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U.S. And UK Carry Out “Freedom Of Navigation” Exercise In Arctic, Norway Refuses To Join

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U.S. And UK Carry Out "Freedom Of Navigation" Exercise In Arctic, Norway Refuses To Join

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On May 1st, the US and British warships decided to conduct a surprise anti-submarine exercise in the Barents Sea, above the Arctic Circle.

Four ships from two nations, a U.S. submarine, and a U.S. P8-A worked together, in the Norwegian Sea, to conduct training in the challenging conditions in the Arctic.

For the exercise, Arleigh Burke-class Aegis destroyers USS Donald Cook and USS Porter , and fast combat support ship USNS Supply, were joined by the Royal Navy’s HMS Kent.

Additionally, a U.S. submarine, as well as a P8-A Poseidon multi-mission maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft from Patrol Squadron (VP) 4 supported the training.

This exercise reinforces the combined training that the nations received last month while participating in the U.K’s Submarine Command Course (SMCC).

“For more than 70 years, 6th Fleet has operated forces across the region in support of maritime security and stability. Our regional alliances remain strong because of our regular operations and exercises with partner navies, and we welcome this opportunity to work collaboratively at sea, while enhancing our understanding of Arctic operations,” said Vice Adm. Lisa Franchetti, commander, U.S. 6th Fleet.

The US calls the exercise “multinational” because it involved 1,200 sailors from the US and UK.

“We are working with our partners to enhance our combined capabilities as we conduct maritime security operations and training in the Arctic region,” said Franchetti. “Our ships must be prepared to operate across all mission sets, even in the most unforgiving environments.  This is especially critical in the Arctic, where the austere weather environment demands constant vigilance and practice.”

The two U.S. destroyers, based in Rota, Spain, support 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.

“One of the best attributes of our surface force is that we can aggregate at will, transitioning seamlessly from independent ships to coordinated operations,” said Capt. Joseph A. Gagliano, Commander, Task Force 65, commander, Destroyer Squadron 60.  “Our interoperability with our allies is so good that we can deploy multinational naval forces with minimal notice. That’s the real power of NATO.”

Russia’s Ministry of Defense published a short note at noon on Monday, stating the Northern Fleet “has started to monitor the actions of the NATO naval strike group.”

In addition, to the US’ and UK’s surprise, Norway refused to send any ships above the Arctic Circle for the exercise.

Norway’s absence from the 6th Fleet’s operation in the Barents Sea is an attempt to avoid escalating tensions with Russia, The Barents Observer reported.

“Norway abstained from these exercises perhaps understanding the danger to its bilateral relationship with Russia from threatening Russia’s nuclear deterrence,” it quoted Rasmus Gjedssø Bertelsen, social sciences professor at the University of Tromsø – The Arctic University of Norway, as saying.

“Do the U.S. Navy and Royal Navy exercises in the Barents- and Norwegian Seas defend trans-Atlantic sea lanes or threaten the Russian Bastion defense and its nuclear deterrence and therefore strategic stability,” professor Gjedssø Bertelsen asked.

From Oslo, Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen sees no conflict of interests by the British, U.S. navy group sailing north. To the Barents Observer, the minister says such cooperation among NATO countries strengthens the collective defense.

“Norway welcomes more allied presence in our neighborhood. The United States contributes to NATO’s collective defense through more presence and training in Europe. The ongoing maritime activity is a sign of rivalry between the great powers,” Bakke-Jensen said.

“We want Norwegian forces to participate in this type of activities when it takes place outside Norway,” the Defense Minister states, but adds “this time it was not prioritized.”

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