NATO carrier strike groups train together in Mediterranean war games
Rick Rozoff

NATO has announced that the French nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, Britain’s new HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier, their attached multinational carrier strike groups and additional warships and warplanes from other NATO nations have completed maneuvers in the Mediterranean Sea.

Code-named Gallic Strike, the exercise included fifteen ships and 57 aircraft from France, Britain, the U.S., Greece, Italy and the Netherlands.

The Charles de Gaulle is the only nuclear aircraft carrier in the world aside from those of its NATO ally the U.S., which has eleven.

The U.S. Sixth Fleet, based in Naples, Italy with 40 ships, 175 aircraft and 21,000 people assigned to it, also maintains an aircraft carrier (and strike group) in the Mediterranean. Earlier this year it hosted the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and its strike group’s five guided-missile destroyers and a guided-missile cruiser (equipped with interceptor missiles). In the first months of this year several of the latter entered the Black Sea to participate in exercises and to taunt Russia. At times U.S. Navy has two aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean when one is in transit from the U.S. to the Fifth Fleet’s area of responsibility (the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, Arabian Sea and western part of the Indian Ocean).

The combination of three or four NATO aircraft carriers and strike groups in the area gives the military bloc a colossal amount of firepower, both with missiles and bombers. Nations like Syria, Iran and Crimea and Abkhazia on the Black Sea could be fairly devastated in such a joint attack. One is astounded – is disheartened – that at no time since the end of the Second World War, especially since the end of the Cold War, has an initiative been launched to declare the Mediterranean Sea a zone of peace and disarmament.

The recently-concluded war games featuring the two carriers lasted from June 1-4 and “consisted mainly of training for a dual carrier operation, i.e. training between aircraft carriers to coordinate and fight together in an integrated command structure,” according to NATO’s Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), headquarters of the bloc’s Allied Command Operations. Drills included interaction between British and American F-35s and French Rafales in anti-aircraft, anti-surface warfare and what was referred to as power projection capabilities. It’s hard to believe that anti-missile components were not also included given the guided-missile warships involved.

Gallic Strike (NATO graphic)

The guided-missile destroyer USS Thomas Hudner (which had been deployed to the Black Sea in March) integrated into the French carrier strike group and the guided-missile destroyer USS The Sullivans and ten American F35-B fifth-generation combat aircraft attached to the British carrier strike group participated in the four-day exercise.

The British carrier’s strike group includes six British warships, a British submarine, the U.S. destroyer mentioned above and a Dutch frigate in what NATO hails as the “largest concentration of maritime and air power to leave the UK in a generation.”

Major General Phillip A. Stewart, Deputy Chief of Staff, Strategic Employment, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, in speaking of the Gallic Strike war games and what they entailed, stated:

“Allied cooperation and interoperability have reached new heights with this first meeting of the French and U.K. carrier strike groups at sea. These initiatives ensure crews, aircraft and ships are interoperable and able to seamlessly support one another when the need arises. More broadly, this activity is a tremendous demonstration of the burden-sharing at the core of the NATO Alliance….”

Before Gallic Strike the Queen Elizabeth participated in NATO’s Steadfast Defender drills off the coast of Portugal in which it interacted with both of NATO’s Standing Naval Groups – Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 and Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 (a rare event as they are assigned distinct areas of responsibility) – as well as troops and other assets from twenty NATO and partner nations. The carrier was visited by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe General Tod Wolters (also commander of U.S. European Command), the head of NATO’s Military Committee, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, Britain’s First Sea Lord Admiral Tony Radakin and Portuguese Defence Minister João Gomes Cravinho.

Since the conclusion of Gallic Strike the carrier has engaged in the four-nation (U.S., Britain, Israel, Italy) Falcon Strike 21 exercise with F-35s from the participating countries, an unprecedented event with the new fifth-generation combat aircraft.

SHAPE states that the British carrier’s seven-month deployment, taking it as far as the Asia-Pacific region, will include it interacting with more than one-fifth of the world’s nations. Today’s global NATO does nothing by half measures.