U.S. Navy assets update in Ukraine crisis

Great big ships.

Reader “Your Opinion Please” posed questions to me on carrier movements at this earlier post, and I am copying the response here (see below) to provide a general update.

There is no change in the U.S. military posture in the Mediterranean or Black Sea.  That’s the basic point to take away.  The activities we’re seeing are routine and predictable.  Because of the geography of the Ukraine problem, no NATO naval power can realistically be brought to bear on it, and any signals sent with naval power will be political, collateral, and temporary.

As mentioned in the previous post, the carrier USS George H. W. Bush (CVN-77) and her strike group are in the Mediterranean, having departed the East coast in February to head to the CENTCOM area of responsibility and relieve USS Harry S Truman (CVN-75).  The USS Bataan (LHD-5) amphibious ready group (ARG), with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), is also in the Med, having also left the East coast in February to relieve the USS Boxer (LHD-4) ARG in CENTCOM.  Neither group deployed in response to the Ukraine crisis; their deployments were scheduled long ago.

Bush arrived in Piraeus, Greece (just outside of Athens) on 4 March for a scheduled port visit.  This is very typical for carriers headed through the Med to CENTCOM.  The carrier then left Piraeus and moved to Antalya, Turkey for another port visit, which started today (9 March).  Antalya is on Turkey’s southern coast, and is a frequent stop for U.S. aircraft carriers.  It’s quite common for the carriers to have a couple of port visits in the Med on the way to CENTCOM.

USS George H. W. Bush entering Piraeus in early March. (Photo from Twitter user ΛΑΘΡΟΒΙΩΝ-antisocial)
USS George H. W. Bush entering Piraeus in early March. (Photo from Twitter user ΛΑΘΡΟΒΙΩΝ-antisocial)

Bataan, as noted earlier, stopped in Portugal for a NATO exercise and a port visit before entering the Med.  She is now in the Eastern Med, and on Saturday 8 March was involved in a search-and-rescue operation for a Turkish freighter than ran aground off Mykonos Island (in the southern Aegean Sea).

YOP asks this:

Well if you look on the USS Harry S Truman’s Facebook page in the comments they seem to be told they might be seeing an extension of their already LONG deployment. Its relief hasn’t transited as of yet. …

You think they will be relieved on time? The Bush was noted to be in port in Turkey as of today. Not really sure what to make of all this.

This was my response:

We’ll see what happens in the next week or so. Bush won’t play a direct role in the Ukraine response. But she may be held in the Med longer than planned because of the Ukraine response. Here’s why.

Bush is indeed in Antalya, Turkey for a port visit. For those who don’t know, Antalya is the southern port our carriers frequently stop in (great libs, BTW), and I expected Bush to have at least one and possibly two port visits in the Med, before proceeding to Fifth Fleet. This would be very typical.

Bush can literally play no military role in a response to the Ukraine crisis. The carrier can’t enter the Black Sea, and has nothing useful to do outside of it, in a tactical sense.

But, I’m hearing that the F-16s going to Poland are indeed coming from Aviano (Italy), which was something I suspected early on [see footnote here]. That means, for one thing, that we aren’t actually “beefing up” our Air Force assets in theater. We’re just moving the ones that are already there from one place to another, temporarily.

But it’s 12 of the F-16Cs from Aviano, putting a crimp in the mission capability profile of the 31st Air Expeditionary Wing (which, among other things, supports KFOR in Kosovo). I don’t know if another NATO ally can backfill the F-16Cs with no interruption. But obviously, Bush’s airwing could.

If Bush is held in theater, it will presumably be to fill in for roles that the Aviano F-16Cs would otherwise have been scheduled or on-call for. The NATO higher-ups would also presumably consider it a good idea to hold Bush in theater just to send a signal, and perhaps to spin up some exercise activity with Bush and other NATO assets.

They might or might not want to include the Bataan ARG/22 MEU in that as well, since they’re in the Med. (Looks like Bataan was involved in a SAR yesterday for survivors on a Turkish freighter that ran aground off Mykonos.) All things being equal, Bataan would normally continue on to 5th Fleet as well, but the ARG/MEU along with Bush and her escort(s) may be held for an indefinite, probably brief period until NATO feels less jittery about the Ukraine crisis.

Bush and Bataan and their task groups give the impression of raising our military profile, even though neither asset is suited to a realistic response to the Ukraine crisis.  Their presence gives a general, political impression.  It’s not a specific indication of operational intent.

At some point, it would make sense to move Bush on to CENTCOM, and bring Truman into the Med, poised to return home to Virginia once any emergent tasking for the Ukraine crisis is concluded.  The ARG/MEUs can’t be handled that way in the current case, as the Boxer’s is a West-coast ARG, and with the Camp Pendleton-based 13th MEU will be headed back to California once Bataan ARG and the 22nd MEU are in CENTCOM.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard online. She also writes for the new blog Liberty Unyielding.

