U.S. carrier strike group makes ready for Arctic Circle mission

The world’s largest aircraft carrier will after a short visit to Oslo sail north simultaneously as Europe’s largest fighter jet drill kicks off in the skies above Norway, Sweden and Finland.

By Thomas Nilsen, The Independent Barents Observer - May 24, 2023
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The world’s largest warship, “USS Gerald R. Ford” at port in Norfolk, Virginia. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

High North – Higher Tensions: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has fundamentally changed the security landscape in Europe. This winter and spring have seen one military exercise following the other. If Moscow wanted U.S. military forces further away from its borders, the opposite is achieved.

“I look forward to our joint operations on NATO’s northern flank, which improves interoperability, maintain freedom of navigation in international waters, deter aggression, and prepare us to defend our nations and the Alliance,” says Vice Admiral Thomas E. Ishee, commander of the U.S. Sixth Fleet.

On Monday, the Vice Admiral embarked the “USS Gerald R. Ford” in the North Sea as the carrier sails towards the Norwegian capital where the giant makes port call on May 24.

The visit occurs as 13 NATO members and partner nations are in the final days of exercise Formidable Shield 2023 taking place in the waters north of Scotland and west of Lofoten, Andøya in Northern Norway.

Formidable Shield is aimed at training to shoot down Russian missiles in case a conflict escalates to the north.

“The crew looks forward to work by the Arctic Circle, this is something few of their navy friends ever had an opportunity to do. Visiting Oslo and experiencing the North Sea and the Arctic is a thing we look forward to,” says Rick Burges, Commanding Officer on board the “USS Gerald R. Ford” to Norwegian TV 2.

Burges himself is a fighter jet pilot with more than 3,500 hours in cockpit. His carrier is the most powerful in the world’s oceans.

The vessel can bring up to 75 aircraft; fighter jets, surveillance planes and a dozen helicopters.

A visit to a port in Norway has been planned for a long time. When the Barents Observer last year embarked on the carrier “USS George H. W. Bush”, Capt. Robert Aguilar confirmed the US Navy’s renewed focus on the northern flank. “I hope the ship will make it up to Norway for a port visit,” he said.

Instead of the Nimitz class, the U.S. Navy sailed its newest aircraft carrier across the North Atlantic to Norwegian waters. This is the carrier’s first full-length deployment and Oslo is the first foreign harbor to be visited.

Exact timing and area of operations are classified.

“Nothing I can comment on at this time due to operational security considerations,” says public affairs officer Tyler Barker when asked by the Barents Observer about the carrier group’s mission up north.

 

A US Navy aircraft carrier at port in Norfolk, Virginia. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

May 29 is the kick-off for Arctic Challenge Exercise 2023. Led by Finland from Rovaniemi Air Base on the Arctic Circle, the Nordic fighter jet drill gathers a record-high 150 aircraft and nearly 3,000 personnel from 14 nations.

It is not known if the air wing of “USS Gerald R. Ford” will have any role in the exercise that in Norwegian air space happens along the coast of the Norwegian Sea from Ålesund to Helgeland.

Larger sorties will take place over northern Sweden every afternoon for the period until June 9.

A main reason why the Scandinavian north and Arctic waters have become essential areas of interest for Europe and NATO is because of Russia’s Northern Fleet’s ballistic missile subs and multi-purpose subs operations out of the Kola Peninsula.

Gadzhiyevo north of Murmansk is home to a fleet of Delta-IV and Borey-class SSBNs carrying missiles capable of reaching North America with nuclear warheads. Russia has recently deployed about 15 strategic bombers to the Olenya Air Base in short distance from its border with Norway and Finland in the north. These are planes that can carry cruise missiles armed with nukes.

The Ford carrier group consists of five to six other warships and likely a submarine or two.

F/A-18 fighter jets on the flight deck of “USS Gerald R. Ford” as the giant vessel prepares for visit to Norway. Photo: Torbjørn Kjosvold / Forsvaret

Located in Kirkenes, Norway, just a few kilometres from the borders to Russia and Finland, the Barents Observer is dedicated to cross-border journalism in Scandinavia, Russia and the wider Arctic.

As a non-profit stock company that is fully owned by its reporters, its editorial decisions are free of regional, national or private-sector influence. It has been a partner to ABJ and its predecessors since 2016.

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