Today the USS Harry S Truman, flagship of US Navy’s Carrier Strike Group 8 came to anchor in the Solent off Gosport for a 5-day visit. We went on board and were able to speak with senior officers about their mission and relationship with the Royal Navy.
Unlike the USS George H W Bush which visited the UK last July after operations in the Gulf, the Truman’s mission is very different. This follows the principles of the new US ‘National Defense Strategy’ where deployments are strategically predictable but operationally unpredictable.
The strike group commander, Rear Admiral Eugene ‘Gene’ Black, a surface warfare specialist with destroyer and cruiser commands under his belt, confirmed to us that when his Strike Group originally deployed, back in April 2018, he had planned to proceed through the Mediterranean and operate there for a short time before continuing on to the Gulf, to operate as part of the US 5th Fleet.
Instead, he received orders to operate in the Eastern Med for longer before returning to the States early. After just over a month alongside in Norfolk, as a ‘working port visit’, conducting limited maintenance while remaining 100% operationally available, at 48 hours notice, she then departed for the second part of the deployment. This involved her working in the North Atlantic, in the new US 2nd Fleet area of operations, conducting dual-carrier operations in company with the USS Abraham Lincoln and Anti-Submarine exercises with the Royal Canadian Navy, before heading north east towards Iceland, then down through the North Sea to Portsmouth.
Admiral Black was asked about HMS Queen Elizabeth and told us that he was “absolutely thrilled to have the Royal Navy back in the fixed-wing aviation business”. Having operated with the RN many times he said they were “absolute professionals… and great to have the Royal Navy sailing alongside the US Navy”. Despite comments from the US president, the deployment is intended to reassure Europeans of the US commitment to NATO. The group has already hosted visitors from Poland, Lithuania, Sweden and Norway.
When probed about the Russian threat the Admiral would not be drawn. He described the Russians as “professional mariners and good aviators but I do not lose sleep over them”. He was certainly being diplomatic, as the extended presence of a USN carrier in the North Atlantic and around Europe, together with the re-establishment of the 2nd Fleet is in direct response to Russian naval activity. He then went on to point out that as we walked around the ship we would see a lot of combat power and that power, when matched with the capabilities of HMS Queen Elizabeth and other NATO forces, meant he was very comfortable that he could operate where he wished and when he wished.
Confirming all US stereotypes about English weather, the commanding officer was interviewed in pouring rain on the flight deck. Captain Nicholas ‘Nick’ Dienna, a former TOPGUN instructor with considerable naval aviation and ship command experience described how much he and his crew were looking forward to their long weekend in Portsmouth. Dienna highlighted how many of the customs and traditions of the US Navy had their origins from the Royal Navy. He confirmed that the 100,000 ton Truman currently had over 75 aircraft embarked, from 9 squadrons, and over 5,000 sailors onboard (and a branch of Starbucks).
Touring the Truman, it is apparent the Nimitz Class are of a very different generation to the HMS Queen Elizabeth Class. Manpower intensive, complicated but rugged, the firepower of the ship, it’s embarked air squadrons and escorts are immense. Visitors to the ship were treated with customary warmth and hospitality by a crew pleased to be visiting the UK and especially happy that the Royal Navy was back in the fixed-wing aviation business.