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22 thoughts on “U.S. Navy assets update in Ukraine crisis”

  1. Thank you half my heart is on the USS Harry S. Truman. They were due home SOON you probably get a sense when. This rumor has caused a lot of unwarranted stress. And I wish I could delve further but I cannot. I just wanna see my sailor again. We have all waited a long time. You somewhat calmed my anxiety. Our son just wants to fish with his daddy. I just wanted someone who knew what they were talking about to tell me. I love your blog. No answers are coming anywhere else. But I do think I have an idea of how it will work with your given expertise. Once again thank you. It’s nice to breath knowing he will be here soon.

    1. Glad to help, YOP. I know HST has already been out for a long time, and Truman sailors and their families have been in suspended animation for more than a year now, after the aborted original deployment date in 2013. That really, REALLY sucks. (We had something similar, but not exactly the same, with the Nimitz deployment in 2003. For about 4 months, we didn’t know from one day to the next when we would actually deploy. That was because of the Iraq war though, not due to budget problems.)

      I hope Truman will be home soon. They’ll have to figure out a carrier swap for the theaters, to get Truman closer to home, if our response to the Ukraine crisis drags on in an unresolved manner for much longer. The carriers are both out of position for operational tasking while they’re going through the Suez Canal, so that will take some finesse.

      I hate to say it, but it might be 1-2 more weeks before the planning for that’s settled. If you’re lucky, it will be just a few more days though.

      1. I wish our elected leaders could understand how much of our souls those ships take with them when they deoloy. It’s hard for some to grasp the grief of watching that hangar bay door close then the engine to start on the ship. Then you watch them pull away and you suddenly realize you wish you could have five more minutes just to see their face one more time.
        I understand that this comes with military life but we have waited long enough. This has caused unnecessary unrest. The spouses should be in cleaning mode right now happily waiting for their day, it was that close. One more fact their are no more port visits for the ship as of now.

      2. You were right we will know this week what’s gonna happen. I just pray to God they still come back on time. I’m praying.

        1. Thanks for the update, YOP. Praying with you. I hope it’s good news soon.

  2. I saw the air presence article. The only way to hurt Puntin is to his pocket. Utilizing our windfalls by exporting them making Puntin compete for business. Shale oil….Natural Gas. We have to give his customers what they want an exit strategy by getting rid of our non – export laws. We also create revenue for the economy without raising anyone’s taxes. This is our chance to become energy independent along with a major supplier. It’s a great time right now.

    1. YOP — I agree. Drill, baby, drill!

      When Reagan deregulated the oil and gas market, there were two big effects. One was a big boost to the US economy, with the drop in energy prices for America and the rest of the (then) free world.

      The other was a huge chunk taken out of oil and gas profits for the Soviet Union. Cutting their profits was a meaningful way of straining their resources and accelerating their fall behind us militarily.

      1. I’m here. Waiting to see what you think. 🙂 Ready to read. I told you I would.

  3. Hey Germain — good to see you, shipmate, as always. Bush can’t enter because she’s not allowed to under the Montreux Convention. She’s disqualified on two counts: being too big (90K tons; the US can only have 45K total tons in the Black Sea at one time), and being an aircraft carrier.

    In theory there could be circumstances under which the US might ask Turkey to agree to admitting a carrier, but I don’t realistically think we’d ever do that. Turkey would only agree to it in the most extreme conditions, and a US warship in the Black Sea under such conditions would be in a really bad tactical situation anyway.

    1. Not to mention the Bush isn’t destined for the Black Sea there are other assets smaller ones that would be better suited to scare Puntin.
      Moreover a carrier is not built to be an immediate response vehicle. It takes way too long for something that heavy to transit ditches(straights) if they need to leave it would be hard to leave it’s like sticking a live mouse in a tank full of snakes essentially.

      1. The Navy’s new toy is bigger then these carriers. Meant to carry more planes and she has failed most of her tests at the pier. Waste of 13 billion if you ask me we have four aircraft carriers retired one sitting in the Bremerton Shipyard. The Kitty-Hawk the Constellation the Ranger and the Independence, why can’t we modernize these ships for reuse and save money instead of building new toys all the time? Except the Ranger she is already in a process of becoming a museum. Sec. Hagel had suggested that to save money with the 10 active carriers. Why not use the inactive too instead of building the USS Kennedy or another USS Enterprise?

    2. Thank your for your reply. I learned about the Montreux Convention in Navy training at Langley, as I’m sure you did. But as I understand it, the Convention actually disallows conducting flight operations in the straights and does not ban aircraft carriers specifically.

      However, if there’s a tonnage limit, an aircraft carrier breaks that easily.

