MIHAIL KOGALNICEANU, Romania – On August 31 NATO recognised full operational capability of the Royal Canadian Air Force detachment, deployed to Romania for NATO’s enhanced Air Policing mission.
The Canadian CF-188 fighters are going to augment Romania’s Air Policing capabilities, securing the skies alongside Romanian MiG-21s.
“In augmenting an already credible Air Policing capability of the Romanian Air Force Canada and Romania stand shoulder to shoulder as close partners within NATO” says Brigadier General Scott Clancy, Director General Air Readiness of the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Lieutenant General Ruben Servert, Commander of CAOC Torrejon, presented the certificate to the Canadian detachment. He thanked the pilots and ground crews for their commitment, wishing them a successful mission and emphasized the importance of the mission for NATO’s Assurance Measures.
“The goal of implementing these Assurance Measures is to demonstrate the collective resolve of Allies, demonstrate the defensive nature of NATO and deter any aggression or threat of aggression against NATO Allies” states Lieutenant General Servert.
To receive full operational status by NATO, pilots and personnel have to undergo safety briefings, conduct familiarisation flights and ensure interoperability with their Romanian hosts and colleagues.
Allied Air Command, NATO’s authority for all Integrated Air and Missile Defence matters, delegates the responsibility for the certification process to its southern Combined Air Operations Centre (CAOC) at Torrejon, Spain. As southern command and control unit for Air Policing, CAOC Torrejon is responsible for all NATO airspace south of the Alps, including Romania.
The enhanced Air Policing mission is part of NATO’s Assurance Measures, implemented after Russia’s illegal and illegitimate annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014.
Allies’ augmentation of Romania’s own Air Policing capabilities sends a clear message of NATO’s resolve, commitment and solidarity to its Eastern Allies. Romania has successfully and professionally conducted its own Air Policing under NATO control and standards since its accession in 2004.
Preceding the Canadian deployment, the mission was successfully conducted by a detachment from the Royal Air Force. Currently a detachment of the Italian Air Force is conducting the same mission in Bulgaria, underlining NATO’s capability, vigilance and high degree of interoperability among forces.
NATO’s four multinational battlegroups in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland are now fully operational. This milestone comes after the Canadian-led battlegroup based at Camp Ādaži in Latvia became the fourth battlegroup to complete its Certification Exercise.
In response to a changed security environment, Allied leaders decided at the Warsaw Summit in 2016 to enhance NATO’s military presence in the eastern part of the Alliance. Since then, four multinational battlegroups totaling approximately 4,500 troops have deployed to the Baltic nations and Poland.
Canada leads the battlegroup in Latvia, with contributions by Albania, Italy, Poland, Slovenia and Spain. Germany leads the battlegroup in Lithuania, with contributions by Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Norway. The United Kingdom leads the battlegroup in Estonia, with contributions by France. The United States leads the battlegroup in Poland, with contributions by Romania and the UK.
These forces are a defensive and proportionate deterrent force, fully in line with NATO’s international commitments. They send a clear message that an attack on one Ally would be met by troops from across the Alliance.
The four battlegroups are one part of the Alliance’s response to Russia’s use of force against its neighbours and its military build-up in the Baltic region and beyond.
NATO is also strengthening its multinational presence in the Black Sea region, based around a Romanian-led multinational framework brigade. The Alliance has also tripled the size of the NATO Response Force to 40,000 – with a high-readiness Spearhead Force at its core – and set up eight small headquarters (NATO Force Integration Units) to facilitate training and reinforcements.
The Russian Navy’s final two diesel-electric submarines have reached the Mediterranean Sea en route to their permanent homeport in the Black Sea, Russian defense ministry announced on August 28.
Project 636.3 (NATO reporting name: improved Kilo-class) submarines Kolpino and Veliky Novgorod got underway this month from Saint Petersburg on the Baltic Sea where they were built by Admiralty Shipyards.
On August 16, the submarines were escorted by NATO vessels as they traveled through the North Sea while surfaced.
