The operation is aimed at ensuring freedom of navigation
Four U.S. Navy ships entered the Barents Sea on Monday for the first time in decades as part of operations aimed at ensuring freedom of navigation in the Arctic Circle region.
Donald Cook, Porter and Roosevelt destroyers and the Saplay Rapid Supply Squadron have been joined by the British Royal Navy’s Kent.
American surface ships, unlike the submarines that regularly sail in Arctic waters, have not conducted operations in the Barents Sea since the mid-1980s.
“In these difficult times, it is particularly important to maintain a steady flow of operations throughout European theater,” said the commander of the Sixth Fleet, Vice Admiral Lisa Franchetti.
She added that the operation is key to strengthening the foundations of preparedness in the Arctic, where severe weather conditions represent a major challenge for ships.
The Russian Ministry of Defense notified ships entering the Barents Sea on Friday “in an effort to avoid misunderstandings, reduce risk and prevent unintentional escalation,” the Sixth Fleet said in a statement.
General Todd Walters, Commander of the U.S. European Command and Commander-in-Chief of the United Nations Armed Forces in Europe, speaking at the Senate Armed Forces Committee in February, noted that the situation in the Arctic continues to cause “serious concern” for the alliance against the backdrop of increased military activity by Russia and China in the region.
He suggested that the US should maintain the same level of concentration in the Arctic as in the Baltic region and other regions.
NATO exercises started in the Arctic in March, but were stopped early by the Norwegian government due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The maneuvers called “Cold Response” were part of the larger exercise “Defender of Europe 2020”, various elements of which were cancelled, postponed or modified due to COVID-19.