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U.S. aircraft carrier heads NATO exercise in Mediterranean amid fears of Russian invasion of Ukraine

The USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier strike group is taking center stage in a NATO exercise in the Mediterranean as fears mount over a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Dubbed Neptune Strike 2022, the exercise that kicked off Monday highlights the “natural evolution” of NATO’s ability to integrate the high-end maritime capabilities of a carrier strike group to support the defense of the alliance, officials said.

It “demonstrates the power and cohesiveness of our maritime forces and the NATO alliance,” Navy Vice Adm. Gene Black, commander of the 6th Fleet, said in a statement. “NATO’s command and control of a [carrier strike group] is the result of decades of alliance maritime interoperability.”

The announcement of the exercise follows President Biden’s comments of last week that indicated a lack of unity among the NATO nations in response to Russia’s massing thousands of troops along the border with Ukraine.

The Truman carrier strike group will sail under the leadership of the Portugal-based Strike Force NATO — the Atlantic alliance’s maritime power projection headquarters, officials said.

Staff from the 6th Fleet and Strike Force NATO developed procedures to integrate the headquarters in the Black Sea last year in a mission called Neptune Challenge.

“Neptune Challenge gave our staffs an incredible opportunity to learn and grow together aboard our flagship, USS Mount Whitney,” Rear Adm. James Morley, deputy commander of Strike Force NATO, said. “The lessons we took from Neptune Challenge led directly into our execution of Neptune Strike and I look forward to watching this combined team work to command and control high-end forces in real-time.”

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