They are accompanied by Baltic Fleet tug SB-921 on their way to the Black Sea fleet where they will round off the Russian Navy’s goal of operating six improved Kilo-class submarines in the Black Sea.
Prior to entering the Black Sea, the submarines are likely to spend some time in the Mediterranean taking part in Russian operations in Syria, similarly to what their predecessor Krasnodar did a month ago before docking in Sevastopol.
Veliky Novgorod was launched on March 18 and commissioned into service on October 26, 2016. Kolpino was launched in May 2016 and commissioned on November 24, 2016.
Kilo-class submarines are armed with 18 torpedoes and eight surface-to-air missiles. The vessels can accommodate a crew of 52 submariners and can stay at sea for 45 days.
They displace 4,000 tonnes when submerged and 2,000 on the surface and reach speeds of over 17 knots.
The USS Porter is training with the Romanian navy this week as part of its mission to augment security in the Black Sea region, where tensions remain high because of Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, Stars and Stripes reported Friday.
The Spain-based destroyer entered the Black Sea last week to beef up allied defenses and show the United States’ commitment to protecting waters that are of great economic and military importance, the Navy said, according to Stars and Stripes.
U.S. warships have sporadically patrolled the Black Sea for decades, but Russia has viewed their presence as aggressive posturing since 2014, when it annexed the Crimean Peninsula and began backing separatist forces fighting in eastern Ukraine. The recent U.S. and European sanctions against Moscow have raised tensions throughout much of Eastern Europe.
Navy officials declined to say whether the ongoing conflict in Ukraine played a part in their sending the guided-missile destroyer to patrol the sea.
The Porter is there to improve teamwork with allies Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, Turkey and Ukraine, the U.S. Navy said.
But speaking in Ukraine on Thursday, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said that countering Russian aggression against Ukraine was a priority.
Mattis condemned Russia’s seizure of Crimea, saying it and undermines the region’s stability. “We support you in the face of threats to sovereignty and territorial integrity and international law,” Mattis said at a news conference with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko at his side.
Mattis said Washington would not accept Russia’s takeover of Crimea, which breached international accords dating from the 1990s.
NATO allies Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey cannot agree on a joint policy towards Russia’s military build-up in the region, which leaves all of them vulnerable.
There is a feeling of disharmony as well as of opposing views between the three NATO member states, Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey, about NATO’s military engagement in the Black Sea.
Romania has advocated a NATO naval presence on the Black Sea since early 2016.
However, Bulgaria did not want to provoke Russia, although last year it agreed to send 400 soldiers to the multinational naval brigade in Romania.
Turkey, meanwhile, remains cautious. Ankara supports a limited, scaled-up NATO reinforcement in the Black Sea region, but only as long as it does not impact on its interpretation of the Montreux Convention, signed in 1936.
Turkey turns a blind eye also to Russia’s extensive militarisation of the annexed Crimean peninsula, even though it does not recognise Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Its military involvement in northern Syria, where it seeks to keep Islamic State, ISIS, at bay, and Kurdish factions under control, would not have been possible without Russian cooperation.
Ankara’s colder relations with the European Union and the United States after the July 2016 failed coup have also pushed Turkey towards warm relations with Moscow, despite the fact that until then they were on the brink of war over Russian support for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and Turkey’s support for some Syrian opposition groups.
The three NATO littoral countries are also wary of the other’s military presence in the Black Sea because of continued disputes over fishing rights and other issues.
Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey and their respective policies in the Black Sea resemble Ivan Krylov’s fable, Swan, Pike and Crawfish, in which the crawfish scrambles backwards, the swan strains skywards and the pike pulls toward the sea. The three states may be jolted to agree on a joint policy line only if and when Russia provokes one or all of them.
If the NATO build-up in the Baltic States is a good example of what the Alliance can do for its partners when they are united, the NATO countries around the Black Sea are divided, which leaves them vulnerable to bullying and intimidation by a belligerent Russia.
