Monday, an incessant ballet of combat planes animates the huge landing strip of the aircraft carrier which crosses north of the Libyan city of Benghazi. Several media including AFP were invited on board to attend the “Shield of Neptune 2022”, training maneuvers spanning from May 17 to 31.
“I want us to be as ready as possible,” says Rear Admiral Curt Renshaw. “We look at Russian capabilities and we look at our own, and then we train to counter what they might do and defend ourselves and our partners and allies.”
The long list of countries participating in these maneuvers includes most of the members of the Atlantic Alliance, from Great Britain to Spain via France, Turkey, Germany, Poland, Romania and Italy.
Although this operation “was planned well before” the Russian invasion of Ukraine, “the nature of this heightened vigilance activity has been placed in a different context”, recognizes Rory Cheyne, a British pilot from the Royal Navy seconded to the American building.
“We are here to work hand in hand with our allies and be ready for any eventuality,” he said.
When a journalist asks him to illustrate NATO’s deterrence capabilities in the current climate, Rear Admiral Renshaw has his answer ready: “Look at our fighter planes, look around you! Of course that has a deterrent effect, and I believe it would be ill-advised to attack us or any of our allies with the capabilities we have.”
“Ready for any eventuality”
Regarding “the Russian forces, we are monitoring them very closely, including their submarines and where they are on mission”, he explains, before qualifying as “worrying behavior (…) the attack not provoked against a European neighbour”.
Lieutenant Commander Jeannette Lazzaro, a 33-year-old American officer, works in operations planning, including flight plans. The war in Ukraine “hasn’t had a direct impact on what we do (…) but it certainly weighs on our minds”, she confides.
“We train constantly to be ready for anything that may be asked of us, we are ready for anything,” she adds.
Operation “Shield of Neptune 2022” deploys its forces in the Mediterranean, but also in the Baltic Sea, another hot spot since the start of the Russian offensive. In a press release, NATO explains that it is a question of reinforcing “the fluid integration of maritime capabilities (of the Alliance) to support its means of deterrence and defense”.
The USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier is a veritable floating city that transports approximately 4,800 soldiers, including members of allied armies, which represents a challenge for communication between speakers of different languages depending on different chains of command.
Despite this serious atmosphere, the crew seeks to lighten the atmosphere, such as with this tradition of pilots growing a mustache, says Hayward Foard, 39, second in command of the aircraft attack squadron of fight.
“It’s a proven fact that a man with a mustache is much better at tactical execution and esprit de corps in a combat unit than a man without a mustache,” he jokes.