United States Naval Construction Battalions, better known as the Seabees (C.B. – construction battalion), of the Naval Construction Force held a groundbreaking ceremony for a maritime operations center on Ochakov Naval Base, Ukraine, July 25. According to the Navy.mil, the official website of the US Navy, the maritime operations center is one of three projects that are currently planned to be executed by the Seabees in Ochakov and will serve as a major planning and operational hub during future military exercises hosted by Ukraine. The Seabees arrived in Ochakov in April to establish contracts, obtain construction permits and perform other logistical tasks for the maritime operations center project.
Maritime operations centers are the operational-level warfare command and control organizations designed to deliver flexible maritime capabilities throughout the full range of military operations. The future Seabee projects in Ochakov include a boat maintenance facility and entry control points with perimeter fencing.
«Our ability to maximize European reassurance initiatives in Ukraine holds strategic importance, and will ultimately improve host nation defense capacity and infrastructure, strengthen relations, and increase bilateral training capabilities», said Lt. j.g. Jason McGee, officer in charge of Det. Ukraine.
In July, several US missile warships, including the USS Hue City Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser and the USS Carney Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, a P-8A Poseidon patrol aircraft and a Navy SEALs team took part in the 12-day Sea Breeze 2017 NATO naval exercise held in the northwestern part of the Black Sea, near the port city of Odessa. 17 nations took part in the training event.
The drills were conducted in the 'free game' format in the Odessa and Nikolayev regions and the northwestern areas of the Black Sea. The practice scenarios cover amphibious warfare. The only country the forces could be training to assault is Russia.
During the exercise, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made his first visit to Ukraine (July 9) to demonstrate the political support of Kiev’s policy aimed at integration with the United States and NATO. He was accompanied by Kurt Volker, the newly appointed US Special Representative to the Minsk peace process, who is known as a hawk against Moscow.
The US political support is not gratuitous. In late June, the Ukrainian government took a decision to buy American coal from Pennsylvania, which is said to be almost twice as expensive as locally sourced in the Donbass – Ukraine’s traditional supplier of energy needs.
In July, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed the Law of Ukraine «On Amendments to Certain Laws of Ukraine Regarding the Foreign Policy of Ukraine», which determines membership of the Alliance as one of the country’s foreign policy priorities. Poroshenko said that a referendum on NATO membership would be held by 2020.
Ukraine takes part in a host of NATO exercises: Operation Fearless Guardian, Exercise Sea Breeze, Saber Guardian/Rapid Trident, Safe Skies and Combined Resolve. It became the first non-member country to contribute its troops to the NATO Response Force.
On June 8, Ukraine’s parliament adopted a bill called «On Amending Certain Legislative Acts of Ukraine (on Foreign Policy Course of Ukraine), setting NATO membership as Ukraine’s foreign policy goal, replacing the country’s non-aligned status.
The United States will deliver lethal weapons to Ukraine. The Joint Staff is working with US European Command to determine what the lethal defensive aid to Ukraine would look like. The House version of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) cuts military aid to Ukraine from the initial $300 million to $150 million, but it provides permission for lethal arms supplies. The idea is strongly supported in the Senate. If the legislation goes through, the weapons could be legally sent to Ukraine starting October 1. The money could be used to deliver over 900 FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missiles designed to strike armored vehicles, fortified ground installations and low flying aerial targets at a distance of 50-2,500 meters.
Former President Barack Obama was unconvinced that granting Ukraine lethal defensive weapons would be the right decision in view of corruption widespread in Ukraine. Skepticism about sending weapons to Ukraine is common in Europe. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier opposed the idea. NATO Military Committee Chairman Petr Pavel has spoken against lethal arms deliveries to Kiev.
A recently published RAND study says that the country faces deeply embedded problems which cannot easily be solved by foreign-provided assistance.
A US military facility near Russia’s borders is a very serious threat to regional security. The Black Sea region is turning into a hot spot. US destroyers and cruisers visit the Black Sea regularly to provide NATO with long-range first strike capability. The Romania-based Aegis Ashore BMD system uses the Mk-41 launcher capable of firing Tomahawk long-range precision-guided missiles against land assets.
