Black Sea in the New Year: Trial run for attack on Crimea?
The New Year has seen an appreciable escalation of U.S. and NATO naval and air presence and operations in the Black Sea.
On January 19 the website of U.S. Air Forces in Europe/Air Forces Africa detailed what was described as a multi-domain targeting exercise in the Black Sea region commenced four days earlier.
The account went on to relate that the exercise, a Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) one, included the participation of U.S. Special Operations Command Europe, U.S Naval Forces Europe/U.S. 6th Fleet, U.S. Army Europe and Africa, U.S. Strategic Command, and the Romanian Air Force. JADC2 is a Pentagon approach that integrates the U.S. Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Space Force into one network for future warfighting.
The drills were “designed to train U.S. and ally forces to integrate, operate and communicate while executing all-domain targeting operations.”
American and Romanian F-16s led the exercise, with the U.S. warplanes employing Joint Air-to-Surface Missile (JASSM) tactics, the JASSM being described as “a long-range, conventional, air-to-ground, precision standoff missile that is designed to destroy high-value, well-defended targets.” Targets like, presumably, the Russian Black Sea Fleet, which has been based in the Black Sea port city of Sevastopol since 1783. The best argument for why Russia reabsorbed Crimea seven years ago is that it feared – and with sufficient reason to be sure – that the post-coup junta in Ukraine would not only expel the Russian fleet, which provides Russia’s sole naval access to the Mediterranean Sea and the Sea of Azov, but turn the Sevastopol naval facilities over to NATO.
Russia is the only nation fronting the Black Sea that is not a full NATO member (as are Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey) or an advanced partner (as are Georgia and Ukraine). The only generally-recognized nation, but not the only political entity. Abkhazia, which has declared its independence from Georgia and has been recognized by Russia, is also on the Black Sea. The U.S. and NATO insist Abkhazia is part of Georgia, so it can at any time become the site of an armed conflict like its former Georgian counterpart South Osettia was in the Georgian-Russian war of 2008.
The U.S.-led exercise, as noted above, featured the participation of U.S. Special Operations Command Europe, described by the above-cited report as including “conventional and Special Operations Forces integration, such as close air support and simulated strikes on targets of interest.”
Other military components involved were the U.S. Army 41st Field Artillery Brigade, the 10th Army Air Missile Defense Command, as well as a U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon combat aircraft used for anti-submarine warfare.
Lastly, the report stated, quite unequivocally, that, “In an era of global power competition and in line with the National Defense Strategy, this event demonstrated the U.S. ability to converge assets from all domains and across NATO allies into the Black Sea to generate firepower inside an area that an adversary believes to be protected through anti-access, area denial technology, while also improving readiness and being operationally unpredictable.”
Anti-access, area denial (A2/AD) technology is, in layman’s language, weapons or a weapons system designed to protect one’s coastline or border. The Pentagon and NATO are practicing penetrating the defenses, needless to say, of Russia.
With the candor and dry detail characteristic of military websites, all pretense of the above-described war games being anything other than what they are – preparations for military conflict with Russia – are summarily dispensed with. The unadorned truth is glaring.
The U.S. and NATO deploy supersonic multirole fighter aircraft, anti-submarine warfare aircraft, special forces, missile defense and Space Force personnel, AWACS and war ships equipped with interceptor missiles – see below – in a sea where five of the six littoral states are American NATO allies and partners and one is not. The purpose of such a “all-domain” presence seems as evident as could be. The above is not occurring, for example, in the Mediterranean Sea, not in the Atlantic Ocean, nor in the St. Lawrence Seaway. If training – in the abstract – is the official rationale, then surely there are more convenient and accessible locations than one which ships have to pass the Dardanelles and the Bosporus to reach.
On January 28 the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Porter entered the Black Sea to join its counterpart, USS Donald Cook, and to jointly conduct multi-domain operations with a P-8 Poseidon anti-submarine warfare plane and NATO Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft.
U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. Sixth Fleet provided this background information:
“Porter is one of four U.S. Navy destroyers based in Rota, Spain, and assigned to Commander, Task Force 65 in support of NATO’s Integrated Air Missile Defense architecture. These Forward-Deployed Naval Forces-Europe ships have the flexibility to operate throughout the waters of Europe and Africa, from the Cape of Good Hope to the Arctic Circle, demonstrating their mastery of the maritime domain.”
Before the Porter’s arrival, USS Donald Cook participated in exercises with NATO Air Command, referred to in a Sixth Fleet press release as training for U.S.-NATO interoperability.
USS Donald Cook and USS Porter are equipped with Standard Missile-3s which are designed to shoot down short- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles and satellites. Five years ago the U.S., with NATO participation, activated an almost billion-dollar so-called missile defense station at the Deveselu air base in Romania.
At the time Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded: “To begin with the explanation we were given was a potential rocket attack from Iran….Now we know the situation has changed dramatically.”
Since the Obama-Biden administration announced in 2009 its Aegis Ashore or European Phased Adapted Approach deployment of interceptor missiles and radars in Romania and Poland, then augmented that with the regular rotation of guided-missile destroyers to the Black and Baltic Seas, it should have been patently evident to even the most myopic observer which nation was targeted for what is after all phase two of a first-strike strategy.