US missile cruiser Vella Gulf has reportedly entered the Black Sea, joining six other vessels for NATO’s naval drills. Meanwhile, Russia is having its own exercises in the sea, keeping a watchful eye on the alliance’s war games.
“At about 18:20, the USS Vella Gulf passed the strait and entered the Black Sea,” a source in the Russian Navy's Main Staff told Itar-Tass on Monday. “The number of NATO ships in the Black Sea has thus increased to seven.”
The official reason for the American Ticonderoga class Aegis guided missile cruiser entering the Black Sea, the source said, was the participation in an exercise of NATO mine-clearing forces.
The Russian naval official said he was bewildered by the American cruiser’s participation.“It’s like putting a horse and a deer to the same cart,” he said ironically.
A multi-mission cruiser, Vella Gulf, which is 173 meters in length and carries up to 400 crewmembers aboard, is capable of sustained combat operations in any combination of air, surface, undersea, and strike warfare environments. Equipped with four powerful gas turbine engines, it can develop the speed of over 30 knots. According to online sources, the vessel’s weapons include SM-2 surface-to-air missiles, Harpoon anti-ship missiles, Tomahawk cruise missiles, torpedoes, Phalanx Close-in Weapons Systems for self-defense against aircraft and missiles, and five-inch, rapid fire guns.
The American missile cruiser was visiting the port of Constanta in Romania from late May till mid-June.
Earlier Monday, a military diplomatic source told the agency that the Russian Navy will monitor NATO’s Sea Breeze maneuvers in the Black Sea. Most of Russia’s Black Sea fleet is out at sea as its commander ordered a massive naval exercise the length and breadth of the area.
The Russian fleet has been ordered to “monitor all movements and activities of the NATO naval task force, which are, actually speaking, already well known.”
The major group of NATO battleships, rotational Mine Counter-Measures Group TWO (SNMCMG2), has spent several days training at the Bulgarian port of Burgas in first stage of the Breeze drill this year led by the Bulgarian Navy.
On Sunday afternoon the ships left the Bulgarian port of Burgas and headed into the open sea for training in the southwest Black Sea.
The group consists of flagship Italian Navy frigate ITS Aviere, accompanied by Italian minesweeper ITS Rimini, Turkish minesweeper TCG Akça, British minesweeper HMS Chiddingfold and Greek Corvette Macitis.
French intelligence ship Dupuy de Lome is continuing electronic surveillance near Russia’s North Caucasus coast. It replaced another French stealth frigate, Surcouf, which was on a similar mission near the Crimean peninsula in June.
There was yet another NATO reconnaissance ship in the Black Sea, Italy’s Elettra, which operated close to Russian shores, but she had to leave after the maximum 21 day presence in the area for non-regional battleships expired Sunday.
In the meantime some 20 Russian warships, over 20 airplanes and helicopters, as well as the marines and coast artillery are taking part in the Black Sea Fleet exercise. The war games launched the same day as NATO's military drill in the area, on July 4. The ships taking part in the drills are operating from two locations, the port of Sevastopol in the Crimea peninsula and the port of Novorossiysk in Russia’s Northern Caucasus.