U.S. Navy

Russian Guided-Missile Cruisers arrayed across the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea to Counter US, French and Italian Carrier Groups

Given that US, Italian and French carrier strike groups that have been operating in the Mediterranean the last several weeks the position of the cruisers around the Aegean is a complication for them.

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Three Slava-class Russian Navy guided-missile cruisers [RTS Moskva (121), RFS Varyag (011) and RTS Marshal Ustinov (055)] have been arrayed across the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea to counter three NATO carrier strike groups, causing concern in the Pentagon, a US defense official told USNI News on Feb. 22, 2022.

As of Monday, the three cruisers were operating in and around the Aegean Sea.

While Moskva is based in the Black Sea, Ustinov and Varyag entered the Mediterranean from opposite ends earlier this month after having respectively traveled from the Northern Fleet and from the Pacific Fleet.

Developed in the 1970s, the three 11,500-ton Slavas were designed around launchers that can hold 16 SS-N-12 Sandbox anti-ship cruise missiles (the Sandboxes were conceived to take on US and NATO aircraft carriers by overwhelming them with a barrage of high-speed cruise missiles to sink ships) – each about the size of a telephone pole.

Given that US, Italian and French carrier strike groups that have been operating in the Mediterranean the last several weeks the position of the cruisers around the Aegean is a complication for them.

As tensions between the West and Russia have been enflamed over Russian troops massed at the Russian border, USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75), its escorts and Carrier Air Wing 1 have been tasked by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin since late December to remain on station in the region. Italian Navy F-35B aircraft carrier ITS Cavour (CVH-550) and French Navy carrier FS Charles de Gaulle (R 91) and their escorts are also operating in the Mediterranean. French Navy ships in the task group along with Charles de Gaulle are destroyer FS Forbin (D620), frigates FS Alsace (D656) and FS Normandie (D651), replenishment ship FS Marne (A630) and a nuclear attack submarine. Partner ships integrated into the group are US Navy destroyer USS Ross (DDG-71), Spanish Navy frigate ESPS Juan de Borbon (F102), Hellenic Navy frigate HS Adrias (F459) and Royal Moroccan Navy corvette Sultan Moulay Ismail (614). A Hellenic Navy submarine joined the task force on Feb. 7. The embarked air group aboard Charles De Gaulle includes 20 Rafale F3R fighters of Flottilles 12F and 17F, two E-2C Hawkeyes Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEWC) aircraft of Flottille 4F, 1 Dauphin helicopter and 1 Panther helicopter of Flottille 35F and 36F, respectively, and a NH90 NFH Caïman anti-submarine warfare helicopter of Flottille 31F. A Belgian Air Component NH90 helicopter is embarked on Forbin.

Land-based fixed wing aircraft supporting Charles de Gaulle are a French Navy Atlantique 2 maritime patrol aircraft and a US Navy P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft.

The US has surged additional guided-missile cruiser and destroyers to US 6th Fleet, as the Russians have massed naval assets in the Mediterranean and Black Sea.

Four East Coast guided-missile destroyers – USS Donald Cook (DDG-75), USS Mitscher (DDG-57), USS The Sullivans (DDG-68) and USS Gonzalez (DDG-66) – left the US last month as independent deployers.

Those ships joined the forward-deployed USS Ross (DDG-71), USS Roosevelt (DDG-80), USS Porter (DDG-78) and USS Arleigh Burke (DDG-51), and the escorts of the Harry S. Truman CSG.

According to USNI News, the Aegis cruisers and destroyers have more sophisticated missile defense systems that outmatch the 1970s and 1980s-era Russian weapons although the Russian weapons appear imposing. The risk to the U.S. and NATO ships is if the missile defenders are overwhelmed with the number of weapons the Russians fire and the US and NATO ships run out of interceptors.

The Pentagon is sending more forces to NATO’s eastern front as a response to Russia’s declaration that Ukraine regions Donetsk and Luhansk are independent republics.

According to a senior defense official these forces include an infantry battalion of 800 troops heading to the Baltics, the repositioning of eight F-35 Lighting II Joint Strike Fighters further east, 20 AH-64 attack helicopters moving to the Baltics region and 12 AH-64 helicopters heading to Poland.

Photo credit: LPHOT SEELEY / Crown Copyright

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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