150901-N-FQ994-156 ODESA, Ukraine (Sept. 1, 2015) U.S.-Ukraine officials visit warships during the Sea Breeze 2015 opening day ceremonies Sept. 1. Sea Breeze is an air, land and maritime exercise designed to improve maritime safety, security and stability in the Black Sea. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Robert S. Price/Released)
Though the Pacific is the stated priority, The U.S. Navy continues to wave its flag at Russia’s front door.
Most recently, The United States and Ukraine on Sept. 1 launched exercise Sea Breeze 2015 in the Black Sea. Officials tout the 14th annual multinational exercise as a way to enhance interoperability and strengthen regional security in a volatile region riven by region marked by the 2014 Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea and the continuing civil war in Ukraine, which borders Russia.
The exercise’s at-sea phase will include maritime interdictions operations, anti-submarine warfare, air defense, and self-defense against small boat attacks in the Black Sea — and will unfold under Russia’s watchful eye. A report from the Russian news agency Interfax said Russian intelligence is monitoring every move. For example, the Russian guided missile frigate Ladny was ordered to shadow destroyer Donald Cook when it entered the Black Sea in late August.
This came as no surprise to Vice Adm. James Foggo, commander of 6th Fleet. In a Sept. 2 phone interview, the 6th Fleet boss he said the U.S. Navy tries to maintains a near-continuous presence in the Black Sea, and "nine times out of 10, a Russian warship [is] waiting for us." This time, the Russian ship gave the added courtesy of having hailinged the Donald Cook, and the skipper by name, to welcomed them into the Black Sea.
"While we are out there in close proximity, we keep an eye on them as they keep an eye on us," said Foggo, a 1981 Naval Academy graduate and career who is a submariner by trade. "So far, it has been professional interaction. And I expect that."
Flexing military muscles in the region is the new normal. far from uncommon. U.S. forces entered the Black Sea for Exercise Breeze and Exercise Sea Shield in July, and Exercise Trident Poseidon in May. The destroyer Jason Dunham entered the Black Sea on April 3 in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve, a series of NATO drills launched in April 2014 to strengthen security in response to conflict in Ukraine.
Seventeen countries took part in Baltic Sea naval drills as part of exercise BALTOPS in June. Exercise Joint Warrior united 12,000 warfighters from 15 NATO countries in April. This included an armada of roughly 60 warships and submarines in the North Atlantic in what was touted as a show of strength to deter Russian aggression.
The Russians typically respond to a NATO exercise with a show of force Foggo calls a "Snap-Ex," in which they send a large number of ships at sea for a few days.
"It is a message. Everything is strategic messaging," the three-star said. "I am always impressed with that. It is not easy to get ships underway on short notice."
Last year, for example, the Russians held a large-scale war game in the Black Sea at the same time as the U.S., Bulgaria and other nations conducted multinational training.
Foggo said he was unaware of any Russian plans to conduct a Snap-Ex during this exercise, but said partner nations would be ready to respond accordingly. If it does take place, he said, "I don't have any problem with that."
Joining the co-host nations are troops from Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Italy, Moldova, Romania, Sweden, Turkey, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom. Participants include roughly 400 U.S. sailors aboard the Donald Cook and a P-3C Orion from Patrol Squadron 9.
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