In a clear message to Russia, the USS Gerald R. Ford will patrol North Atlantic waters along with several other ships from the Western alliance.
Washington has deployed the USS Gerald R. Ford, which is the world’s largest warship, in the strategic North Atlantic region as the lead ship of a carrier strike group, showing NATO’s increasing military presence against Russia.
The US-led Western alliance has strongly backed Ukraine, supplying Kiev with heavy weapons as well as essential intelligence to help the country deal with the Russian offensive, which has recently shown signs of retreat. Sending the USS Gerald R. Ford is another NATO move to back up Ukraine and other pro-Western Eastern European states against Moscow.
Every aircraft carrier, a mobile air base, is the most powerful element of force projection any military has and the USS Gerald R. Ford is “obviously” the most modern and biggest aircraft carrier in the world, says Andreas Krieg, a defence analyst and a senior lecturer at the School of Security Studies at King's College London, Royal College of Defence Studies.
“Its deployment sent a very clear message to particularly Russians at the moment that America is there to secure the North Atlantic and the Atlantic widely. There is a fear that Russians being pushed to the corner that they are trying to escalate elsewhere,” Krieg tells TRT World.
As a result, the US takes cautious measures like sending its most powerful aircraft carrier close to Russian borders to meet any potential threats emanating from Moscow, says Krieg. “Sending an aircraft carrier is never a coincidental thing and always sends a direct message particularly in these times of heightened tensions between Russia and the West,” states Krieg.
While the Ukraine war has mostly corresponded to a land battle so far, except for some skirmishes across the Black Sea, recent Nord Stream explosions in the Baltic Sea have shown that the conflict could spread elsewhere, according to Krieg. Russians and Westerners blamed each other for last week’s explosions.
“So it’s very important Americans and the Western alliance more widely are building up a very credible deterrence posture in other areas. That’s what Americans are trying to do with deployment of the ship,” says Krieg. The nuclear-powered US warship alongside other Western ships will conduct military exercises next week.
Aircraft carriers like the USS Gerald R. Ford has a lot of reach with deep strike capabilities, being a very rapid reaction force, says Krieg. The US warship entertains nearly two dozen new technologies with a remodeled flight deck, which enables 30 percent more flights than other American carriers.
The carrier also has the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) to operate catapult aircraft off the ship rather than steam-powered catapults, which old-fashioned warships continue to use. Due to its modern design, much fewer naval personnel is also required to operate the ship, saving billions of dollars.
But the warship’s current deployment, which is also its first, came five years after its commissioning due to various technical problems related to the launch system and its elevators, which operate to bring missiles and bombs to fighter jets on the flight deck.
Is a military engagement with Russia possible?
Some also think that the deployment of the world’s most powerful warship in the North Atlantic might signal an increasing possibility of Western military engagement with Russians. “It could be used for anything at this point,” says a former American military officer, who wants to stay anonymous, referring to the US aircraft carrier’s deployment.
Krieg believes the Western navy deployments suggest that the US also wants to confront any possible Russian airspace violations in the Baltics and Scandinavian region.
“Having maritime aviation on site also means that you can react to any sort of air provocations by Russians in this part of the world,” the defence analyst says. With the deployment, the Western alliance aims to diminish any possible manoeuvring areas for Russia, he adds.
The Russian Navy is overstretched and it does not really have the ability to project power against the Western deployment in the North Atlantic, according to Krieg.
But other analysts believe that NATO’s North Atlantic deployment has been related to Russia’s increasing naval posture in the region.
"We saw a substantial increase in Russian naval activity in the lead-up to the Ukraine crisis in the Arctic … so the North Atlantic is a very important place where we're going to end up having to deter Russia," said Bruce Jones, the director of the Brookings Institution's Project on International Order and Strategy.
The US Navy’s increasing presence across the globe is not limited to the North Atlantic region and the Ukraine conflict.
As the USS Gerald R. Ford-led strike group sails toward the North Atlantic, another US Navy aircraft carrier strike group is moving into Asian waters close to the Korean Peninsula to counter North Korea and protect South Korea and Japan, the two pro-NATO states.