US Carrier Strike Group Trained With British and Norwegian Forces in the High North

On Monday, the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford sailed in the north in formation with allied vessels in the following order: The British frigate HMS Northumberland (to the left), the American missile cruiser USS Normandy (to the right), the Norwegian frigate KNM Otto Sverdrup (second from the left), the British tanker RFA Tidespring (second from the right), the British destroyer HMS Defender (third from the left), and the Norwegian frigate KNM Steil (third from the right). (Photo: Jacob Mattingly/the US Navy)

Recently, the world's largest aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford with escort vessels, has co-trained with British and Norwegian forces – primarily in the Vestfjord, Northern Norway. An American destroyer has also sailed outside the Finnmark coast and is now docked in Tromsø. 

Norwegian version.

The aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford has concluded its stay in Norway, reported the Norwegian Armed Forces on Friday.

The Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group had then operated in Northern Norwegian waters for around a week under STRIKFORNATO command (Norwegian only).

The group includes the missile cruiser USS Normandy, the destroyers USS Ramage and USS Thomas Hudner, and possibly also submarines.

Throughout the mentioned period, the American vessels trained together with Norwegian and British forces – primarily in the Vestfjord in Nordland county, Northern Norway.

Norway has first and foremost participated in marine activity with the frigate KNM Otto Sverdrup and the corvette KNM Steil.

The UK has participated with the destroyer HMS Defender, the frigate HMS Northumberland, the tanker RFA Tidespring – as well as an air squadron with Wildcat maritime attack helicopters. This group may also have included submarines.

These have "formed a protective ring of steel" around the USS Gerald R. Ford, writes the British Navy.

Various degrees north

According to the Norwegian Armed Forces, the American aircraft carrier sailed along the Norwegian coast, "all the way up to the Vestfjord," which indicated that it did not operate any further north along the coast of Northern Norway. 

At the same time, one of its MH-60S Seahawk maritime multi-purpose helicopters in Ramsund, Ofotfjorden (in the northern part of Nordland county), during training activity last Saturday, reported the US Navy. Ramsund Naval Station is a so-called "agreed" Norwegian-American area.

The destroyer USS Thomas Hudner on its side, voyaged outside the Finnmark Coast on Tuesday, more specifically west of Sørøya. That is revealed by AIS data from the sea chart Marine Traffic (see photo gallery). 

The Norwegian Joint Headquarters (NJHQ) does not wish to comment on the movements of the American forces and refers to the US Navy's own statements.

Several training activities

On Monday, the US Carrier Strike Group and its composite air wing trained with the American Air Forces' B-1B strategic bomber and Norwegian F-35 fighters.

This activity is described as a 'Bomber Task Force mission' – and took place within the framework of the major Nordic air exercise Arctic Challenge Exercise (ACE). The latter concluded on Friday.

The American, Norwegian, and British forces have also executed an air defense exercise called Viking Trident – as well as practicing maritime localization, tracking, and simulated attacks, according to the US Navy.

The F/A Super Hornet fighter ready for take off from the USS Gerald R. Ford on Monday. (Photo: Maxwell Orlosky/the US Navy)

"Conducting integrated and high-intensity activities with our Allies and partners in various maritime environments is what keeps our carrier strike group well prepared, ready, and postured to collectively deter threats and defend the Alliance,” says Rear Adm. Erik Eslich, Commander, GRFCSG Carrier Strike Group 12, in a press release.

According to the UK's Royal Navy, the British ships and KNM Steil first acted as "hostile" forces to test the American-Norwegian ship group's defense abilities.

Furthermore, during the Viking Trident, the American, British, and Norwegian marine forces practiced protecting the aircraft carrier against missile attacks and air strikes from several waves of "hostile" aircraft.

These were American F/A-18 Super Hornet fighters and B1-B strategic bombers, as well as Norwegian F-35 fighters. It is not known whether this activity was part of the aforementioned exercise within the ACE framework. 

All Norwegian branches of defense

The USS Gerald R. Ford has also trained with the Norwegian Army and the Special Operations Command. The Norwegian Armed Forces write that all of its branches of defense have had valuable training with the aircraft carrier.

"With the war in Europe, unity in NATO is more important than ever to ensure our collective security. Port visit and cooperating operations for the entire Norwegian Armed Forces with the aircraft carrier are clear signs of this unity," says the Commander of the NJHQ, Lt. General Yngve Odlo, in a press release.

"The fact that our closest allies receive experience in operating in our immediate areas and that our forces gain experience with operating with one of the world's most powerful weapon systems, builds security for Norway and safety for the population," adds Odlo.