Russian military build-up in the Black Sea
In response to NATO’s increased presence in the Black Sea region, Alexander Grushko, Russia’s Envoy to NATO, said in July 2016: “The decision to increase NATO’s naval presence in the Black Sea is … yet another step towards escalating [author’s italics] tensions in regions of vital importance for Russia”. Russia, he added, reserved a right to respond accordingly.
Interestingly, Dan Ciocoiu, Romanian Navy’s Deputy Chief of the Naval Operation Command, said in January 2017: “Assuming there are no radical changes to the naval potential of other countries in the region, the Russian Black Sea Fleet will soon be equal [to] or greater than the combined [author’s italics] fleets of all other Black Sea coastal states.”
Seven months later, Admiral Igor Kasatonov, former commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, reiterated Ciocoiu’s assessment. In an article published in Izvestia on 21 February 2017, he said: “Russia has all the necessary resources, both material and moral, to maintain supremacy on the Black Sea. Our fleet has enough force to oppose [author’s italics] NATO force in the Black Sea.”
Both statements should have rung bells in Sofia and Ankara but the two countries see the matter differently. They see NATO’s military engagement in the Black Sea region as a provocation to Russia, not Russia’s militarisation in the Black Sea region as a provocation to NATO.
According to a multi-national WIN/Gallup International poll published in February 2017, people in Bulgaria, Greece, Slovenia and Turkey – all NATO member states – chose Russia as their go-to-defence partner. As a result, leaders of both countries wish to remain neutral.
Thus, Russia has achieved its first tactical success with two out of three NATO littoral states without shooting a bullet. Romania’s political and military leadership remains the major focus of Russian (f)ire – and is likely to expect Russian provocations.
Russia plays by different rules
At first glance, Russian is unlikely to be eager to provoke NATO. However, Russian politicians do not talk of red lines, like their counterparts in the West; they simply cross these lines.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, as Commander-in-Chief, could decide to disrupt NATO naval operations in an instant. The annexation of Crimea in March 2014 and Russia’s military engagement in Syria in September 2015 are examples of this fait accompli policy that can no longer be ignored, or are ignored only at the West own peril.
NATO officials might say military confrontation with Russia in the Black Sea would lead to losses on both sides. NATO may also be interested in maintaining a status quo in the region.
Moscow, however, is determined to dominate a region it deems “of vital importance”. The Russian leadership calculates the benefits of changing the balance of power in its favour and of maintaining the upper hand.
That does not mean Russian policy is in any way reckless. On the contrary, it is calculated and takes into account the potentially belated nature of any reaction from NATO member states.
A NATO counter-attack would happen within 48 to 72 hours, while Russian plans usually envisage a potential attack in less than 24 hours. But, of course, no Russian official would ever admit such a plan exists.
A military confrontation could be triggered by anything. An accident, aircraft or naval collision, could escalate quickly. There have been plenty of air incidents over the Baltic Sea and several in the Black Sea itself in past years, to prove that Russian pilots can behave recklessly.
Whether Bulgaria and Turkey are willing to admit it or not, Russia is building up its military presence in the Black Sea. A change in the balance of power in the region and the ongoing militarisation could push Russia and NATO to the brink of war.
In the worst-case scenario, a cyber attack, accompanied by a propaganda and disinformation campaign, followed by economic sanctions on the three littoral states, would first the cripple the national currencies and banking institutions. A military operation would then be swift.
It may not happen right now and can all still be avoided. But Russia’s leadership is not predictable and that needs to be taken seriously.
Eugene Kogan is a defence and security expert based in Tbilisi, Georgia.
This article was originally published in the European Security and Defence magazine.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Baltic Post.
After entering the Black Sea on August 18, the crew of the US Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) will be visiting Romania on the first port call of their Black Sea deployment.
After conducting a replenishment at sea with the Turkish Navy replenishment oiler TCG YB. Kudret (A 595) on August 19, USS Porter traveled to Constanta, Romania, entering the port on August 22.
After a three-day stay at port’s passenger terminal, the destroyer is set to get underway for naval exercises with ships from the Romanian Navy.
