By U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa (NAVEUR-NAVAF) Public Affairs
In Iceland’s volcanic tundra, U.S. Marine Corps CH-53E Sea Stallion helicopters buzz overhead as two landing craft, air cushions from the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) storm the black-sand beaches.
Approximately 2,500 miles south, U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidons, assigned to the “Grey Knights” of Patrol Squadron (VP) 46 in Sigonella, Italy, soar above warm Mediterranean waters, scanning the depths for mines and submarines.
To the west, off the arid North African coast of Tunisia, U.S. Coast Guard small boats roll along with the waves, joining African partner maritime forces with migrant rescue operations and intercepting illicit drug shipments in the Gulf of Guinea.
Below the equator, African partner nations and U.S. Navy leaders discuss how to leverage partnerships and exercises to achieve a stronger, safer maritime environment.
These are just some of the simultaneous routine operations and exercises, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa (NAVEUR-NAVAF), through the employment of U.S. Sixth Fleet (SIXTHFLT), carries out at any given moment. In all, NAVEUR-NAVAF covers approximately half of the Atlantic Ocean, from the Arctic Ocean to the coast of Antarctica, as well as the Adriatic, Baltic, Barents, Black, Caspian, Mediterranean and North Seas. The area of operations (AO) encompasses more than 20 million square nautical miles of ocean, touches three continents and encompasses more than 67 percent of the Earth’s coastline, 30 percent of its landmass and nearly 30 percent of the world’s population.
Providing overall command, operational control and coordination for all U.S. Navy forces in this vast and dynamic AO is complex. From planning, conducting and supporting interagency and international exercises, to executing complex, no-fail operations in concert with NATO allies and regional partners, everything NAVEUR-NAVAF does ensures the safety and security of the U.S. European Command (EUCOM) and U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) maritime areas of responsibility (AOR).
“The naval operations we conduct in the European and African theaters continue to increase in pace and scope as we work with regional allies and partners to meet today’s security challenges,” said Adm. Robert P. Burke, commander, NAVEUR-NAVAF. “NAVEUR-NAVAF’s presence in this region dates back more than 80 years, and I am proud of the work our team does every day to support our national interests as well as the interests of our allies and partners.”
U.S. and European interests have been intertwined for eight decades; and as the Arctic ice melts from the effects of climate change, we’re seeing new challenges to face together.
The U.S. is an Arctic nation and has enduring security interests in the region. These include, but are not limited to, threat early warning systems; freedom of navigation and overflight through the region; combined security obligations with European allies and partners; and deployment of the land, sea and air forces required for deterrence, presence and security operations.
The Arctic and North Atlantic is a shared region comprised of territories in the eight circumpolar nations and including the Arctic Ocean. As the ice in the Northern Passage and Artic melts, sea lanes will become more sea worthy and competition will increase for previously inaccessible resources. These waters will offer dramatic new possibilities for shipping and commerce, which are critical to the global economy.
Our continued interoperability with Arctic allies, like Norway and Iceland, through exercises such as Cold Response and Northern Viking, provide us the experience needed to operate in harsh arctic climates and mountainous terrain, and to adapt and thrive in those operational environments. Working with these allies ensures continued access to these maritime regions for legitimate civilian, commercial and military purposes.
“We have an obligation to maintain readiness and demonstrate a credible and capable maritime force, which will maintain freedom of the seas, ensure free economic exchange and maintain maritime security,” said Vice Adm. Gene Black, commander, SIXTHFLT, at this year’s Cooperative Strategy Forum in Karlskrona, Sweden.
The Baltic Sea remains a vital waterway to European security as well. As the world adjusts to a new reality on the European continent, highlighted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and Finland and Sweden’s request to join NATO, cooperation and collaboration in the Baltic Sea remains of utmost importance. NAVEUR’s premier exercise BALTOPS, a multinational maritime exercise bringing together 14 NATO allies and 2 NATO partners, is a testament to the strength of like-minded nations operating as a team in the maritime domain. Unique to BALTOPS 22 is Sweden’s role in hosting the exercise pre-sail conference, coincidentally occurring during their Navy’s 500th anniversary.
The challenges and opportunities in Europe are not relegated to northern waters. The Mediterranean serves as one of the most strategically important waterways in the world - an economic lifeblood to southern European, northern African and Middle Eastern nations.
This critical body of water connects much more than those transcontinental coastal nations. The U.S. Navy’s persistent presence, alongside our allies and partners in the Mediterranean Sea, helps ensure freedom of navigation throughout one of the most important trade routes in the world. Without the free and unhindered use of this waterway, maritime traffic would need to circumnavigate Africa, a costly and dangerous journey.
To protect our interests in Europe and demonstrate our commitment to our allies, NAVEUR and SIXTHFLEET maintain persistent and rotational presence throughout all areas of the maritime domain, including cyberspace, space, sea, air, land and undersea. Four Forward Deployed Naval Forces-Europe (FDNF-E) guided-missile destroyers homeported at Naval Station Rota provide impressive capabilities through a variety of warfare areas, and are augmented by maritime patrol aircraft, submarines, construction and Special Forces personnel, and a robust combat logistics force capability to consistently and expeditiously replenish and resupply forces throughout the theater.
These assigned forces are bolstered by deployed carrier strike groups (CSG), amphibious ready groups (ARG), and marine expeditionary units’ (MEU), further adding to the flexibility and combat power available to our nation and our alliance in Europe.
This year, these out of area deployers sent a powerful message of presence and assurance throughout the theater as we work with our allies and partners to deter malign activity through the EUCOM AOR. As the Russian invasion of Ukraine enters into its fourth month, these naval forces, augmented and integrated with NATO allies and partners, represent an unmistakable military advantage in a globally shifting security environment.
