent will benefit all of us.  If we aren't there to support our partners in their endeavors, others will rush in to fill the gap.

So we've got to acknowledge that there is a great power competition happening across Africa.  As Russia and China intensify their efforts to leverage Africa's people and resources, the continent's future lies in the balance, with direct impact on both global and North American security.

Second, maritime security is critical to the overall security and stability of the African continent, where 38 of its 54 countries are coastal nations.  Seaborne trade is the life and blood of global trade, as 90 percent of all trade travels via the world's oceans.

When maritime trade sails freely across the oceans, economic development and opportunities for prosperity flourish.  Also, maritime resources are the inheritance, if you will, of current and future generations.  Stewardship requires leaders who advocate and protect the maritime domain.

LT. DIXON: Very true, Africa is very important in the global maritime domain.  Can you walk us through some of those key events we have conducted with our African partners throughout 2019?

ADM. FOGGO: About a decade ago, most coastal African countries lacked the gear and know how to effectively track maritime threats. 

Just as importantly, they lacked the kind of international agreements that would enable them to work with their neighbors on maritime awareness and improve collective security. 

And most fundamentally, some governments lacked the recognition that this was a problem, primarily because they did not understand the economic value of their maritime domain.  We called this sea blindness back then.

The U.S. Navy has steadily been working with our African partners to improve their ability to monitor their maritime environment, track and respond to threats, and to cooperate with other regional security forces.

LT. DIXON: It seems our African partners have come a long way over the past decade. In what way have you seen U.S. Naval Forces Africa contribute to their growth in monitoring their maritime environment?

ADM. FOGGO: In 2010, we launched the Express series of exercises to bring together maritime security and law enforcement organizations from various regions.  The Express series trains U.S. and African countries side by side to enable our partners to better tackle maritime security issues in the West Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Gulf of Guinea. 

Phoenix Express occurs in the Mediterranean and focuses primarily on the Maghreb.  It links our allies and partners on the north and south shores of that critically important sea.

Now in its 15th year, Phoenix Express is our longest running African maritime exercise and the most recent iteration involved maritime forces from 14 countries across North Africa, Southern Europe and North America.

The second annual NAVAF exercise is Cutlass Express, which is aimed at improving maritime security and law enforcement in the West Indian Ocean.  T

Throughout its history, the exercise has been hosted by Djibouti, Mozambique, the Seychelles and Mauritius.  Participating nations have included Canada, the Comoros, Djibouti, France, India, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Portugal, the Seychelles, Somalia, Tanzania, the Netherlands, Uganda and the United States.

The exercise has grown every year since its inception eight years ago, now integrating participants from the Middle East and the Indian Ocean.  Cutlass Express '19 featured the Indian frigate INS Trikand, working alongside the U.S. guided missile destroyer USS Chung-Hoon.

And Lieutenant Dixon, it's important to highlight that USS Chung-Hoon was named after the first Chinese-American Admiral and decorated hero of World War II.  He was awarded the Navy Cross and Silver Star for conspicuous gallantry and extraordinary heroism as a commanding officer of the Fletcher-class destroyer USS Sigsbee from May 1944 to October 1945.

Now additionally, we recently completed Cutlass Express '19.2.  This iteration of the exercise was important as we conducted it earlier in 2019, twice in 2020, to align with an exercise conducted by the U.S. Fifth Fleet and the Central Command area of operations.

So during Cutlass Express '19.2, our forces worked together to support two combatant commanders operating across two fleet commands with seamless connectivity across the unified command plan line, as if that line didn't exist.

LT DIXON: That great to hear, it certainly seems like these exercises are becoming more cohesive.  How have they evolved over the past decade?

ADM. FOGGO: These exercises continually grow more complex.  Take our third and final Africa Express series exercise, my favorite, Obangame Express, which occurs in the Gulf of Guinea.  The first iteration in 2010 focused primarily on communication procedures between a few neighboring countries and it has only grown greater ever since.

This year's event, the ninth iteration, brought together forces from 33 countries, including 2,500 personnel, 95 vessels and 12 aircraft who practiced more than 80 scenarios that crossed national and regional boundaries and drew on seven national military command centers as well as 19 maritime operation centers.  Unbelievable. 

I was here in 2010, I never would have believed we would have come that far in less than a decade.  Now given the size of the Gulf of Guinea, this coordination is no small feat.  Our African partners have worked hard to achieve greater proficiency and exercises such as this are an opportunity for all involved to learn and grow.  The cooperation continues in real world operations every day.

LT. DIXON: Admiral would you walk us through the best example of our forces working our African partners in real world operations in Africa?

ADM. FOGGO:  No problem.  So let's take Obangame Express.  After the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Thetis finished its participation in Obangame Express, it joined the Nigerian Navy and the Cabo Verdean Coast Guard for operations under the U.S. Navy's African Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership Program, AMLEPP.

So AMLEPP's capstone is Operation Junction Rain.  So this is where we put U.S. boarding teams onboard ships to advise and assist and accompany African partners during real world law enforcement operations against illegal fishing, illicit trafficking of all forms, piracy and pollution within the respective country's exclusive economic zone, except this time we had a U.S. Coast Guard Cutter thanks to Commandant Schultz, who sent Thetis over from the United States of America.

So during Junction Rain, U.S. experts worked side-by-side with their African counterparts as lead, enforcing African laws in African waters.  As a direct result, we have seen our African partners make great strides in protecting their economic equities off their coast.

For example, Ghana recently arrested an illegal fishing vessel, the Lu Rong Yuan Yu 956, which was assessed a $1 million fine for its illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activities.  As another example, the Cabo Verdean Coast Guard intercepted an illicit drug shipment of more than 2,200 kilograms of cocaine heading to the West African coast.

Over the last decade, Africa's coastal countries have steadily improved their abilities to work together and share information, even as pirates and other maligned actors have tried to exploit the seams by operating across different nations territorial waters.

In 2013, the Gulf of Guinea coastal nations developed and signed the Yaounde Code of Conduct, a key agreement to improve maritime interoperability.  This powerful framework established objectives and improved inter-region coastal relationships and joint capabilities that have reduced illegal activities in the Gulf of Guinea.

And just this year, Nigeria opened a maritime domain awareness training center built with assistance and equipment from the U.S. Navy.  It's located in Apapa, near the Port of Lagos, and this hub will allow African forces who are accustomed to sending personnel to Europe or North America to train locally at much less expense to their budgets.

Through hard work, perseverance and continued training with each other, Gulf of Guinea partners have increased their maritime domain awareness and ability to share information effectively and efficiently.  We're seeing similar results and success in North and East Africa, where increased regional interoperability is disrupting nefarious actors and illicit activities.  This is why the United States Navy continually engages with our partners to improve interoperability and develop regional solutions.

We all benefit from working side by side and building lasting relationships in the process.  The training opportunities provided through these multilateral exercises and the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ship deployments are offered by no other global Navy.

NAVAF is working alongside African maritime nations to solve African issues.  Together, we are finding African solutions to African problems.  It's a night and day difference between 2010 and today.  Together, we are building progress to a more stable and secure Africa.

LT. DIXON:  Admiral, as always, thank you for joining us.  And my wife and I want to wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas.

ADM. FOGGO:  Thank you, Lieutenant Dixon.  Happy Holidays to all of our sailors, Marines and Coast Guard members around the theater, and to your family as well.  I'll see you next time in episode.

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 and Linkedin. 

Join us next time to hear about what the U.S. Navy is doing throughout Europe and Africa.  Until next time, thank you.