      I recall people saying the U.S. would never put an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf. Then, during Desert Storm, it happened like it was no big deal.

      1. Your right. Now I will be honest I was like nine or ten years old at the time. But if we wanna help Ukraine it is not a military stance we need to take. Ukraine is dependent upon Russia’s gas subsides, to liberate Ukraine we need to reduce their dependence on Russian resources. Moreover, if we really want to impose sanctions on Russia we need to give our allies a chance to get shale oil and gas from the US. I am sure they would most likely freeze everything of they didn’t have to worry about it.
        No, it doesn’t specify however you must understand the carrier is to heavy to be a viable force in the Black Sea. The Bush cost the US 6.3 billion dollars they are not going to chance destruction of an asset like that by sending into the Black Sea it would be a sitting duck with all those Russian Navy forces in there.
        Another thing most important and this may sound selfish, my husband’s boat left in July they need to relieve them I want home darn it.
        Mr. Obama is on vacation right now while all of this is occurring playing golf. That’s so disrespectful to those in harms way. He puts his pants on the same way our service members do, one leg at a time. He needs to delegate this mess roll his sleeves up and get his hands dirty. How can you command a military that protects you if you will not do everything you can to protect them? Military service should he a requirement for presidency. Off the subject sorry.
        As for all these previously scheduled port visits I don’t believe they were routine. I agree they get port visits before reaching their destination, but if you look on the carrier location sites you will see a pattern that they get one long port call at the beginning before reaching their destination usually five days all in one place. I know we are on deployment number two.

        1. Actually I think the Bataan actually breaks the weight rules for the Bosphorus also. It’s also over there not sure where now though. Like the composer of this Blog stipulated small boys are the best idea. They move swiftly, quietly well if they don’t open their mouths and release where they are going. They talk about spouses and families breaking OPSEC, they break it themselves.

      2. I am not certain but I read it would take us years to export oil and liquefied gases. I am not sure about this keystone pipeline either i haven’t researched it.
        Like the author of the Blog said give it a couple of weeks we will see where the Bush ends up by watching the news. I am keeping my fingers crossed it’s going where it’s supposed to so my love can come home to me. I will be reading this blog it’s beyond informative.More answers then I have gotten anywhere else.

      3. Technically correct, G, in that the explicit prohibition on aircraft carriers (per se) isn’t in the current Montreux Convention but in the Turkish implementation principles:


        You may remember, having gone through Langley those many years ago, that there were great flutters in NATO when the former Soviets sent aircraft carries with non-aircraft carrier designations through the Turkish Straits on a handful of occasions in the 1970s and ’80s.

        Ironically, the Turkish implementation principles, with the explicit prohibition on aircraft carriers, had been adopted originally at the insistence of the Soviets. When the Soviets built some carriers of their own, they of course wanted to be able to move them through the Straits when needed. Kiev and Minsk, the fixed-wing carriers built in Novorossiysk, were called something else to make their exits from the Black Sea, and NATO ultimately decided not to press the issue. The old Moskva CVHG — the “aviation cruiser,” according to the Soviet designation — carried a multi-ship helicopter squadron and was thus a twilight-zone aircraft carrier (i.e., if Spain’s and Thailand’s were aircraft carriers, the Moskva was a carrier too). The Moskva went back and forth through the Turkish Straits to patrol the Med, and again, NATO didn’t press the issue.

        The US had a ready excuse for not getting involved, as we’re not a signatory to the Montreux Convention. It would have had to be the Brits and French pushing Turkey and the USSR on this.

        The 45K ton limit for non-riparian-state warships is, however, derived from the Convention. The limit is set on a tether to the aggregate tonnage of the largest riparian navy. It changes over time, but slowly. Turkey makes the determination on the limit after an annual survey of the riparian navies. The limit for non-riparian-state warships has been 45K for some time.

        1. Turkey has to tread lightly concerning her interpretation of the Montreaux Convention, lest it stir up the ghost of the Treaty of Sevres. Montreaux is the byproduct of the Treaty of Lausanne, which superseded Sevres.

          It’s a given to say that if a non-Black Sea power aircraft carrier is given permission to transit the Straits, it would be a good idea to start tidying up he disused bomb shelter in the basement..

  4. Unconfirmed.
    K-300P Bastion-P ASM batteries now reportedly deployed in Sevastopol.

    Evidently, the Russians have no intention of leaving anything to chance, or leaving in general. But, we knew that already.

    1. Thanks, jgets. Yes, Putin continues to consolidate his defensive position. He plans to hold onto Crimea from now on.

  5. Parliament of Crimea declares Independence. Cites ICJ 2010 ruling on Kosovo.

    May the Madeleine Albright’s of the world spare us their crocodile tears on Ukraine.

    The Kosovo’s on the other foot now.

    And this is just the beginning

    Cookie anyone?

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