US Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group to Operate in the High North

On Sunday, the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford sailed in formation with Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 in the North Sea. Following the aircraft carrier are the missile cruiser USS Normandy and the destroyer USS Thomas Hudner – as well as frigates of the SNMG1 from Germany, Spain, Poland, and the Netherlands. The latter then participated in the American-led marine exercise Formidable Shield in the High North and the North Atlantic. (Photo: Jackson Adkins/US Navy)

The USS Gerald R. Ford, the world's largest aircraft carrier, and its fleet group will co-train with Norwegian forces in Arctic waters. "I am looking forward to our joint operations on NATO's northern flank," says the commander of the US Sixth Fleet.

The US' new – and the world's largest – aircraft carrier, USS Gerald R. Ford, paid its first visit to a foreign port in Oslo on Wednesday.

The USS Gerald R. Ford is nuclear-powered, 333 meters long, 76 meters high – and 78 meters wide. Aboard is a crew of 4500 people, and space for around 90 aircraft.

The ship is also on its first combat deployment – accompanied by three destroyers, a missile cruiser and likely also submarines. The group includes over 6000 sailors.

Training with Norwegian forces outside the Norwegian coast is planned for the aircraft carrier group's stay, according to the Norwegian Joint Headquarters.

"I look forward to our joint operations on NATO's northern flank, which improve interoperability, maintain freedom of navigation in international waters, deter aggression, and prepare us to defend our nations and the Alliance," says Vice Admiral Thomas E. Ishee, Commander of the US Sixth Fleet and STRIKFORNATO (maritime battle-staff), in a press release from the fleet.

The US Navy and commander of USS Gerald R. Ford, Captain Rick Burgess, states to TV 2 that the group of aircraft carriers will sail in the North Sea and Arctic waters.

The group will likely not sail north of Tromsø, says researcher at the Royal Norwegian Naval Academy, Commander Tor Ivar Strømmen, to NRK. He points to the potential for escalation vis-à-vis Russia.

The Norwegian frigate KNM Roald Amundsen, among others, escorted USS Gerald R. Ford into the Oslo Fjord on Wednesday. (Photo: Helene Synes/the Norwegian Armed Forces)

Russian response and activity

USS Gerald R. Ford's visit to Norway is illogical and a damaging demonstration of power, states spokesperson at the Russian embassy in Norway, Timur Chekanov.

"There are no issues in the north that require a military solution, nor topics where outside intervention is needed," writes Chekanov in an e-mail to NTB.

On its side, the Russian Northern Fleet is regularly training in the Barents Sea and the White Sea. So far in May, it has carried out 17 exercises with naval and air forces, whereof two were extensive.

One of these was announced by the Russian Ministry of Defense on Thursday: The Northern Fleet has carried out a complex exercise in the Barents Sea – Kumzha 2023 – with 15 surface combatants, submarines, and support vessels, as well as air forces.

During this exercise, the fleet demonstrated its combat abilities, including live-fire shooting with anti-aircraft missiles and artillery, for students at the Military Academy of the Russian General Staff and the Military Academy of Belarus.

The largest participating ships were the destroyer Admiral Ushakov and the large anti-submarine ship Vice Admiral Kulakov. In the air operated Su-24 attack aircraft, Ilyushin Il-38 maritime patrol and anti-submarine aircraft, and KA-27PL anti-submarine helicopters. An exercise of a similar size was carried out last weekend.

Picture from the Northern Fleet's exercise, Kumzha 2023, this week. (Photo: the Russian Ministry of Defense)

An extension of Formidable Shield

From the 8th of May, the US Sixth Fleet and STRIKFORNATO have led the major air and missile defense exercise Formidable Shield, with maritime live-fire off Andøya in Northern Norway and the west coast of Scotland. HNN meet the naval leaders in Bodø prior to kick off (Norwegian only). 

This weekend, the US Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group sailed in the North Sea with naval vessels which participated in the exercise that concluded today, Friday.

On Monday, USS Gerald R. Ford received several guests from Norway: MoD Bjørn Arild Gram (Center); Chief of Defense, General Eirik Kristoffersen; Chief of the Royal Norwegian Navy, Rear Admiral Rune Andersen, the US Ambassador to Norway, Marc Nathanson – as well as other Norwegian political and military representatives.

"This [visit, ed.note] is a concrete expression of our close relationship to the US and it shows the will to collectively defend and deter," states MoD Gram on Twitter.

The US participated in Formidable Shield with the destroyers USS Porter (filmed here in the North Atlantic), the USS Oscar Austin and USS Arleigh Burke, Poseidon P-8 maritime patrol aircraft, the long-range rocket artillery system HIMARS, one air control unit, and a reconnaissance team. (Video: Sawyer Connally/US Navy)

Exercise with all branches of defense

More specifically, the US Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group will carry out several exercises with the Norway's Army, Navy, Air Force, and special forces, reports the Norwegian Armed Forces.

One of these may be the large-scale fighter exercise Arctic Challenge Exercise. From Monday, it will take place across Norway, Finland, and Sweden – with a northern focal point. 

The US is among the announced participating countries and the USS Gerald R. Ford has a number of fighters of the type F/A-18 Hornet aboard.

In Northern Norway, the training activity will primarily take place in an area off the Helgeland Coast.

The USS Gerald R. Ford has a total of 10 aircraft squadrons with F/A-18E and F/A-18F Super Hornet fighter jets, Seahawk maritime multirole helicopters, E-2C Hawkeye warning and control aircraft, as well as logistics support aircraft. (Photo: Torbjørn Kjosvold/the Norwegian Armed Forces)

Aircraft carriers making a 'comeback'

Norway was last visited by an American aircraft carrier 65 years ago – in 1958, according to the US Sixth Fleet. 

However, the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman participated in the NATO exercise Trident Juncture in 2018. Perhaps the distinction can be found in the fact that the latter ship did not call at the port of Oslo.

In any case, the USS Gerald R. Ford's visit to Norway testifies that aircraft carriers are seriously back in the European arena. 

"It is a re-entry of these strategically heavy and important capacities for use in the collective defense of Europe," says Chief of the Norwegian Navy, Rear Admiral Rune Andersen, to the National Defense Magazine  Norway.

He points out that this type of vessel from the US, the UK, and France, are now continuously operating in the European area, particularly in the Mediterranean. 

The USS Gerald R. Ford is the first in a class of new US warships of the same name. 10 vessels of this class are planned. The aircraft carrier set sail for this deployment on 2 May from Norfolk Naval Station in Norfolk, USA. (Photo: Jackson Adkins/US Navy)

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