USMC generates amphibious presence on both NATO flanks

The US Navy’s USS Bataan amphibious ready group (ARG)
The US Navy’s USS Bataan amphibious ready group (ARG) is pictured operating with regional partners in the Mediterranean Sea in late February. The ARG, and its embarked amphibious forces, are demonstrating presence on NATO’s southern flank.

The US Marine Corps’ (USMC’s) 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), embarked in the US Navy’s (USN’s) USS Bataan amphibious ready group (ARG), arrived in Souda Bay, Crete on 28 February for a scheduled port visit.

However, this display of USMC amphibious presence mirrored the deployment of the Whidbey Island-class amphibious assault ship USS Gunston Hall and US Expeditionary Strike Group 2 (ESG2) to northern Norway for the ‘Nordic Response’ phase of NATO’s alliance-wide ‘Steadfast Defender’ exercise.

Together, these two high-profile and highly visible deployments are demonstrating the capacity of NATO member state to bring amphibious effect to bear simultaneously on the alliance’s northern and southern flanks.

The USS Bataan ARG and 26th MEU are deployed to the US Naval Forces Europe-Africa (NAVEUR-NAVAF) area of operations (AOO). They have been operating in the AOO since July. In the Mediterranean Sea, this has included working with regional navies like the Turkish Naval Forces Command, as well as with Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 (SNMG2).

The ARG comprises the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5), the Harpers Ferry-class landing ship dock USS Carter Hall (LSD 50), and the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock vessel USS Mesa Verde (LPD 19).

Gunston Hall arrived in the High North in mid-February, having transited from Norfolk, Virginia into southern Europe to demonstrate the importance and security of NATO’s trans-Atlantic sea lines of communication (SLOCs), as the first phase of ‘Steadfast Defender’. The LPD is embarking Finnish, French, and Swedish amphibious forces for ‘Nordic Response’. Other task groups present for the exercise include Italian Navy and Royal Netherlands Navy amphibious forces, plus the UK Royal Navy’s HMS Prince of Wales carrier strike group. Together, the groups will conduct integrated power projection operations ashore, in the High North’s highly challenging conditions.

The USS Bataan ARG’s presence in the Mediterranean region and the integrated amphibious and strike capabilities deployed by NATO off Norway help the alliance to communicate the message of credible capability in order to reinforce its core strategic principle of deterrence and defence of the Euro-Atlantic theatre.

by Dr. Lee Willett