The crew of a giant US aircraft carrier in European waters say they are ready to fight Russia if called upon, but their mission is to contain threats and prevent escalation.

The USS George HW Bush is helping with the tests NATO the ability to defend – a mission that became even more real after Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Over the past few days, F18s have flown from an aircraft carrier in southern Europe to Lithuania and Poland on the eastern edge of the alliance, near Russia, operating alongside warplanes from other allied nations as well as NATO warships and ground forces.

The commander of the carrier strike group told Sky News that his message to Russia was that his men and women were “ready for any mission”.

“We want peace — that’s what everybody wants,” Rear Admiral Dennis Velez said, speaking in a hangar aboard the ship that houses more than 70 planes, helicopters and other aircraft.

“We want war [in Ukraine] to end and restore stability to the region and have a peaceful and stable Europe, but for us, we are ready.”

Asked if that meant he was ready for war if necessary, the admiral said: “This ship, this strike group, our allies: we are ready for anything. We demonstrate this every day.”

At least two Russian warships watched from a safe distance during the action, which is part of a series of NATO operations, as well as Russian aircraft.

“We saw them,” Rear Admiral Velez said Tuesday as the carrier strike group and escort ships sailed through the Adriatic Sea off the coast of Italy.

To what was said to the Russians, he replied: “Nothing… They have the same right as us to operate in international waters, so we just follow international law and the rules of the road.”

The close deployment of Russian troops and the realization that Russian forces are embroiled in a brutal war with Ukraine, which is not part of NATO but borders members of the alliance, means that operations in Europe are no longer just another peacetime exercise for more The crew of American sailors on the aircraft carrier numbered more than 5,000 people.

“It’s a real change,” said Lt. Cordon McKenzie, 27, one of the F18 pilots on board. Her call sign is “Big Poppa”.

“Most of the time, what we do is like a practice, like a game, but you come here and you get information [intelligence] briefings and you’re doing missions with NATO allies, and that really reinforces how real the things we’re doing in the world and how important our mission set is: the presence here in the Adriatic and the fact that the U.S. is working with our NATO allies, to make sure the world knows we’re still a force to be reckoned with.”

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The statements of the “dirty bomb” are not groundless

She and her fellow pilots face the possibility of one day being ordered into air-to-air combat against the Russians if tensions rise significantly.

It’s the type of operation that American, British and other Western pilots didn’t have to think about during the long war in Afghanistan unless they were up against an opposing air force.

“It’s scary,” said Lt. McKenzie.

“It’s one of those things you just have to rely on your preparation. Without a doubt, I think the Navy pilots trained in the US are the best in the world… All we do here is train and prepare for a fight that may come, and I think when it comes down to it, a pilot to pilot, I hope we are the best man in the box.”

The aircraft carrier is taking part in a relatively new series of NATO exercises called Neptune, which – unlike long-planned, more predictable, annual exercises – allow allies to be faster, more flexible and more dynamic in how they test sea, air and land forces . possibilities.

American aircraft carrier

This is intended to improve their ability to contain Russia, a task on which allies have focused even more intensely since Vladimir Putin’s February 24 all-out invasion of Ukraine.

“We have increased our preparedness and readiness and strengthened how we work together across the alliance to prevent and protect every inch of NATO territory,” Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary general, told Sky News during a visit to the carrier.

For example, he said, it was only the third time since the end of the Cold War that a US aircraft carrier group has come under NATO command, all three of which occurred as part of the Neptune exercise last year.

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The statements of the “dirty bomb” are not groundless

After that, the head of NATO also expressed new concerns about Ukraine Russia falsely accused the Ukrainians of intending to use a radioactive “dirty bomb” on its territory. This claim could be part of a “false flag” plot by Moscow to launch such an attack and blame it on Kyiv.

Read more:
What is a “dirty bomb” and is Russia planning to blow up the dam in Novaya Kakhovka?

“Russia has accused others of what they are going to do themselves, so we need to carefully monitor what Russia is doing now. And they need to know that using a dirty bomb or a radiological bomb is a serious escalation,” Mr. Stoltenberg said.

Asked how NATO would respond to such an attack, he said: “It would be a very serious escalation.”

Allies are also worried that Vladimir Putin may even resort to a nuclear strike if his forces are defeated by the Western-backed Ukrainian military.

The head of NATO said: “The probability of any use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine remains low, at the same time the consequences are so devastating, so enormous that we must take the risk seriously.”