By U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet Public Affairs
Adm. James G. Foggo III, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa, recently released the 9th episode of his podcast “On the Horizon: Navigating the European and African Theaters.” The May podcast highlights the Navy’s efforts in the Mediterranean Sea and Arctic region, as well as U.S. Coast Guard cutter (USCGC) Thetis and maritime forces working with partners in Africa.
Dual Aircraft Carriers in the Mediterranean
Adm. Foggo and Jon Huntsman, the United States Ambassador to the Russian Federation, recently embarked Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) with USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) operating nearby. During the visit, Huntsman shared his view on having two carriers operating together in the Mediterranean.
“When you have 200,000 tons of diplomacy that is cruising the Mediterranean -- this is what I call diplomacy, this is forward operating diplomacy -- 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,” said Huntsman.
Between the Abraham Lincoln and John C. Stennis CSGs, the U.S. Navy had 130 aircraft, 10 ships, and more than 9,000 Sailors in action, working side by side in the Mediterranean at the time the podcast was recorded.
“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.” said Foggo “And 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.”
The admiral emphasized the significance of where the dual carrier operations took place.
“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.”
While the dual carrier operations were underway, the U.S. Navy had ships positioned throughout European waterways to show support for our allies and partners and deter any adversary: USS Gravely in the Baltic Sea, USS Ross in the Black Sea, USS Bainbridge in North Atlantic, and USS Carney near the United Kingdom.
Allies and Partners
In the podcast, Foggo also highlights the importance of joint interoperability, with three foreign warships operating with and alongside the two strike groups: the AEGIS-capable Spanish frigate ESPS Mendez Nunez (F 104) joined the Abraham Lincoln CSG during pre-deployment workups in the United States and now on its current deployment, and the French Navy frigate FS Languedoc (D 653) and the British Navy destroyer HMS Duncan (D 37) joined the John C. Stennis CSG during different parts of its deployment.
Before entering the Mediterranean, the John C. Stennis CSG conducted dual carrier operations with the French aircraft carrier FS Charles De Gaulle (R 91) and successfully completed operations with the Essex Expeditionary Strike Group. This included successful operations with the F-35B Lightning.
“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?” said Foggo
In early April, Foggo visited Bergen, Norway, to hear perspectives of Arctic scholars during the Naval War College Regional Alumni Symposium, which focused on the Arctic, specifically on collective defense and security, maritime challenges, and keeping the international maritime domain free and open.
His key message at the symposium was, “It’s no one’s lake.” He was referring to Russia’s resurgent military activities in the Arctic as well as comments made by Russian leadership about possible restrictions on international waterways in the Arctic.
Russian forces have reoccupied seven former Soviet bases in the Arctic Circle and have built new bases. They have renewed their capabilities in the North Atlantic and are extending their reach in the Arctic.
Russia has made recent alarming statements that could question the freedom of the seas in the Arctic. The Russian government is expected to enact a policy change that will require foreign governments to provide 45 days of advance notice for transits of sovereign immunity vessels along the Northern Sea Route, which is the Arctic route that connects the Kola Peninsula with the Bering Strait.
“If Russia attempts to enforce beyond what the law of the sea allows, it could set a dangerous precedent for the entire international community,” he said. “That is, powerful coastal states may amend the law of the sea because they want to, and because they possess weapons capable of enforcing their new policies.”
According to the admiral, protecting U.S. northern approaches remains critical to national security.
“The U.S. Navy has long operated in the Arctic region, proudly sending the first submarine, USS Nautilus, to the Arctic in 1957, and we’ve maintained a presence in the Arctic ever since,” said Foggo.
The presence also includes operating in the air, surface, and undersea domains in maneuvers and exercises like the biannual Ice Exercise (ICEX) and exercise Cold Response. The U.S. 6th Fleet routinely operates in the High North with allies and partners to ensure the region remains stable and free of conflict.
The changes in the geo-strategic environment are creating new challenges in the region.
Along with these challenges, the admiral highlighted U.S. Navy efforts in the region. He was in Norway in October and November 2018, leading exercise Trident Juncture 2018, which was the largest NATO exercise since the end of the Cold War. The exercise included participation from 29 NATO allies as well as Swedish and Finnish partners.
Although not an Arctic nation, China has identified itself as a ‘Near-Arctic State’ in its China Arctic Policy, which has its own economic and foreign policy interests in mind for activities in scientific research, resource exploration, and shipping and security.
“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,” Foggo added.
The influx of non-Arctic states into the region has posed challenges, but the Arctic Council is well-equipped to confront most issues. Yet it has one limitation – their mandate explicitly excludes military security. “That’s where the U.S. Navy comes in; we are an extension of diplomacy and guarantor of peace and stability,” said Foggo.
Thetis deployed to Africa
USCGC Thetis recently completed its three-month deployment off the coast of Africa, where it trained with African coastal nations, participated in exercise Obangame Express 19, and conducted maritime security operations in the Gulf of Guinea with African partners.
Foggo thanked the U.S. Coast Guard Commandant: “I really have to thank Adm. Karl Schultz, the Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, for sending the U.S. 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.”
Though only in theater for a three months, Thetis conducted joint training, exercises, and operations with many African partners while in the region.
“The accomplishments of the ship were impressive. First of all, the crew rescued two sea turtles stuck in fishing nets and also saved the lives of two stranded fisherman who had been previously declared dead at sea; they then worked alongside the Nigerian Navy and Cabo Verdean Coast Guard during Operation Junction Rain for the law enforcement at sea,” said Foggo.
The admiral goes into depth about Operation Junction Rain and why it is important.
“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,” said Foggo.
Foggo brought up a personal story that he shared back in Episode 8 about a Coast Guard ensign stationed aboard Thetis who emigrated from Africa to the United States with his family as a child. The full story can be heard in Episode 8, but Foggo had this to say: “[It is] 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.”
“On the Horizon: Navigating the European and African Theaters” is available on: Spotify, Spreaker, Sound Cloud, iTunes, and Stitcher.
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U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet, headquartered in Naples, 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.
Listen to "Episode 9 On The Horizon" on Spreaker.