Submarine-hunting planes, surveillance assets and a heavily armed U.S. destroyer all recently conducted combat exercises and air-defense missions with allies in the Black Sea. This exercise demonstrated once again that despite all of the attention now being paid to a possible Chinese threat in the Pacific, deterring Russia is still very much on the radar as an operational priority for America and its partners.
The USS Donald Cook, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer homeported in Rota, Spain recently conducted air defense training with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Air Command. Afterward, the warship stopped for fuel and Thanksgiving in Varna, Bulgaria, according to a Navy report which cited the importance of deterrence in the region.
“The U.S. Navy routinely operates in the Black Sea to work with our NATO Allies and partners, including Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, Turkey, and Ukraine. It is in the world’s best interest to maintain a stable, prosperous Black Sea region and deter aggressive actors who seek destabilization for their own gain,” a Navy report writes.
The Donald Cook operated with a U.S. P-8A, Canadian CF-188 and NATO E3A AWACS aircraft as part of a coordinated effort to share intelligence, communicate with one another and network otherwise disparate air-defense sensor systems.
Connecting submarine-hunting airplanes with aerial surveillance assets and Navy destroyers is naturally intended to bring new tactical options to NATO operations interested in tracking Russian submarines and other maritime activity.
The P-8 Poseidon, working in tandem quite possibly with U.S. submarines, seems well-positioned to help hunt down Russian nuclear ballistic missile submarines, something which would pertain closely to air-defense exercises. For instance, Russian submarines quite likely operate with an ability to fire Tomahawk-like cruise missiles able to hold U.S. allied territories at risk from the sea, bringing new dimensions to air defense missions.
Not only is the P-8’s 564 mph speed considerably faster than the P-3 Orion it is replacing, but it can operate on ten-hour missions at distances up to 1,200 miles. The plane also has six additional fuel tanks enabling it to search wide swaths of ocean and spend more dwell-time patrolling high-threat areas. More dwell time capacity, fortified by high-speeds, better enables the Poseidon to cover wide areas in search of otherwise hidden Russian subs. The Poseidon can track submarines as they surface for possible missile attack, and comes with Harpoon missiles, torpedoes and as many as 129 air-parachuted sonobuoys. This combination of systems gives the Poseidon an ability to both track and attack or kill enemy submarines at various unknown depths. The aircraft tracks targets with an AN/APY-10 surveillance radar and MX-series electro-optical/infrared camera.
The submarine hunter is also optimized for air-to-surface networking to, by design, coordinate with attack weapons built into a Navy destroyer. For example, the Navy’s emerging Maritime Tomahawk could attack moving enemy ships from the deck of a destroyer if an aerial drone or AWACS plane finds an enemy asset. As part of its contribution to interconnected sub-hunting missions, the Poseidon can draw upon an Active Electronically Scanned Array, Synthetic Aperture Radar and Ground Moving Target Indicator.
Kris Osborn is the new Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.