Romania has worked energetically to increase US and NATO force presence in the region. The US has recently taken the decision to send an additional 500 forces to the Romanian Mihail Kogalniceanu (MK) forward operating base. A brigade-size multinational NATO force is based in Craiova, Romania. Nations which have pledged to contribute include Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Turkey and the United States. The unit is intended to facilitate the deployment of reinforcements. Georgia and Ukraine will be fully involved in the plans.
Romania calls for a regular trilateral format of joint naval exercises in the Black Sea, along with Turkey and Bulgaria, with the eventual participation of non-littoral NATO members.
The United Kingdom has decided to deploy four Typhoon aircraft to Mihail Kogalniceanu in 2017. Deveselu, Romania, is home for Aegis Ashore ballistic missile defense site and a target for the Russian military.
Bulgaria has offered to participate in the Multinational Framework Brigade stationed in Romania with 400 troops. In September, about 150 US Marines, part of the Black Sea Rotational Force, are due at Novo Selo, Bulgaria. This will be the first of three six-month rotations of about 150 US Marines, part of the Black Sea Rotational Force. Under the 2006 defense cooperation agreement, the United States has access to three Bulgarian military bases.
The US plans to deploy up to 2,500 troops at Novo Selo; the base can hold as many as 5,000 during joint-nation exercises with NATO allies. The facility’s upgrade is finished to add a helicopter landing zone and an air operations building. The base is expected to host US heavy tanks. A NATO maintenance support area is to be built in Sliven or Plovdiv. This is a serious military build-up turning Bulgaria into springboard to attack Russia or a target for the Russia’s armed forces.
It’s hardly a wise decision to militarize the country against Russia when 80 percent of Bulgarian exports and imports transit the Black Sea and tourism contributes heavily to the country’s economy, increased maritime militarization could have a widespread negative economic impact in case of heightened tensions, accidents or clashes.
Since September, 2016 US and Bulgarian aircraft conduct patrol flights in the Black Sea. The patrolling mission greatly increases the risk of an accident, especially with the Russian S-400 long range systems stationed in Crimea. Russian aircraft deployed in the Northern Caucasus and Rostov region are capable of controlling the whole Black Sea. President Putin has warned NATO about the consequences such a policy would lead to.
Non-Black Sea NATO members cannot stay in the Black Sea for more than 21 days, according to the Montreux Convention. NATO has three members with Black Sea ports in Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey, as well as two more aspiring members in Ukraine and Georgia. Bulgarian, Romanian, Ukrainian and Georgian navies have limited capabilities. Handing over to them some of other NATO members’ warships is an option under consideration. The ships could be reflagged to beef up permanent naval capabilities in the theater. US warships frequent the Black Sea to provide NATO with long-range first strike capability.
The Romania-based missile defense system as well as NATO air bases and headquarters will be targeted by Russian Kalibr sea- and air-based medium-range cruise missiles successfully tested in Syria some time ago. The active phase array antenna-based radar, located in Romania, can be countered by Russian ground and air-based electronic warfare systems.
In response to NATO growing presence, Russia has deployed S-400 long-range air-defense systems and Bastion-P (K-300P) anti-ship coastal defense missile systems equipped with Onyx missiles. These Mach 2.6 supersonic missiles are highly maneuverable, difficult to detect and have a range of nearly 300 kilometers. With the help of the Monolith-B radar station, the system is capable of obtaining over-the-horizon target designation many miles beyond the horizon. The long-range cruise missile capable Su-24 supersonic attack aircraft are already deployed in Crimea.
Russia has to react in view of massive militarization of the region against the background of high tensions. An accident may spark a big fire. The US military presence in Ukraine is a highly provocative step, which will very negatively affect the situation. Nothing justifies the whipping up of tensions in the Black Sea region, but the United States keeps on doing it with great vigor.