June 6 (UPI) -- The U.S. Navy plans to replace four guided-missile destroyers with more modern ships and add a helicopter squadron in Spain "to posture the most capable forces forward in the U.S. European Command area of responsibility."
The USS Donald Cook, USS Ross, USS Porter and USS Carney will cycle out of Naval Station Rota starting in 2020 and ending in spring 2022, the Navy announced Tuesday.
In addition, the U.S. Navy intends to relocate a helicopter maritime strike squadron to Rota "in support of the destroyers, which will enhance the multi-mission roles of these ships," the Navy said in a news release.
The operation is part of Forward Deployed Naval Force-Europe among the U.S. 6th Fleet.
"Continuing to operate the FDNF-E destroyers out of Rota, Spain, demonstrates the enduring relationship between the U.S. Navy and our Spanish naval allies," the U.S. Navy said. "Additionally, the U.S. and Spanish navies will continue working together to conduct ship maintenance, training, and operations in support of maritime security within the EUCOM AOR."
The U.S. Navy didn't name specific ships to move in Spain but said they will be "newer, modernized ships."
The four Arleigh Burke-class ships now homeported in Spain were commissioned in 1996 or 1997.
Flight III Arleigh class destroyers under construction are the Jack H. Lucas, Louis H. Wilson Jr., Patrick Gallaghe and Ted Stevens.
The Porter and Cook are Flight II classes and the Carney and Ross are among the original class.
The current guided-missile destroyers in Spain are equipped with an older software and hardware combination.
But they have been modified to include additional self-defense capabilities, including adding Raytheon's Sea Rolling Airframe Missile and versions of Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program electronic warfare suite, USNI News reported.
In 2014, the ships began patrolling from Rota after Russia invaded and seized Crimea from Ukraine.
The Cook has been buzzed twice by Russian fighters -- first for 90 minutes by Sukhoi Su-24 while operating in the Black Sea in 2014, and again in the Baltic by Russian fighters during a separate patrol in 2016.
Porter and Ross fired almost 60 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles into Syria in retaliation for a chemical weapons strike against forces loyal to Bashar al Assad in 2017.
The Cook was docked in January in western Georgia to participate in joint drills with NATO allies under the observation of Russian vessels in the Black Sea.
The Ross in April was deployed to the Black Sea, the second time the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer entered the region in 2019.
The Carney was among ships from nine nations, led by the U.S. 6th Fleet, participating in May's Formidable Shield, a live-fire integrated air and missile defense exercise in Scotland.
And the USS Porter arrived in Aksaz, Turkey, in January for a regular scheduled port visit.
The U.S. Navy routinely operates in the Black Sea consistent with international law and with the Montreux Convention signed in 1936. According to the document, Black Sea nations can only send warships with displacements of less than 15,000 tons into the Black Sea and these ships can only stay for 21 days.