A flight director on the US Navy aircraft carrier gestures toward the jet, giving the go-ahead for a catapult-like system to launch the plane toward the edge of a seemingly impossibly short runway.
Within seconds he is in the air and almost out of sight.
This complex process is one that the pilots and crew of this Nimitz-class aircraft carrier – an emblem of American military power – repeat over and over again, with astonishing precision. And they do so unfazed by the circumstances of their presence in the Adriatic Sea as tensions between the United States and Russia reach a fever pitch.
It is the first time since the end of the Cold War that a carrier battle group, which includes the Truman and five other escorting ships (plus at least one or two submarines whose presence is never publicly acknowledged ) is under NATO command.
“This is my first time working with NATO on an aircraft carrier,” said F/A-18 fighter pilot Lt. Cmdr. Alex Tidei told CNN.
“It’s the first time for many of our riders – so it’s been a great experience,” he added, seemingly oblivious to the tensions surrounding him.
The Truman – which carries 90 planes on board, including a fleet of F/A-18s – was en route to the Middle East in mid-December, but the Pentagon decided to keep it in Europe as tensions began to escalate. ascend.
Rear Admiral Curt Renshaw, commander of Strike Group Eight, of which Truman is a part, told CNN: “I think this sends the message to allies that they can count on us. We are committed to our alliances or partnerships – we are able to run, plug and play anywhere in the world.”
With the Truman close to European shores, its jets can reach most of Eastern Europe in less than an hour, and its presence in the region gives NATO members like Bulgaria, Romania and Poland additional security guarantees.
While US President Joe Biden has said the US will not intervene militarily but instead impose economic sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine further, he has decided to build up its deterrent capabilities in Europe.
On Wednesday, the Pentagon approved the deployment of additional troops to NATO’s eastern flank.
“It’s totally consistent with what I said (to Russian President Vladimir) Putin at the beginning,” Biden told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins on Wednesday.
“As long as he acts aggressively, we will make sure to reassure our NATO allies and Eastern Europe (that) we are here and that Article V is a sacred obligation,” he said. Biden, referring to the cornerstone of the NATO alliance: An attack on one ally is considered an attack on all.
And that’s what Truman’s exercises prepare for.
“What we bring to strategic decision-makers is that we’re able to execute absolutely perfectly, we’re able to integrate with partners,” Renshaw said, adding, “If at the tactical level we’re on our game, then that allows for the options that I think senior decision makers need to do.”
The Truman has just completed a two-week exercise with NATO allies in the Adriatic Sea, alongside Norwegian and Turkish warships, additional ships and aircraft from other NATO member states.
According to the alliance, thousands of NATO forces participated in the exercise.
Lt Cmdr. Jeannette Lazzaro, who flies the US Navy’s E-2 Hawkeye – an early warning aircraft that plays a key role in coordinating with NATO allies – told CNN she was not concerned about rising tensions between the United States and Russia.
Still, she thinks the drills are important to make sure the US and NATO are “all working together.”
“If we ever have to do anything, we’re all on the same page,” she said.