By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Ryan Riley
Naval Force Europe-Africa / U.S. Sixth Fleet Public Affairs
Each day the U.S. Navy faces a fluctuating security environment in the waters that touch the European and African shores. A resurgent Russia is becoming more aggressive as it projects power in the North Atlantic and Arctic while; as of late, elevating their posture in the Black Sea. At the same time, China is bidding to advance regional influence in Africa.
Adm. James G. Foggo III, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa (CNE-A) and Allied Joint Force Command Naples, Italy, has looked back 2018 and discussed operations including Trident Juncture, the largest NATO exercise since the end of the Cold War and first ever Dynamic Force Employment (DFE) with USS Harry S. Truman; Operation Inherent Resolve, contributing to the demise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS); and operations in the Arctic Circle in the context of great power competition, potential threats to the national security or to the security of U.S. allies and partners.
“We are entering an era of power competition as Russia and China continue to advance their global military capabilities in support of their national interests,” said Foggo. “Right now we maintain the military edge, and it is important for us to keep that edge. Part of maintaining that military edge is our presence, being there when it matters most.”
Simultaneously, acts of terrorism by violent extremist organizations continue to be a real threat. Joint and naval operations with ally and partner nations advance U.S. national interests in the pursuit of security and stability through Europe and Africa.
This past April, CNE-A/U.S. 6th Fleet (C6F) Sailors and Marines assisted British and French allies in responding to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons on civilians in Syria. As part of this overall joint and coalition mission, the Virginia-class attack submarine USS John Warner (SSN 785) launched Tomahawk missiles from the Mediterranean Sea.
“Violent extremism; this is a real threat across the European and African theaters,” said Foggo. “We will continue dismantling networks of terrorist organizations in Syria, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere.”
Naval operations in the European and African theaters have seen a steady increase in recent years.
With the growing manifestation of Russia in northern waters — reestablishing military bases closed since the Cold War; increased submarine operations in the North Atlantic — and their increasingly hostile and irresponsible behavior in the Black Sea, CNE/ C6F has continued to witness unsafe interceptions by Russian military forces, challenging the norms that have existed in Europe.
“It is very important that as this dynamic emerges that we learn and respond to that as a nation,” said Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations, during a visit to Naval Support Activity Naples. “We are entering a maritime era. The responsibilities for naval forces — the United States Navy and navies of our allies and partners — has never been greater.”
As the Sailors assigned to the region adapt to the ever-changing challenges, they can be proud of the trails they have blazed being the first to successfully demonstrate Secretary of Defense James Mattis’ DFE concept in the C6F area of operations: agile forces that keep our adversaries guessing.
“The National Defense Strategy makes clear that we must be operationally unpredictable to our long-term strategic adversaries, while upholding our commitments to our allies and partners,” said Foggo.
Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group’s (CSG) deployment to the European theater was in execution of the DFE concept. The CSG’s deployment began in April and became highly unpredictable when the carrier and a few of its strike group ships remained in the Mediterranean Sea instead of transiting to the Middle East as expected. The CSG then returned to its homeport in Norfolk in July after completing three months of combat operations and cooperative exercises and engagements with NATO allies and partners in the Mediterranean and North Atlantic.
During the strike group’s initial arrival to C6F, it proceeded to the Eastern Mediterranean and completed air strikes at targets in Iraq and Syria in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, contributing to the demise of ISIS. Following this, the strike group moved to the Adriatic Sea, and its air wing participated in Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2018. The first time an aircraft carrier supported this exercise from the Adriatic Sea.
Returning to the European theater for the second time as part of its DFE, the strike group headed north of the Arctic Circle to conduct sustained operations, something that hadn’t occurred in decades, giving the U.S. Navy the opportunity to demonstrate its ability to adapt and operate anywhere, but also substantiate that its forces can be “strategically predictable, but operationally unpredictable.”
“Russia has renewed its capabilities in the North Atlantic and the Arctic in places not seen since the Cold War, so it was imperative that the strike group operated in a region we haven’t in decades,” said Foggo.
The Harry S. Truman CSG’s DFE is a change to recent strike group deployment metrics and is just the start of what’s to come in the power competition.
“It is important to mention, while we remain unpredictable to our adversaries, the defense strategy clearly states that we will challenge them with our partners and allies,” Foggo continued. “This year’s NATO exercise Trident Juncture did just that. We proved that we can come together at a moment’s notice to defend against potential threats to our security or to the security of our allies and partners.”
Trident Juncture was the largest NATO exercise since the end of the Cold War, and demonstrated that NATO is ready to defend and deter across the alliance by testing its ability to conduct a major collective defense operation, from troop training at tactical level to command of large forces. The exercise included 50,000 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines, around 250 aircraft, 70 ships and 10,000 vehicles.
Speaking to the U.S. military contribution to the exercise, Foggo said, “When you look at the contribution of those ships, those Marines, all the personnel in support, and then the personnel that are here in Europe that are Americans who were part of Trident Juncture, it’s almost 18,000 service embers, 140 aircraft, eight ships and 900 vehicles. Absolutely impressive.”
Other successes of note included the introduction of a new strategic military capability – the “Tridents” of Patrol Squadron (VP) 26 completed the first operational aerial refueling for the P-8A Poseidon; increasing the range and time on station for these aircraft to conduct patrols. The four forward-deployed guided-missile destroyers at Naval Station Rota, Spain, continued their routine patrols throughout the theater, operating in the Black Sea, the north coast of Africa, the Baltic and Mediterranean seas, and participated in key exercises in the Black Sea, Sea Breeze and Breeze.
Stronger African Partners
China established their first overseas base in the Horn of Africa country of Djibouti, near Camp Lemonnier, the only permanent U.S. military installation in Africa. China has used economic influence to advance its security interests in the region and continues to expand its reach across the continent.
“There are some indications of (China) looking for additional facilities, specifically on the eastern coast … so Djibouti happens to be the first — there will be more,” said U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, commander, U.S. Africa Command, during a congressional hearing in March.
U.S. military forces reassured African partners by focusing on security and counterterrorism efforts. Military exercises like the “Express Series,” and open discussions such as the Africa Combined Force Maritime Component Command (CMFCC) course, a weeklong flag level course hosted by Foggo and facilitated by the Naval War College, helped to increase military proficiency and foster dialogue.
During the CMFCC course, CNE-A hosted representatives from 28 nations including 16 African nations, nine European nations, two North American nations and one South American nation.
“We are assisting our African partners so that they can enhance their maritime security, improve their defense capability, and promote stability and counter violent extremists and piracy using the tools and the infrastructure they have in their countries,” said Foggo. “Of the 55 countries in Africa, 38 are coastal countries, so the maritime domain plays a key role in the overall security and stability of the continent. We are helping African maritime nations to solve African problems — African Solutions to African Problems.”
The Express exercises — Cutlass, Obangame and Phoenix Express — are sponsored by U.S. Africa Command and facilitated by CNE-A/C6F. They are designed to improve regional cooperation, Maritime Domain Awareness, information sharing between maritime operations centers, responsiveness of maritime assets, adherence to the rule of law, and counter-proliferation interdiction capabilities in order to disrupt illicit trafficking and counter piracy.
Eye to the Future
As the year comes to an end and a new one begins, CNE-A/C6F aims to maintain dynamic security in the theater by building enduring relationships in NATO and beyond, continuing DFE and demonstrating high-end interoperable warfare capabilities with allies and partners during exercises Formidable Shield, BALTOPS, and Sea Breeze.
CNE-A/C6F, headquartered in Naples, oversees 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.