• This month, the airplane carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and its strike group cleared a course through the Atlantic for a group of freight ships led by the cruiser USS Vella Gulf.
  • It’s the very first time since 1986 that the Navy has done this kind of convoy, an operation that the military sees as increasingly essential in the contested environment of the Atlantic.

    The Defender-Europe 2020 workout will be the largest implementation of US-based forces to Europe in 25 years, with some 20,000 soldiers deploying from the United States to join another 17,000 troops from 17 other nations.

    The workout will take place in April and May, and to get some of those soldiers and their gear to Europe, the United States Armed force Sealift Command freight ship USNS Benavidez, US-flagged merchant lorry providers MV Resolve and MV Patriot, are currently sailing across the Atlantic, escorted by guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf.

    Convoys are nothing new for the Navy, but it’s something the service hasn’t focused on because The second world war. Now, as the United States military reorients towards a potential clash with another sophisticated enemy, it’s bending that muscle again.

    ” We undoubtedly would practice this a lot in World War II. After that, not a lot, but we still did practice it,” Cmdr. Troy Denison, director of existing operations for US second Fleet, informed press reporters on a phone call Friday. “But the last one we did was in 1986, so this is really the very first time in a long time that we have actually carried out a convoy operation.”

    Navy MV Resolve transport sealift cargo ship

    A United States Army armored workers provider is packed on to Military Sealift Command’s chartered vehicle provider MV Willpower in Beaumont, Texas, February 20,2020

    US Navy/Bill Mesta.

    Military Sealift Command ships and US-flagged merchant vessels will move 1.3 million square feet of United States Army equipment to the workout.

    ” In any sort of contested scenario or wartime scenario, over 90%of the fight power, the freight, that gets from the United States over to the theater of operations is taken by sealift … managed by the Military Sealift Command, both through its organic assets and contract and commercial possessions,” Kim Harriss, supervisory marine transport expert with Military Sealift Command Atlantic, said on the call.

    Sailing ahead of the Vella Gulf, Benavidez, and the cargo ships were the warship USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and its strike group, with P-8 Poseidon patrol aircraft and an US submarine, which “cleared the maritime battle space,” 2nd Fleet stated in a release.

    The whole workout is indicated to “simulate an opposed transit, evaluating the fleets’ capabilities to securely cross the Atlantic while evaluating new ways of conducting a convoy in today’s environment,” the release said.

    ” An opposed transit is essentially a transit where you’re most likely or perhaps going to experience the enemy,” Denison stated.

    ” In this specific case, there are promoted and real opponent possessions out there that the Benavidez and the Vella Gulf will experience as they transit across the Atlantic,” Denison added, using “genuine enemy” to refer to live opponents rather than real-world dangers.

    ” There is an anti-submarine warfare aspect to it as well as an anti-surface warfare aspect of it,” Denison said.

    Navy sealift cargo ship Abrams tank

    Agreement workers protected A1 Abrams tanks inside the USNS Benavidez in Beaumont, Texas, in support of DEFENDER-Europe 20, February 22,2020

    Kimberly Spinner/Military Surface Release and Circulation Command.

    The Eisenhower strike group “went into the simulated operating environment in which there were air, surface area, submarine forces that were arrayed to assault the strike fleet,” Capt. Andrew Fitzpatrick, commanding officer of the Vella Gulf, said on the call.

    The Vella Gulf and the cargo ships it’s accompanying “are prepared to ward off any sorts of aggressive behavior that we’re confronted with, whether they’re aircraft, surface ships, submarines, and other types of attack, which does include cyber warfare,” Fitzpatrick stated.

    Shaking the rust off

    Navy sealift cargo ship

    Military Sealift Command’s roll-on/roll-off ship USNS Benavidez in the Atlantic, February 17,2020

    US Navy/MCS 3rd Class Jordan R. Bair.

    A component of that competitors is what Adm. James Foggo, commander of US Naval Forces in Europe and Africa, has actually explained as the “ fourth fight of the Atlantic,” referring to the environment that NATO navies share with a significantly active Russian navy.

    Russia’s navy isn’t what it was throughout the Cold War, but US leaders have repeatedly revealed issue about its submarines, which are getting quieter, getting longer endurance, and, with sub-launched rockets, are progressively able to strike at European capitals and vital facilities, like ports.

    ” Our ships can no longer expect to run in a safe haven on the East Coast or merely cross the Atlantic unrestricted,” Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, commander of US Second Fleet, which manages the western and North Atlantic, stated this month in Washington, DC

    US Transportation Command, which manages Military Sealift Command, spends a great deal of time thinking about this “complicated environment,” its commander, Army Gen. Stephen Lyons, said in January.

    Abrams tank Navy sealift cargo ship

    United States soldiers and contracted mariners assigned to USNS Benavidez guide an M1 Abrams tank into a cargo hold, February 21,2020

    US Navy/MCS 3rd Class Jordan R. Bair.

    ” How that crisis would progress would absolutely affect how we would approach that, but we’re working a number of initiatives, frankly, and secret is the full combination of the logistics warfighting function,” Lyons stated at an Atlantic Council event

    ” In the Defender 20 workout that’s turning up here soon, there’s a concerted effort … to work inside the maritime component, despite the fact that it’s mainly a land workout in Europe, to synchronize our efforts with 2nd Fleet and sixth Fleet to facilitate the sealift move throughout the transatlantic,” Lyons stated. Sixth Fleet manages naval activity around Europe.

    ” Those are skills … [that] are most likely a little rusty, ideal?” Lyons added. “We just haven’t done that in a long time, so we’re incorporating it into our exercises. We’re improving fidelity on how our enemies see the movement enterprise, and there’s a full-court press on in this particular area and how we would prepare for objected to environments.”

    Ensuring great coordination in between 2nd and 6th fleets is one of the bigger goals of the exercise, but it’s also concentrated on interoperability between ships, Fitzpatrick stated– “overcoming and identifying obstacles, not just running with Navy ships, Armed force Sealift Command ships, and specialists, but also being able to interact … so if we in fact need to perform this in a real-time event that we’re better prepared to do that.”

    A standing objective for military sealift command is getting equipment to port on time, Capt. Hans E. Lynch, commodore of Military Sealift Command Atlantic, said on the call.

    Navy Vella Gulf Benavidez convoy Atlantic

    USS Vella Gulf, right, MV Resolve, center, and USNS Benavidez in the Atlantic, February 28,2020

    United States Navy/MCS 3rd Class Andrew Waters.

    One of the difficulties military sealift ships face is talking to those around them.

    ” We’re relying practically completely on commercial services for our interaction.

    ” Right now, it’s reasonably vulnerable facilities that we’re utilizing to the best of our ability, and so far, we think that we’ll be able to effectively [command and control] the forces, but we have a lot more private effort by our watch standers than what you would normally have on … an US Navy ship,” Lynch stated.

    Finding those gaps in its planning, products, and individuals is the main issue for Military Sealift Command, and it’s something it’s currently been able to do.

    ” I think that we’re currently there in a lot of ways,” Lynch said.


U.S. Navy
Protector Europe
Defender 2020

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Marco Bitran
Husband and father of two children under age 5, Marco also enjoys walks in nature, squash, running road races, and photography. He regularly contributes significant time and resources to the Combined Jewish Philanthropies, the MSPCA and other animal rights organizations, and the Bitran Charitable Foundation. Marco has also volunteered and consulted for public housing support organizations such as the Somerville Homeless Coalition, created by the local community’s grassroots response to the social crisis of homelessness.