U.S. Navy back in the Arctic lacking a warship capable of operating around ice

The U.S. Navy’s Barents Sea patrol is the latest sojourn into an increasingly militarized Arctic, where questions of international law are proliferating. For the first time since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. Navy is making regular trips to the Arctic Circle, with the four-ship patrol sailing in the Barents Sea. Three of the four ships, which sailed alongside the British Royal Navy frigate Kent, were destroyers based in Rota, Spain, as part of an operation spearheaded by the U.S. Navy’s 6th Fleet.


The trip into Russia’s backyard was the latest in what the U.S. Navy has made clear will become a habit in the frigid waters of the Arctic. And that it was carried out by Europe-based destroyers could herald even more operations in the High North as the service plans to grow to six destroyers forward-deployed there from today’s four.

The patrol in the Barents Sea, much of which is part of Russia exclusive economic zone, follows high-profile patrols by the American aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman in 2018 and a surface action group patrol in 2019.

And while a Naval Forces Europe news release made clear Russia was given advance notice of the patrol to avoid confusion, the message is still pointed: The U.S. Navy is back in the Arctic Circle after being gone for 30 years.

The choice of the Barents Sea is an interesting one due to its operational significance to the Russian submarine fleet, which remains world-class even as much of its surface fleet degraded after the end of the Cold War, said Bryan Clark, a former U.S. submarine officer who is now a senior fellow with The Hudson Institute.

“The Barents are an area where Russian submarines like to operate, and we’ve kind of left [the area] alone for so long that it’s become an extension of the areas they deploy that they see as their bastion,” Clark said. “They monitor them closely, it’s right offshore. They treat the Barents a little like we treat the VACAPES [Virginia Capes Operating Area off Norfolk, Virginia].

“So we’ve left them alone for so long that they feel like the Barents, the Kara and the White Sea — they kind of see as a free zone for Russian submarine operations.” READ MORE HERE