US Navy Ships Complete First Exercises in Barents Sea Since Cold War

May 11, 2020 Updated: May 11, 2020

The first U.S. Navy ships since the Cold War to sail into the Barents Sea in Russia’s maritime backyard have completed seven days of exercises with a British frigate.

The Barents Sea lies between the Norwegian and Russian coasts in the Arctic.

“The Arctic is an important region and our naval forces operate there, including the Barents Sea, to ensure the security of commerce and demonstrate freedom of navigation in that complex environment,” Adm. James G. Foggo III, commander of the Naval Forces Europe and Africa, said in a May 8 statement.

“Our operations with the UK demonstrate the strength, flexibility, and commitment of the NATO Alliance to freedom of navigation throughout the Arctic and all European waters.”

Three U.S. destroyers entered the Barents Sea on May 4 together with the British Navy ship.

The exercises reflect a growing U.S. strategic interest in the Arctic and also follow a two-year pivot in military strategy to counter Russia and China.

The U.S. Navy said in an earlier statement that it had notified the Russian Ministry of Defense three days before the exercises.

“The notification was made in an effort to avoid misperceptions, reduce risk, and prevent inadvertent escalation,” the statement said.

According to the Navy, the ships are applying lessons learned from recent operations in the Arctic as they try to improve the ability to handle cold weather conditions.

Epoch Times Photo
The Royal Navy Type-23 Duke-class frigate HMS Kent (F78), front, and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) conduct joint operations to ensure maritime security in the Arctic Ocean on May 5, 2020. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of the Royal Navy/Dan Rosenbaum/Released)

The USS Harry Truman sailed to the Arctic Circle in 2018—the first aircraft carrier to patrol there since the Cold War.

That carrier visit also broke with the previous clockwork cycles of deployment—showcasing a new strategy known as “dynamic force employment.”

Dynamic employment follows the demands of the 2018 National Defense Strategy for the military to be “strategically predictable, but operationally unpredictable,” Bryan Clark, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, previously told The Epoch Times.

“U.S. allies and adversaries know that U.S. forces will be deployed overseas and will respond quickly if there’s a crisis. But day-to-day, they won’t know whether U.S. force deployments are going to happen.”

Russia has been building its military presence in the Arctic alongside infrastructure investments to capitalize on the potential opening up of the frozen northeast passage between the Arctic circle and the mainland.

“Russia has gradually strengthened its presence by creating new Arctic units, refurbishing old airfields and infrastructure in the Arctic, and establishing new military bases along its Arctic coastline,” a Pentagon report on the Arctic (pdf) stated last year.

“There is also a concerted effort to establish a network of air defense and coastal missile systems, early warning radars, rescue centers, and a variety of sensors.”

Russia has been investing in nine nuclear-powered ice-breakers, with Beijing pushing to partner up with Russia in opening up trade routes through the ice.

Beijing has increasingly tried to thrust its way into the Arctic geopolitical stakes, despite having no territorial claim, according to the State Department.

“It claims that its interests in the Arctic are focused on access to natural resources and the opportunities offered by Arctic sea routes for shipping,” a senior official told reporters during a briefing on U.S. Arctic strategy last month.

“And as you all probably know, it outlined plans in 2018 to develop a Polar Silk Road, claimed it was a near-Arctic state, and signaled its intention to play a more active role in Arctic governance.”

Ahead of a meeting of the Arctic Council last year, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States was ramping up its Arctic presence to keep Beijing in check.

“China’s pattern of aggressive behavior elsewhere will inform how it treats the Arctic,” he said. “Do we want the Arctic Ocean to transform into a new South China Sea, fraught with militarization and competing territorial claims?”

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