In reporting on the departure of the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Thomas Hudner from the Black Sea after participating in Romanian-led Sea Shield 21 naval exercises, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa revealed two other pieces of information that are significant.
The eleven-day exercises are described in the Romanian press as “the largest and most complex NATO multinational exercise organized by the Romanian Naval Forces, in 2021, in the Black Sea area,” with the participation of eighteen warships, ten aircraft and 2,400 military personnel from eight nations. Though the latter number as will be seen below should be twelve or more.
Three days earlier USS Thomas Hudner and the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey entered the Black Sea for the war games, Both ships are currently assigned Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group operating in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The U.S. possesses eleven of the world’s twelve nuclear-powered aircraft carriers (France has the other) and all of the world’s eleven supercarriers. The Eisenhower carrier strike group also includes Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Mitscher, USS Laboon and USS Mahan.
Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and Ticonderoga-class cruisers are part of the U.S.’s Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System. The U.S. currently has 68 of the destroyers and 22 of the cruisers, 90 in total, with more planned to enter the Navy’s fleet as part of the global American interceptor missile program. They are designed to launch Standard Missile 3 Block IIAs to shoot down short- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles as well as satellites in the exoatmosphere.The Arleigh Burke destroyers can also be equipped with 56 Tomahawk cruise missiles each. The Ticonderoga cruisers routinely carry (and have fired) Tomahawks as well.
The Navy report of the ongoing exercise included this by way of background, with particular weight attached to the four component parts of it: “Sea Shield 2021 is an annual Romanian-led multinational naval exercise in the Black Sea focused on enhancing interoperability between U.S. and participating nations, emphasizing anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, anti-air warfare, and mine countermeasures mission sets.”
Earlier reports by the U.S. Navy of this year’s iteration of Sea Shield included the participation of NATO members Bulgaria, Greece, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Spain, the U.S. and Turkey as well as the Standing NATO Maritime Group-2 which usually consists of from four to six destroyers and frigates. Today’s press release on day five of the exercise, however, included NATO members Albania and Croatia, NATO partner Ukraine and NATO global partner Japan as participants.
There are six Black Sea littoral nations (excluding Abkhazia), and all but Russia are NATO members and partners: Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey, Georgia and Ukraine. All five of the latter are participating in Sea Shield 21 (Georgia through port visits at Poti), to indicate beyond dispute which remaining Black Sea country is the target of the extensive naval war games.
The press release also contains this paragraph: “Combined operations in the Black Sea will strengthen interoperability between NATO allies, including Turkey, Ukraine, Georgia, Bulgaria and Romania.” Ally is the term reserved by NATO for full members; other affiliated nations are called partners. There are currently forty partners in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, the Caucasus, South, Central and East Asia, the South Pacific and South America. Referring to Georgia and Ukraine as allies may be a slip of the keyboard; but it may also be revealing NATO’s future plans for the two countries.
The latest NATO partnership program is Partners Across the Globe, inaugurated in 2012. Japan was one of the first members, along with fellow Asia-Pacific nations Afghanistan, Australia, Iraq, Mongolia, New Zealand, Pakistan and South Korea. In 2017 Colombia joined the partnership, thereby giving NATO members and partners on all inhabited continents.
Te U.S. Navy today, intentionally or inadvertently, elevated Georgia and Ukraine to full NATO membership status and disclosed that a partner from Far East Asia has been recruited for naval exercises that can only have Russia as their intended adversary.