• Sun. Dec 4th, 2022

US aircraft carrier crew trains for war with Russia but aims to deter threats

ByJanice K. Merrill

Oct 26, 2022

The crew of a giant US aircraft carrier in European waters say they are ready to fight Russia if the call comes in, but their mission is to deter threats and prevent escalation.

USS George HW Bush helps test of NATO ability to defend itself – a mission that has become all the more real as a result of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Over the past few days, F18 jets have flown from the southern European aircraft carrier to Lithuania and Poland on the alliance’s eastern border near Russia, operating alongside warplanes of other allied countries and with NATO warships and ground troops.

The carrier strike group commander told Sky News his message to Russia was that its men and women “are ready for any mission”.

“We want peace – that’s what everyone wants,” Rear Admiral Dennis Velez said, speaking from inside a hangar aboard the ship, which contains more than 70 jets, helicopters and other planes.

“We want war [in Ukraine] finish and bring stability to the region and have a peaceful and stable Europe – but, for us, we are ready.”

When asked if that meant he was ready for war if necessary, the Admiral replied: “This ship, this strike group, our allies: we are ready for anything. We demonstrate it every day .”

At least two Russian warships watched the action, which is part of a series of NATO activities, from a safe distance, as did Russian planes.

“We saw them,” Rear Admiral Velez said, speaking on Tuesday as the carrier strike group and escort ships crossed the Adriatic Sea off the coast of Italy.

As for what was said to the Russians, he replied: “Nothing… They have the same right as us to operate in international waters, so we just follow international law and the rules of the road.”

The proximity of the Russian military and the knowledge that Russian forces are locked in a brutal war with Ukraine – which is not part of NATO but shares borders with alliance members – means that operating in Europe is no longer just another peacetime training exercise for the larger crew of more than 5,000 American sailors on the aircraft carrier.

“It’s a real change,” said Lieutenant Cordan Mackenzie, 27, one of the F18 pilots on board. His call sign is ‘Big Poppa’.

“Most of the time what we do is like training, it’s like a game, but you come here and you have information [intelligence] briefings and you’re doing missions with NATO allies and it really reinforces how real the things we’re doing in the world are and how important our mission is: to have a presence here in the Adriatic and to do ensure that the United States works with our NATO allies to make sure the world knows that we are still a power to be reckoned with.”

She and her fellow airmen may one day be ordered to fight dogfights against the Russians if tensions escalate significantly.

It’s a type of operation American, British and Western pilots didn’t have to consider during the long war in Afghanistan when they weren’t pitted against a rival air force.

“It’s intimidating,” Lieutenant Mackenzie said.

“That’s one of the things you have to rely on in your training. Without a doubt, I think the U.S.-trained Navy pilots are the best in the world… All we do here is is training and preparing for a fight that might come and I think when it does, rider to rider, hopefully we’re the best man in the box.”

The carrier is participating in a series of relatively new NATO activities called Neptune, which – unlike longer planned and more predictable annual exercises – allows allies to be faster, more flexible and more aggressive in the how they test their sea, air and land capabilities. capacities.

This is designed to improve their ability to deter Russia – a task the allies focused on even more intensely after Vladimir Putin’s full invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

“We have stepped up our readiness, preparedness and strengthened how we work together across the alliance to prevent and defend every square inch of NATO territory,” said Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General. , to Sky News during a visit to the carrier.

For example, he said it was only the third time since the end of the Cold War that a US carrier group had come under NATO command, with all three occasions occurring as part of the exercises Neptune over the past year.

The NATO chief also expressed new concerns about Ukraine after Russia falsely alleged Ukrainians planned to use radioactive ‘dirty bomb’ on their own territory. This claim could be part of a “false flag” plot by Moscow to launch such an attack and blame Kyiv.

Read more:
What is a “dirty bomb” and is Russia planning to blow up the Nova Kakhovka dam?

“Russia has accused others of what they themselves intend to do, so we need to watch closely what Russia is doing now. And they need to know that using a dirty bomb or ‘a radiological bomb is a serious escalation,’ Mr Stoltenberg said.

When asked how NATO would react to such an attack, he replied: “It will be a very serious escalation.”

The Allies also fear Vladimir Putin may resort to a nuclear strike as his forces suffer defeats at the hands of the Ukrainian military, backed by Western weapons.

The NATO chief said: “The probability of any use of a nuclear weapon in Ukraine remains low, at the same time the consequences are so devastating, so enormous that it is a risk that we must take seriously.”