Should Russia escalate its attacks on Ukraine and its allies, a US aircraft carrier is ready to lead an international charge.
The USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), christened in 2006 and delivered to the Navy in 2009, is leading Neptune Strike 2022 in the Adriatic Sea, a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) deployment that tests deterrence and defense in the Euro-Atlantic region.
Albania, Canada, Croatia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, North Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States are among the allied and partner nations taking part.
“The Neptune series is a tangible demonstration of the NATO Alliance’s power and capability in all domain operations,” Vice Admiral Thomas Ishee, commander of the United States Sixth Fleet and Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO, said at the deployment’s start on October 14 in Oeiras, Portugal. “Neptune Strike 22.2 is a prime example of NATO’s ability to integrate an allied carrier strike group’s high-end maritime warfare capability, ensuring our collective ability to deter and defend.”
More than 80 aircraft, 14 ships, and approximately 6,000 personnel from 24 NATO allies and partners, including Finland and Sweden, are part of the deployment.
In recent days, US Navy F-18s flew from the carrier to Lithuania as part of exercises with France, Latvia, and Hungary.
Previously, the same fighter aircraft were said to have joined Canadian fighter aircraft on patrols over Romania.
Rear Admiral Dennis Velez of the USS George H.W. Bush told Sky News inside a large on-board hangar that while peace is always the best option, US troops must remain vigilant.
“We want the war [in Ukraine] to end so that we can restore stability to the region and have a peaceful and stable Europe,” Velez said.
He claimed to have seen two Russian warships observing NATO exercises, both entities operating in international waters under international law and on their own accord.
“It’s one of those things where you just have to rely on your training,” one of the F-18 pilots on board, Lieutenant Cordan Mackenzie, 27, told Sky News. “Without a doubt, I believe that US Navy pilots are the best in the world…. All we do out here is train and prepare for a possible fight, and I hope that when it comes, pilot to pilot, we are the better man in the box.”
On Tuesday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg paid a visit to the “impressive” aircraft carrier, calling it a “demonstration of US capability and commitment to the alliance.”
“This exercise exemplifies the transatlantic bond, Europe and North America cooperating in NATO,” Stoltenberg said. “It demonstrates our ability to rapidly reinforce our allies and project power across the alliance. NATO is a defensive alliance. Our deterrence prevents conflict and preserves peace.
“Our strength helps to prevent any miscalculation by sending a clear message: NATO will protect and defend every inch of allied territory.”
He also warned Russia not to “use false pretexts for further escalation,” referring to Russia’s accusation that Ukraine was planning to drop a radiological “dirty bomb” on its own territory.
The Federation of American Scientists’ Nuclear Information Project Director Hans Kristensen warned that Russia may conduct nuclear tests at the same time as NATO’s own nuclear exercise, “Steadfast Noon.”