As the war between Russia and Ukraine rages on, rearranging the security priorities and alignments of Europe and NATO for the first time in decades, the Navy will grow its destroyer fleet at Naval Station Rota, Spain, from four to six warships, the White House announced Tuesday.
But officials with the Italy-based U.S. 6th Fleet told Navy Times that those additional warships won’t arrive in Rota until at least fiscal year 2024. Those two additional destroyers have not yet been named.
White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters that the ships “will help increase the United States’ and NATO’s maritime presence and all the relevant maritime domains in the Euro-Atlantic area.”
The ballistic missile defense destroyers Ross, Roosevelt, Arleigh Burke and Porter are already stationed in Rota.
Fellow destroyer Paul Ignatius completed a homeport swap from Mayport, Florida, to Rota to replace one of those four ships earlier this month. However, the Navy has not yet announced which of the four ships Paul Ignatius is replacing as part of the standard rotation schedule.
Before the war in Ukraine started, the Navy sortied four additional East Coast destroyers to 6th Fleet, although officials at the time insisted they were not sent out in response to Russian aggression.
The beefing-up of ships at Rota is one part of an overall U.S. military increase in Europe announced by President Joe Biden this week during a NATO summit in Madrid, the most significant bolstering of U.S. forces there since the Cold War.
The Army’s V Corps forward command post will be permanently based in Poland, and two F-35 fighter jet squadrons will be stationed in the United Kingdom, while more air defense and other capabilities will be stood up in Germany and Italy.
Biden said the V Corps move to Poland would strengthen U.S.-NATO interoperability across the alliance’s east. It is the first permanent basing of U.S. troops in that country. Biden added that the U.S. will also step up rotational deployments to Romania and the Baltic region.
U.S. officials emphasized that the permanent basing applied only to headquarters units, not combat troops, and was therefore consistent with a 1997 agreement between NATO and Russia in which the alliance agreed not to permanently base combat troops in Eastern Europe as it aimed to build more constructive ties in the post-Cold War environment.
The U.S. currently has more than 100,000 servicemembers deployed across Europe, up by about 20,000 since just before Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine began four months ago.
Biden predicted that meetings this week would add up to a “history-making summit” as leaders were set to approve a new strategic framework, announce a range of steps to boost their defense spending and capabilities, and clear the way for historically neutral Finland and Sweden to join NATO.
Biden said Putin thought NATO members would splinter after he invaded Ukraine, but got the opposite response instead.
“Putin was looking for the Finland-ization of Europe,” Biden said. “You’re gonna get the NATO-ization of Europe. And that’s exactly what he didn’t want, but exactly what needs to be done to guarantee security for Europe.”
Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.