Wired describes the allied flottila closing on Georgian coast, including a DDG, an SSN, the command ship USS Mount Whitney (“onsidered by some to be the most sophisticated Command, Control, Communications, Computer, and Intelligence (C4I) ship ever commissioned”) and the Coast Guard cutter USCGC Dallas. Wired describes the naval force:
“The vanguard includes the Burke-class destroyer McFaul (pictured)and the armed Coast Guard cutter Dallas. (Another Dallas, a nuclear submarine, is also in the area.) Trailing behind is the command ship Mount Whitney with, reportedly, Polish and Canadian frigates as escorts.”
The Coast Guard cutter USCGC Dallas? The Dallas was headed for the Black Sea in May, before the Georgian crisis broke out. And although the facts have been little reported, the Coast Guard deployed 8 vessels to the Persian Gulf in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The reason for the deployment is that the Coast Guard does certain things better than the Navy, like work inshore.
On 29 January 2003, General Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, was asked, “The Coast Guard announced today [it is] sending eight cutters, 600 people, to the Persian Gulf, which I understand is the first time they have been dispatched to a combat zone since the Vietnam War. What’s the thinking behind that, and what’s their mission going to be?” General Myers answered, “For the Coast Guard, primarily for port and harbor and waterway security. That’s what they do best.”
The allied naval flotilla now in the area is a blue-water force and may in certain respects be superior to the Russian Black Sea Fleet, whose flagship the cruiser Moskva was reported damaged in combat by the Georgian navy. A Burke-class destroyer is considerably more powerful than anything the Georgian Navy could have deployed. While it is extremely unlikely that any actual naval confrontation will occur (Cold War Rule Number 1) there could be a return to Cold War era harassments between the two forces. At any rate, the Russians have sought to impede the ships not by naval means, but by denying the ships access to the land. The AP reported: “Around Georgia’s main Black Sea port city of Poti — outside any security zone — signs seemed to point to a prolonged presence. Russian troops excavated trenches, set up mortars and blocked a key bridge with armored personnel carriers and trucks. Other armored vehicles and trucks parked in a nearby forest.”
But the game can be played both ways. Since the port is technically Georgian, one wonders whether Russian supply ships would be allowed to dock there without permission from Tbilisi. In the end, neither side might have the port. And the presence of a possibly superior US naval force in the Black Sea, which carries a third of Russian seaborne commerce can only be disquieting to Moscow. Especially if the current naval force is only a harbinger of more to come. As previous posts have noted, the Georgian crisis will essentially be a Naval and Air game. OIF, while it soaked up the ground forces, actually liberated US Naval Forces from having to blockade the Gulf, spared the USAF from having to enforce a No-Fly Zone and gave them bases within flying range of the Black Sea.
The arrival of the USS Mount Whitney is interesting because it implies that the “relief operation” might get much larger. By exploiting the fear generated by the Russian incursion into Georgia, the USN may position a presence in the Black Sea than heretofore, something Russia probably doesn’t want. But how will they stop it without directly confronting the US? Maybe they should consider cashing in their chips and remove their forces from Georgia proper. Moscow has made its point but to carry things further may no longer be to Russia’s advantage.