NATO allies and partners, in concert with Black Sea allies and partners Romania, Bulgaria and Georgia, must ensure Russia is deterred from further aggression and continue to enhance our interoperability to increase our capabilities through shared values and interoperability.
The European and African continents share access to the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. They also share some security challenges, like malign influence designed to destabilize and discredit.
Africa is key terrain for China and Russia, who are aggressively using diplomatic, information, military and economic means to expand their access and influence. The United States, and U.S. Naval Forces Africa, are committed to enabling an exchange of ideas and discussions with African nations as we work toward creative solutions to regional and continental concerns.
In Africa’s maritime domain, we seek to preserve peace and stability, uphold freedom of the seas in a manner consistent with international law, maintain the unimpeded flow of commerce and oppose any attempt to use coercion or force to settle disputes. We share these deep and abiding interests with our many allies and partners who have long endorsed a rules-based international order.
“Strengthening our friendships and our partnerships is critical in this region,” said Burke. “The Mediterranean is the life blood of global trade, regional security and stability is crucial for global prosperity. We are all united in our pursuit of a common good, maritime security.”
Unique to this region is the implementation of the Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2017. NAVAF has made strides in enabling the success of the program by working with a variety of African partners to ensure inclusion of women in African partner defense forces; verifying our security cooperation activities include requirements for the protection of civilians, specifically women and girls; and helping develop training and accountability mechanisms within African partner defense forces to establish professional standards of conduct and prevent sexual and gender-based violence, to include sexual exploitation and abuse.
"These events are opportunities to show the United States Navy's commitment to encouraging women leaders in the security sector and to making sure they are included in global peace processes," said Cmdr. Ernique Sesler, former executive officer, USS Hershel “Woody” Williams.
By helping train and engage women in peacekeeping, we help our partners improve their security responsiveness and minimize their reliance on direct U.S. support.
The NAVAF team also strengthens relationships with African partner nations and helps build the defense capability and capacity of partner security forces through a series of multilateral exercises and training opportunities.
Throughout the continent, in concert with AFRICOM, NAVAF facilitates the regional Express Series exercises like Obangame in Western Africa, Cutlass in Eastern Africa and Phoenix in Northern Africa, as part of a comprehensive strategy to provide collaborative opportunities amongst African forces and international partners that addresses maritime security concerns, including interdiction operations.
The U.S. is seeing real world payoffs for the effort. On April 1, between Obangame Express and Phoenix Express, Expeditionary Sea Base USS Hershel “Woody” Williams (ESB 4), with support from the Environmental Security Programme of the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), assisted Cabo Verde authorities with the interdiction of a vessel smuggling approximately 6,000 kilograms of suspected cocaine – with an estimated street value of more than $350 million.
Integral to both areas of operation and to goals and in Europe and Africa is the relationship NAVEUR-NAVAF has fostered with NATO. From exercises to real-world, routine operations, NAVEUR-NAVAF is tied to NATO at a foundational level.
NAVEUR-NAVAF and SIXTHFLT are both “dual-hatted” in more ways than one. Adm. Burke is not only the commander of NAVEUR-AVAF, but also of NATO’s Allied Joint Forces Command (JFC) Naples. One of three JFCs in the NATO Alliance, JFC Naples prepares for, plans and conducts military operations in order to preserve the peace, security and territorial integrity of Alliance member states throughout SACEUR's Area of Responsibility (AOR) and beyond.
The collective NATO team demonstrates seamless integration among allies and partners throughout multiple NATO and U.S. commands, with Vigilance Activity Neptune Shield (NESH22), the fifth phase of the Project Neptune series. Neptune Shield featured a multi-national operation combining three joint task forces throughout the NAVEUR area of operations, centered on the USS Harry S. Truman CSG and USS Kearsarge ARG and embarked 22nd MEU. The activity practiced NATO's ability to integrate the high-end maritime warfare capabilities of aircraft CSGs, an ARG and a MEU to support the defense of the Alliance.
“Credible force projection to defend the Alliance has to be integrated across multiple domains; sea, air, land as well as space and cyberspace,” said Burke. “NESH22 further integrated those domains, and was an essential step in the progression of the NEPTUNE series to demonstrate NATO's ability to defend against any threat from any direction."
Complex activities like Neptune Shield and allies and partners as a whole and the natural evolution of NATO’s ability to integrate the high-end maritime warfare capabilities of a CSG to support the defense of the Alliance.
“Demonstrating and enhancing NATO’s high-end maritime warfare capabilities shows the world the true strength and teamwork of our Alliance,” said Black, STRIKFORNATO and SIXTHFLT. “NATO’s capacity to conduct integrated operations in the maritime domain ensures stability and peace throughout Europe, and validates more than seven decades of Alliance interoperability.”
In an increasingly dynamic world, the critical relationships and commitments among allied and partner nations remains an anchor of stability with each nation poised and ready to protect our collective national security interests, our people, our territories, and our values.
For over 80 years, NAVEUR-NAVAF has forged strategic relationships with our allies and partners, leveraging a foundation of shared values to preserve security and stability. Our greatest strategic advantage is a network of allies and partners. Together we strengthen our collective strategic deterrence.
Headquartered in Naples, Italy, NAVEUR-NAVAF operates U.S. naval forces in the USEUCOM and USAFRICOM AORs. SIXTHFLT is permanently assigned to NAVEUR-NAVAF, and employs maritime forces through the full spectrum of joint and naval operations.