The NJHQ does not want to describe how the Army and special forces have co-trained with the USS Gerald R. Ford.

The Norwegian Navy has also reported successful live-fire training with the Naval Strike Missile (NSM) outside Vesterålen in Northern Norway on the night of Wednesday. TV 2 reports that KNM Otto Sverdrup sank a decommissioned corvette, KNM Æger, with such a missile. No allied participation is mentioned for this activity.

The Norwegian frigate KNM Otto Sverdrup's live-fire shooting with the Norwegian-produced advanced sea target missile NSM off Vesterålen, likely in the Andøya shooting field, Northern Norway. (Video: The Norwegian Navy)

Sailing on Sunday

On Marine Traffic, one could observe the British frigate HMS Northumberland docked in Stangnes outside Harstad, southwest in Troms and Finnmark county, from Wednesday to Saturday.

On Sunday, the frigate operated in Andfjorden between Nordland county and Troms and Finnmark county, according to AIS data. According to the British Navy, the ship is, at least as of Sunday, deployed for operations in the North Atlantic and the Arctic.

The Norwegian frigate KNM Otto Sverdrup also sailed in the same area at the same time on Sunday. It had previously been docked at Olavsvern, Tromsø – and sailed along the coast in Northern Troms before Friday.

A danger area connected to military activity was activated in the NOTAM (Notices to Airmen) map on and off the coast of Vesterålen, Nordland county, for Monday the 12th of June from 12:00-14:00. This may indicate that allied maritime activity is still ongoing in Northern Norway.

Regular British presence 

In the last month, HMS Northumberland and other British naval vessels have been shadowing Russian naval vessels – including the Northern Fleet's destroyers Vice Admiral Kulakov and Admiral Levchenko, the British Navy announced on Friday.

The two Russian destroyers started an anti-submarine warfare exercise in the Barents Sea on 2 June and were involved in several of the Northern Fleet's exercises in the same sea area in May (Norwegian only).

This suggests that HMS Northumberland has followed Russian training activity in the Barents Sea before the training with the Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group and Norwegian Navy.  

By the way, HMS Northumberland's last known visit the Vestfjord and the Andfjord was during the Norwegian-led marine exercise FLOTEX 2022 in the late fall.

British marine forces' last reported exercise in the High North was during Dynamic Mongoose (Norwegian only) – NATO's major anti-submarine warfare exercise from the 24th of April to the 5th of May.

In March, the UK also led the marine exercise Joint Warrior (Norwegian only) off the coast of Nordland and Troms – as an addition to the concurrent Norwegian-led exercise Joint Viking with its main focus on the land domain. 

Relatively quiet from the Russian side

Apparently, Russia has not made any official statements regarding the US Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier's visit to Norway after the Russian Embassy in Oslo's comment on the 23rd of May.

The American Carrier Strike Group's voyage in Northern Norway also does not appear to have been commented on by the Russian news agencies TASS and Interfax.

In June, the ministry reported the following training activities in the Northern Fleet:

  • June 2: The destroyers Vice Admiral Kulakov and Admiral Levchenko, as well as a submarine, began a multi-day exercise on anti-submarine warfare in the Barents Sea.
  • June 5 (a): Russian strategic bombers, fighters, and tankers flew across the Western part of the Barents Sea and were identified by Norwegian F-35 fighters.
  • June 5 (b): Around 300 students at Nakhimov Naval School began their maritime practice in the Northern Fleet. They are to get familiar with the fleet's missile ships, such as the frigate Admiral Kasatonov, and participate in various exercises. Preparations for new operations and a campaign began on the mentioned frigate on June 2nd. 
  • June 8: Soldiers of the Northern Fleet's 200th Separate Guards Motor Rifle Brigade in Pechenga, Murmansk Oblast, were trained in driving combat vehicles.
  • June 9: Marine soldiers of the Northern Fleet conducted live-fire shooting at a shooting and exercise area in Pechenga, Murmansk. The instructors are said to have experience with combat operations in the Ukraine War.

In May, the Northern Fleet conducted a total of 19 reported marine and air exercises (Norwegian only). See an earlier overview in English from 19 May here.

To be continued

The Norwegian Armed Forces has announced a new exercise in South Troms and North Nordland from Wednesday the 14th to Thursday the 22nd of June, reported Harstad Tidende on Friday. The exercise will include helicopters, high-speed boats, marking devices such as loose ammunition, and other pyrotechnic devices.

More specifically, the activity will take place at sea and on land in the areas Harstad-Tjeldsund-Lødingen-Kongsvika-Kongsvikdalen-Storjorda-Sørli.

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This article was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by Birgitte Annie Molid Martinussen.