Starting on August 24, USS Porter will conduct four days of exercises with Romanian warships which will include the Rear-Admiral Eustațiu Sebastian-class corvette “Horia Macellariu” (F-265).
This is the destroyer’s fourth visit to Romania with the first one taking place in 2006.
Typhoon aircraft from the Royal Air Force currently based, in Eastern Romania have been testing the air defence capabilities of HMS Duncan, a Royal Navy Type 45 destroyer which is leading the Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 in the Black Sea.
The Four Typhoons from 3(F) Squadron were tasked to test the capability of HMS Duncan in controlling air defence and anti-surface warfare. During the exercise the ship’s crew had the opportunity to control some of the jets to defend the destroyer from air attack and at the same time practice launching an air attack on other surface ships.
HMS Duncan’s Senior Warfare Officer Lt Cdr Michael Waters said: “Opportunities for Type 45 to work with the RAF Typhoons are few and far between, even in the UK. The chance to operate with 135 EAW, and for HMS Duncan to control live aircraft in the execution of both Air-Air and Air-Surface missions was invaluable and proved our interoperability while both were tasked to NATO in the Black Sea.”
Flight Lieutenant Brett Fusco, from 3(F) Squadron, co-ordinated 135 EAW’s participation and who flew during the exercise explained what happened. He said: “There were two elements, their fighter controllers on board practiced controlling us against an air threat while one of us was acting as the threat and two of us were on Combat Air Patrol protecting the ship.
“The other element was conducting Anti Surface Forces Air Operations (ASFAOs) using the fourth jet. For Duncan it was a chance for them to concurrently have different elements of their crew defending against an air threat whilst controlling an anti-surface operation.”
Following the conclusion of the exercise there was an opportunity for an exchange with 18 RAF personnel visiting HMS Duncan for a tour of the ship and 15 RN personnel being hosted at MK Air base.
Flt Lt Gemma Bean, the 135 EAW Detachment Administrative Officer said: “It was really interesting. It was the first time I’ve ever been on a RN ship. Just to see how their lifestyle compares to ours was eye-opening. We saw everything from their helicopter, the operations centre to the bridge and the weapons systems.” She reflected on the similarities of operations, adding: “They are also on NATO ops. It was interesting to see how they conduct theirs working with different nations, liaising with host nations and how everything fits together as a NATO package.”
Petty Officer Tim Rumble, from HMS Duncan said: “It was great to have the opportunity to visit an Expeditionary Air Wing deployed with NATO and offered a fascinating insight into the way our RAF colleagues operate. I particularly enjoyed seeing the aircraft up close as well as the unique facilities at MK Airbase.”
The RAF has deployed 135 Expeditionary Air Wing, from RAF Leeming with four Typhoon aircraft, from RAF Coningsby, to western Romania until the end of August as part of a four-month NATO mission to enhance air policing. At the same time the Portsmouth-based Type 45 Destroyer, HMS Duncan has been tasked in the Black Sea leading the Standing NATO Maritime Group 2, providing reassurance and deterrence in the Black Sea, as well as commanding NATO’s counter migration activity in the Aegean.
NATO will likely respond with new decisions – further to those taken to bolster its eastern flank last year – should Russia increase military activity, Poland’s foreign minister told the wPolityce portal.
At a summit in Warsaw last year, NATO decided to send four multinational battle battalion groups, each around 1,000 strong, to Poland and three Baltic countries which feared Russian aggression following Moscow’s annexation of Crimea.
“For today that number is enough,” Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski was cited by wPolityce as saying. He added: “It is a (military) presence … to deter any conflict similar in intensity … to what we dealt with in Crimea”.
“But if there is an escalation in Russia’s behaviour then NATO will probably take new decisions”.
The article in wPolityce came after a detailed interview with Waszczykowski was publishied in Russian daily Kommersant.
Waszczykowski told the Russian paper that “neighbouring Russia is difficult because of military threat, provocation in the Baltic and Black Seas”.
