The USS Mount Whitney (LCC/JCC-20), one of the U.S. Navy’s two Blue Ridge-class amphibious command ships, currently serves as the flagship and command ship of the United States Sixth Fleet. The warship, which entered service fifty years ago—and at the time was noted for having the world’s most sophisticated electronic suite—entered the Black Sea on Monday.
The U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa confirmed via social media that the U.S. vessel entered the neutral waters to operate with NATO allies and partners in the region. It was the first time since 2018 that the command ship had been deployed to the Black Sea.
The arrival of USS Mount Whitney into the waters drew attention from Moscow, with senior Russian officials labeling it a provocation.
“I believe that such actions as sending the US 6th Fleet’s flagship, command ship Mount Whitney to the Black Sea are outright provocative and clearly destructive,” Head of the State Duma Committee on Defense Andrei Kartapolov told reporters as reported by TASS.
“This is yet another destabilizing factor in the region,” Kartapolov added. “However, I want to remind the West of the fact that Russia is always ready for any challenges. We can guarantee security and the reliable protection of all of our frontiers, all the more so in the Black Sea.”
LCC/JCC-20 is not the only U.S. Navy vessel to be operating in the Black Sea either. On Saturday, the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG-78) also entered the Black Sea to take part in joint operations with NATO forces.
Russian president Vladimir Putin also told state media that the U.S. warship could clearly be seen by Russian personnel.
“As you know, a U.S. warship has now entered the Black Sea,” Putin said on Monday during the opening of a series of defense industry meetings Sochi. We can look at it through a binocular or through a sight of the corresponding defense systems.”
The Russian leader suggested that his nation would need to improve its aerospace defense system to address other potential threats from NATO.
“This is also required by the general political situation, in particular, by the growing intensity of NATO aircraft flights near Russia, the emergence of the alliance’s guided-missile ships in the Baltic and Black Seas,” Putin added.
Tensions have increased in the Black Sea in recent years, as Russia has built-up its Black Sea Fleet while NATO has continued to increase its presence in the waters. Along with the South China Sea, it is one of the bodies of water that has the potential to be a flashpoint as multiple navies try to maintain a presence.
Showing the Flag
Unlike many other U.S. Navy warships, USS Mount Whitney is unique in that—in addition to its crew of twelve officers and 150 enlisted sailors—the vessel also carries 150 civilians from Military Sealift Command. Also, the ship was the first U.S. Navy combatant to permanently accommodate women on board.
The vessel carries enough food to feed the crew for ninety days and can transport supplies to support an emergency evacuation of three thousand people. The ship makes one hundred thousand gallons of fresh water daily and carries over one million gallons of fuel, enough for a round trip, sixteen-knot, thirty-five-day voyage from Norfolk, Virginia to Mozambique in the Indian Ocean.
Even today, the ship’s communications capability is reported to be second to none.
According to the U.S. Navy, USS Mount Whitney can receive, process and transmit large amounts of secure data from any point on earth through HF, UHF, VHF, SHF, and EHF communications paths. That technology enables the Joint Intelligence Center and Joint Operations Center to gather and fuse critical information while the vessel is on the move. As the most sophisticated Command, Control, Communications, Computer, and Intelligence (C4I) ship ever commissioned, USS Mount Whitney also incorporates various elements of the most advanced C4I equipment and gives the embarked Joint Task Force Commander the capability to effectively command widely dispersed air, ground and maritime units in an integrated fashion.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.