The guided-missile destroyer Ross headed back into the Barents Sea on Monday.
Despite decades of avoiding the contentious Arctic waters between Russia and Norway, four U.S. Navy ships and a U.K. Royal Navy ship completed a maritime operation in the Barents Sea in May — marking the first time the service said a U.S. Navy surface ship has done so since the mid-1980s.
And Monday marked yet another occasion when the Navy sailed into those very waters.
“This Barents Sea mission marks a significant milestone, clearly demonstrating our dynamic ability to operate anywhere in the world,” Cmdr. John D. John, the commanding officer of the Ross, said in a Navy news release. “These operations demonstrate the commitment of our crew to transatlantic stability and security.”
The recent operation coincides with Russia’s Navy conducting anti-submarine warfare drills in the Barents Sea, Russian state-run outlet TASS reported Oct. 20.
Bryan Clark, a former U.S. submarine officer who is currently a senior fellow with The Hudson Institute, told Defense News earlier this year that Russia views the Barents Sea and other surrounding waters as “a free zone for Russian submarine operations.”
"By putting some ships up there, we’re telling them: ‘Well, no, this is not a free zone [for] submarine operations — these are international waters,’ " Clark said. “It would be a little like if the Russians deployed a bunch of anti-submarine warfare frigates in the [Virginia Capes Operating Area off Norfolk, Virginia].”
“We couldn’t do anything about it, but it would put us on notice that we maybe needed to be a little more careful,” he said.
The U.S. Navy is back in the Arctic Circle after being gone for 30 years, reentering a region where questions of international law are becoming increasingly high-stakes.
Meanwhile, U.S. Navy destroyers have trekked into the Barents Sea this year a total of three times this year.
Arleigh Burke-class Aegis destroyers Donald Cook, Porter and Roosevelt, supported by the Supply-class fast combat support ship Supply, joined the Royal Navy’s Type 23 Duke-class frigate HMS Kent in May, according to the U.S. Navy.
Additionally, the U.S. Navy, led by the U.K., headed into the Barents Sea again in September to conduct maritime security operations. The Ross, the Royal Navy frigate HMS Sutherland, the British Royal Fleet Auxiliary RFA Tidespring Tide-class replenishment tanker, and the Royal Norwegian frigate HNoMS Thor Heyerdahl participated in the training in that instance, the U.S. Navy said.
“The realistic and relevant training we are conducting here in the Barents cannot be replicated anywhere else,” John said in September, according to a Navy news release. “This proves we can operate anywhere in the region with our allies.”
Earlier this month, the Ross participated in multilateral training called Exercise Joint Warrior, a bi-annual exercise spearheaded by the U.K. in the Atlantic Ocean. It involved more than 6,000 service members from allied nations including Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, and Portugal.