“But on the other hand it is a promising neighbour, Russia is a huge market,” he told Kommersant.
“If a democratic government ready to work with the European Union were in power in Russia, it would be ideal for us. But, unfortunately, the current rulers in Moscow have imperial ambitions, are undermining international order, questioning the need for NATOs existence, and trying to build new security architecture”.
In the interview for Kommersant, which a number of Russian media outlets commented on, Waszczykowski also discussed gas, as Warsaw seeks to reduce its energy dependency on Russia, a new Polish law to remove monuments to Soviet soldiers from public spaces, and a possible meeting with his Russian counterpart. (vb/pk)
The work to extend the service life of Tupolev Tu-160 and Tu-95MS strategic bombers and raise their combat efficiency is on the Russian Defense Ministry’s priority list, Defense Minister Army General Sergei Shoigu said on Friday.
“We’ll continue discussing today how tasks are being solved to develop the fleet of Tu-160 and Tu-95MS strategic bombers. These planes are an important component of the country’s nuclear potential,” the defense minister said at the ministry’s conference call.
These planes carry out regular flights under the nuclear containment plan over the Arctic Ocean and the Black Sea and also in eastern areas, the defense minister said.
“That is why, extending the service life of the missile carriers and raising their combat efficiency are among our priority tasks. Now the public joint-stock company Tupolev is carrying out modernization of the planes jointly with other industrial enterprises and also repairing aviation engines, onboard equipment and reproducing new units and assemblies. Considering the high significance of works being carried out, we’ll discuss what has been done over this month,” the defense minister said.
The Tu-160 is the Soviet strategic missile carrier armed with cruise missiles that can carry nuclear warheads. Along with the Tu-95MS missile carrier, the Tu-160 makes part of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces along with the ground-based missile systems and submarines.
CONSTANTA, Romania, July 28, 2017 — The Danube River shore was shrouded in mist from smoke grenades as shells fired from naval guns burst in midair and legions of Romanian infantrymen, paratroopers and armored vehicles amassed on the beach. From behind them, a small contingent of U.S. Army Stryker vehicles cleared the way for the troops by raining gunfire down on the beach sands.
The event, a river crossing exercise that took place July 16 outside Bordusani, Romania, was one of dozens of combined combat-training exercises that U.S. Army Europe and the armed forces of 21 European partner nations conducted together as part of Saber Guardian 2017. The annual multinational combat-training exercise took place July 11-20 in locations across Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria and involved 25,000 troops — 14,000 from the United States and 11,000 from Europe.
The exercise was the military’s largest land-force exercise in Europe this year, said Marine Corps Col. Mark Van Skike, the chief of joint training and exercises for U.S. European Command. Saber Guardian is one of 18 exercises in Eastern Europe and the Black Sea that fall under the Eucom Joint Exercise Program.
Led by Bulgaria and the U.S., Saber Guardian was hosted by Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania. ‘Other participants include: Armenia, Croatia, Czech, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Lithuania, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Netherlands, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Turkey, Ukraine and the United Kingdom.
The U.S. and European units work and train together in realistic combat scenarios that prepare them to respond in unison to any new security crisis that emerges on the continent. They practice coordinating air, land, and sea forces to launch multidomain assaults or defense operations. And they cooperate to mobilize and transport multinational forces to an area at short notice.
“This is a tremendous experience. We’re getting better in interoperability and in establishing secure communications, secure fires and a common operational picture,” said Army Col. Jeff Shoemaker, chief of training, readiness and exercises for U.S. Army Europe.
Deterrence is also a core component of the mission. Brig. Gen. Timothy Daugherty, deputy chief of staff for operations for USAREUR, said the United States demonstrates through these exercises that it will stand with its European partners, and that all the participating nations together show that they can be a powerful unified fighting force — and that adversaries who see this may be much less likely to launch an attack in the first place.
“That is absolutely a viable deterrent. When an adversary sees that we can consolidate … troops very quickly and relatively effectively, that is a deterrent. We’re deterring them, because they know that it would be costly to attack,” Daugherty said.
