USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) has crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and is operating in the Mediterranean Sea, about two weeks after departing its homeport in Virginia on its latest deployment.
The strait transit comes after the Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group exercised with the Moroccan Navy and Air Force last week and interacted with Italian Navy frigate ITS Luigi Rizzo (F 595) on March 5.
Exercise Lightning Handshake with Morocco took place last week and included exercises for aircraft and surface ships that covered surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare, air and strike warfare, combined logistics support and maritime interdiction operations, as well as overall interoperability between the forces.
“On behalf of the sailors assigned to the IKE CSG it’s an honor to participate in this historic bi-lateral maritime exercise; hallmarking 200 years of an enduring partnership with Morocco,” Rear Adm. Scott Robertson, the commander of the IKE Carrier Strike Group, said in a Navy news release.
“Exercises like Lighting Handshake enhance the foundation of our interoperability and continued support of our long-term commitment to security in the region.”
— U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet (@USNavyEurope) March 5, 2021
As that exercise wound down, Eisenhower posted on Twitter that it realized it was operating in the vicinity of the Italian FREMM frigate and sought ought the chance to “do what friends do – cruise together.”
The Navy has not released details about where the IKE CSG might operate during its deployment.
During the CSG’s final pre-deployment training and certification event, the strike group conducted a “NATO vignette” for the first time ever. The event asked the CSG to conduct a strike mission alongside a simulated NATO task force in support of the Allied Maritime Command (MARCOM) in London, giving the leadership and crew an opportunity to practice that mission with the right command and control, networks and terminology they’d need if they were to conduct a mission under NATO command rather than under an American numbered fleet or combatant command.
Robertson told USNI News ahead of the start of the deployment that “I can’t obviously talk about what the IKE Strike Group’s schedule is going to be, but a pretty good sense that we’re likely going to be able to flex a lot of the things, especially the NATO vignettes, that we just demonstrated in COMPTUEX during our actual deployment.”
For goosebumps see images. #TheMightyIKE Sailing in formation with @ItalianNavy Carlo Bergamini-class frigate ITS Luigi Rizzo (F 595), middle, and #USSMitscher. cc: @US_EUCOM @NATO @ItalyatNATO #StrongerTogether pic.twitter.com/obdGiREeTs
— USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (IKE) (@TheCVN69) March 6, 2021
Still, there is no U.S. aircraft carrier operating in the Middle East, which is an anomaly compared to the past couple years. Starting in the spring of 2019, the U.S. Navy has been asked to keep a near-constant presence in the region, straining the CVN fleet. Though keeping a carrier in or near the Persian Gulf as a hedge against Iran was the practice of the Trump administration, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the Biden administration would be taking a hard look at global force posture and questioning whether it was necessary to spend limited carrier readiness on that mission in U.S. 5th Fleet.
Austin said in a Feb. 25 media gaggle that “I’d like to have a carrier in every spot in the world, you know. But that’s just not possible because, as you know, we don’t have those kinds of resources.”
“We’ve made decisions in the past and gapped the carrier in the Middle East, and as we do that, we do things to make sure that we have resources in the right place to ensure that we can respond to contingencies as they arise,” he continued.
“There’s going to be gaps at periods of time. And again, we’re going to look at ourselves and make sure our resources are in alignment with our priorities based on our strategy going forward.”
Amphibious warship USS Makin Island (LHD-8), with an embarked detachment of Marine F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters, is currently operating in the Persian Gulf.