Sailors aboard the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf perform a hot fueling on an MH-60S helicopter on the flight deck on February 9, 2020. Photo by Mass Communications Specialist 3rd Class Andrew Waters/U.S. Navy
Feb. 28 (UPI) -- The Navy's 2nd Fleet is escorting a military convoy across the Atlantic, Navy officials confirmed Friday.
During the exercise, the guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf is guiding the USNS Benavidez, MV Resolve and MV Patriot as they carry military equipment to Europe.
The exercise -- a collaborative effort between U.S. 2nd Fleet, Naval Forces Europe and Military Sealift Command -- will "simulate an opposed transit" to test the fleets' abilities to cross the Atlantic safely, Navy officials said.
"In a real world conflict, much of the military equipment must still go by sealift, which makes convoy operations a critical skill set to maintain and practice," said Capt. Hans E. Lynch, commodore Military Sealift Command Atlantic, in a statement sent to UPI. "In the last five years, there has been an increased emphasis on including Merchant Marine shipping in large scale exercises to enhance tactical proficiency. Exercises that incorporate convoy operations are an extension of that ongoing tactical training."
According to the Navy, convoy operations were critical during World War I and World War II as the primary method for moving troops and military equipment, supplies and material to Europe, but have become less prevalent in the Atlantic theater in recent decades.
Navy spokeswoman Mary Catherine Walsh told UPI that although convoy operations are routine in other parts of the world, this is the first such exercise to cross the Atlantic since 1986.
According to the Navy, the Department of Defense's sealift transportation fleet expects to move 90 percent of required assets to theater in the event of a conflict.
"We, as a Navy, are inherently linked with the broader maritime industry and this exercise provides a great opportunity to train like we fight," said Capt. Andrew Fitzpatrick, commander of the USS Vella Gulf. "Practicing convoy operations flexes a blue-water, high-end skill for the first time in many years, enabling us all to operate on, above, and below the sea in a contested environment."
The Vella Gulf is part of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower carrier strike group, which deployed earlier in February and "cleared the maritime battlespace" -- that is, making sure there were no enemies on the surface or underwater -- before the convoy's passage.