U.S. Army Europe and its partners conducted the first Saber Guardian exercise in 2013. It took on added importance in its organizers’ eyes a year later with Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, said Army Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the commander of U.S. Army Europe. European military leaders needed assurance that they and the United States could act together to prevent warfare from erupting further west into Europe’s heartland, he said.
Hodges noted that NATO nations held a summit in July 2016 in Warsaw, Poland, in which they called for building a stronger “forward defense force” in Central and Eastern Europe to counteract new regional threats.
“With its illegal annexation of Crimea, Russia changed the security environment in Europe. That’s why the alliance made the decision that we had to reassure our allies and deter further aggression,” Hodges said.
In the meantime, the exercises can better prepare the militaries of NATO member nations if new crises emerge, Shoemaker said. But he, too, foresees Saber Guardian offering NATO some pathways forward.
“The goal is to synchronize the NATO exercise program with the USAREUR exercise program so that they complement one another,” he said. “We have a number of countries that will leave Saber Guardian at a much better level of training, and certainly NATO will benefit from that. It builds the entire multinational military capability.”
A visit by Royal Navy destroyer HMS Duncan to the Ukrainian port of Odessa on July 24 marked the first UK warship visit to Ukraine in eight years.
The Portsmouth-based destroyer led a NATO task group into the Ukrainian port at the start of a three-day visit ahead of exercises with the host nation’s warships.
The force was given a berth in the cruise liner terminal and welcomed by Ukrainian leaders, including the head of the country’s Navy, Vice-Admiral Ihor Voronchenko.
The Type 45 destroyer is leading NATO’s Standing Maritime Naval Group 2 (SNMG2), providing reassurance and deterrence in the Black Sea, as well as commanding NATO’s counter migration activity in the Aegean.
For the next 12 months, the Royal Navy is commanding two of the four NATO Standing Naval Forces, demonstrating the UK’s commitment to and leadership within the alliance.
“HMS Duncan’s visit to Odessa this week is a symbol of our unwavering support to our Ukrainian friends in the face of Russian belligerence and aggression,” UK defence secretary Michael Fallon said. “We are also stepping up our work with NATO this year, leading half of NATO’s standing maritime forces, one of the four enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroups and have deployed Typhoon fast jets to Romania, in a tangible demonstration of our commitment to European security.”
As well as the usual receptions and demonstrations and tours, including a chance for Odessans to look around the visiting warships, cultural visits have been lined up so the sailors can sample one of the grandest and most historic cities in the Ukraine.
Commodore James Morley, the Commander of SNMG2, said: “It is a privilege to lead a NATO task group in to the port of Odessa. HMS Duncan, the newest of the Royal Navy’s Type 45 Destroyers and the Turkish frigate TCG Yildirim have received a very warm welcome.”
The NATO group – Duncan, plus Turkey’s TCG Yildirim and Romanian frigate RS Regele Ferdinand (the former Type 22 HMS Coventry) – sailed into Odessa having just been working with the Bulgarian Navy for its annual Black Sea exercise, Breeze, which saw some of the participants ‘hunting’ the Turkish diesel submarine Preveze.
The 200ft-long silent hunter proved a formidable foe as the Black Sea offers some of the most challenging anti-submarine warfare conditions on the Seven Seas. It’s over two kilometres deep in places and water temperature and salinity make it tricky for sonar to locate boats.
As flagship of NATO’s Standing Maritime Group 2, Duncan co-ordinated their efforts as its staff – some drawn from Black Sea navies – shared their experience and first-hand knowledge of local conditions.
With the hunt concluded, the NATO group made its way from Varna to Odessa – a journey of 300 miles – and was buzzed by RAF Typhoon jets.
The Eurofighters from No.3 Squadron have traded Coningsby for Constanța in Romania to support the Balkan country’s air policing mission over the Black Sea.
Once the Odessa visit is over, the task group will sail in company with ships of the Ukrainian Navy for joint training to strengthen security at sea and in the region.