With the conflict in Ukraine not far away, fighter jets from the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman are conducting airborne patrols with NATO allied air forces in U.S. 6th Fleet.
NATO has nearly doubled the number of military jets on alert across Europe amid concerns that Russia’s reckless flying in international airspace could escalate alongside its war in Ukraine.
Strike Fighter Squadrons 11, 34, 81 and 211, and Electronic Attack Squadron 137, from embarked Carrier Air Wing 1 kicked off a variety of missions, including NATO enhanced air policing, to bolster the security alliance in late February, a 6th Fleet spokesperson told Navy Times. The airborne patrols commenced Feb. 24 and are ongoing.
These missions come on the heels of training that Carrier Air Wing 1 conducted with the Romanian air force, which hosted the U.S. aircrew and maintainers at Borcea-Fetesti Airfield from Feb. 8 to 15.
“Training missions flown from forward bases in Romania during a week-long detachment paved the way for follow-on [enhanced air policing] missions flown from the Adriatic Sea,” said Capt. Patrick Hourigan, the commander of Carrier Air Wing 1, in a Navy new release. He added that the missions illustrate how the air wing and Truman are partnering with NATO allies to “defend territorial integrity.”
“Our ability to augment the Air Policing detachments and the multinational execution of airborne patrols sends a strong reassuring signal to the collective defense of our Allies,” he said.
NATO’s move to constantly guard its eastern edge highlights how rapidly the security situation has evolved in and out of Ukraine over the past 10 days, as well as the stakes of NATO’s biggest test since its founding in 1949.
More than 60 NATO planes are on “high alert” at all times to await possible interventions, the alliance said in December. That’s grown to more than 100 combat aircraft now rotating through the sky in shifts.
The 6th Fleet declined to specify the nature of the sorties to Navy Times, but stressed that fostering interoperability with NATO partners is a paramount priority.
“Since arriving in the Sixth Fleet area of operations, a key aspect of our mission has been to build integration and interoperability with our NATO Allies and Partners,” Rear Adm. Curt Renshaw, commander of Carrier Strike Group 8, said in a Navy news release. “NATO is a defensive Alliance and participating in the enhanced air policing missions visibly demonstrates our commitment to that goal.”
The U.S. Air Force aircraft have provided support to Carrier Air Wing 1 during the operations, the Navy said, though specific details were not provided. Those assets have included F-15s from the 48th Fighter Wing, forward deployed to Poland from RAF Lakenheath, England; F-16s from the 31st Fighter Wing out of Aviano Air Base, Italy; and F-16s from the 55th Fighter Wing, forward deployed to Romania from Spangadahlem Air Base, Germany. Also helping were the 435th Air Ground Operations Wing out of Spangdahlem and the 606th Air Control Squadron out of Aviano.
In January, the carrier and its strike group linked up with NATO forces in the Mediterranean Sea for a new maritime exercise called Neptune Strike ‘22. The Pentagon said the drill was not in response to escalating tension with Russia, and was the result of planning dating back to 2020.
The exercise consisted of maritime maneuvers, anti-submarine warfare training, and long-range strike training, and placed the Truman under NATO operational control.
The Truman also conducted maritime training with the French carrier Charles de Gaulle’s Task Force 473 and Italian carrier Cavour strike groups in the Mediterranean Sea in February.
Air Force Times Senior Reporter Rachel Cohen contributed to this report.