U.S. 2nd Fleet, on behalf of U.S. Naval Forces Europe, and in conjunction with Military Sealift Command (MSC), is conducting convoy operations across the Atlantic, employing the guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf (CG 72) alongside USNS Benavidez (operated by U.S. Marine Management, Inc.), M/V Resolve and M/V Patriot (both operated by TOTE Services, Inc. for American Roll-on Roll-off Carrier), the U.S. Navy reported.
This cross-Atlantic convoy operation is being conducted for the first time since the end of the Cold War, using a carrier strike group to pave the way for sealift ships with a cruiser escort to bring the Army ground equipment for the DEFENDER-Europe 20 exercise.
This convoy operation is allowing U.S. 2nd Fleet, Naval Forces Europe (NAVEUR) and Military Sealift Command to work command and control (C2) on both sides of the Atlantic to deliver gear by sea - replicating the massive sealift efforts that took place to support the European theater in World War II, and what would have to happen again if the U.S. were to support a major conflict in Europe in the future.
"Defender-Europe 20 is the largest deployment of U.S.-based forces in Europe in more than 25 years, and it just seems like it's a natural place for [U.S. Transportation Command], Military Sealift Command and the U.S. Navy to use this exercise as a venue to demonstrate our commitment to being able to flow strategic forces from the United States into theater to support military operations abroad," said Capt. Andrew Fitzpatrick, the commanding officer of USS Vella Gulf.
Sealift remains the primary method for transporting military equipment, supplies, and material around the world. With the return to peer competition and access to sea lanes no longer guaranteed, it is important that the Navy and MSC train together in order to ensure the successful delivery and sustainment of combat power necessary for the joint force to fight and win anywhere around the globe.
"In a real world conflict, much of the military equipment must still go by sealift, which makes convoy operations a critical skill set to maintain and practice," said Capt. Hans E. Lynch, commodore Military Sealift Command Atlantic. "In the last five years, there has been an increased emphasis on including Merchant Marine shipping in large scale exercises to enhance tactical proficiency. Exercises that incorporate convoy operations are an extension of that ongoing tactical training."
This exercise will simulate an opposed transit, testing the fleets' abilities to safely cross the Atlantic while testing new ways of conducting a convoy in today's environment. Convoy operations were critical during WWI and WWII as the primary method for moving troops and military equipment, supplies and materiel to Europe. After WWII, convoys became less prevalent in the Atlantic theater, although still practiced in other areas of operation.
"The Atlantic is a battlespace that cannot be ignored," said Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, commander U.S. 2nd Fleet. "We need to be prepared to operate at the high end alongside our allies, partners and adversaries alike as soon as we're underway."
During her operations in the Atlantic, Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69), along with P-8s from VP-4 and a U.S. submarine, cleared the maritime battlespace prior to the transit of the Vella Gulf escorted MSC convoy.
"The coordination between NAVEUR, 2nd Fleet, and 6th Fleet are indicative of a seamless Atlantic Ocean," said Adm. James G. Foggo III, commander, NAVEUR. "This exercise allows us to sharpen our ability to move critical resources across the Atlantic, from the United States to Europe."
"As I have said before, logistics is the sixth domain of warfare, and a critical part of any successful operation or exercise," Foggo said. "The transatlantic bridge is just as important today for moving troops and military equipment, supplies and material from the United States to Europe as it has been at any point in history."
2nd Fleet and 6th Fleet work together to ensure the security of sea-lanes of communication in the Atlantic. If called upon, the Department of Defense's sealift transportation fleet expects to move approximately 90 percent of required assets from the U.S. to the theatre of conflict. The safest and quickest way to get needed materials to the front lines is via maritime convoy.
"We, as a Navy, are inherently linked with the broader maritime industry and this exercise provides a great opportunity to train like we fight," said Capt. Fitzpatrick. "Practicing convoy operations flexes a blue-water, high-end skill for the first time in many years, enabling us all to operate on, above, and below the sea in a contested environment."
C2F exercises operational authorities over assigned ships, aircraft, and landing forces on the East Coast and the Atlantic.