The U.S. Navy’s newest and most powerful aircraft carrier has docked in Antalya, Turkey—meaning she is within striking distance of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. And it appears Russia is deploying anti-ship missiles in response.
USS George H.W. Bush is hauling more than 60 warplanes including no fewer than 40 Hornet and Super Hornet strike-fighters. Bush’s escorting destroyers and cruisers, together packing hundreds of long-range missiles, are presumably nearby. Nuclear attack submarines usually also accompany American flattops on deployment.
Commissioned five years ago, the 1,100-foot-long Bush is America’s newest aircraft carrier. Her Mediterranean deployment is “designed to strengthen maritime security,” according to the U.S. 6th Fleet.
Russian forces staged a bloodless invasion of Crimea in late February in order to secure strategic naval and air bases and port facilities that historically were part of Russia. Moscow holds a long-term lease on at least seven Crimean military facilities but apparently feared losing them as Ukraine forms a new, more pro-Western government.
The Russian Black Sea fleet includes just five aging surface warships. Despite their age and likely sad state of disrepair, the Kremlin’s vessels combined are far more powerful than Ukraine’s sole frigate, which sped back to Ukrainian waters from Indian Ocean counter-piracy duty in the days following the Russian invasion.
America’s 6th Fleet has been quietly assembling in and around the Black Sea, and could in theory back up the Ukrainians in the unlikely event that the Crimean occupation escalates into a shooting war. Washington has imposed economic and travel sanctions in a bid to compel Moscow to depart Crimea.
The destroyer USS Truxtun split from the Bush carrier group on or around March 5 and sailed through the Turkish Straits for exercises with the Romanian and Bulgarian navies in the Black Sea. Treaties allow foreign warships to remain in the Black Sea just 21 days.
The U.S. had two ships—a frigate and a command ship—in the Black Sea to assist with security during the Winter Olympics in southern Russia in February. The frigate Taylor ran aground and lightly damaged her hull. Both vessels have left the Black Sea—Taylor while under tow.
In apparent response to the American naval build-up, the Kremlin has reportedly staged a battery of deadly anti-ship missiles to Crimea, according to Tamir Eshel’s Defense Update Website. Citizens witnessed the Bastion anti-ship missile systems traveling from the Russian town of Anapa to Sevastopol on March 8 and 9, Defense Update reported.
Bastion includes the P-800 missile with a 550-pound warhead. The missile can travel more than 150 miles at Mach 2.5 and could be very difficult to intercept. Russia developed the P-800 specifically to target American aircraft carriers and other well-defended ships.
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