Navy Warships Arrive in Black Sea Before Olympics

USS Mount Whitney
USS Mount Whitney

Two Navy warships have arrived in the Black Sea conducting regional exercises and standing by to provide security assistance for the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, should it be needed.

The ships include a 620-foot command ship called the USS Mount Whitney and a 453-foot frigate, the USS Taylor, Navy officials said.

Both ships will perform routine operations in the Black Sea to establish and enhance cooperation, mutual training and interoperability with regional partner nations and allies, Navy officials said.

Based in Gaeta, Italy, the Mount Whitney is configured to carry one helicopter and is armed with .50-cal machine guns, rockets and Close-In-Weapons-Systems, or CIWS, an area weapon designed to provide close-in protection for the ship.

As a Frigate, the USS Taylor is able to conduct ship-protection missions as well as anti-submarine warfare.  The ship is based in Mayport, Fla., and equipped with six Mk 46 torpedoes, anti-ship missiles, one 76mm rapid fire gun and one CIWS.

Both ships have to ability to provide substantial assistance in the event of a crisis in Sochi where threats of terrorism have raised concerns about the safety of the games. The sailors have prepared to respond to emergency scenarios.

The ships arrived in the area by sailing through the Aegean Sea and the Sea of Marmara -- before crossing through the Bosporus Straight near Istanbul and entering the Black Sea, Navy officials said.

The Mount Whitney can transport supplies to support an emergency evacuation of 3,000 people. The ship also makes 100,000 gallons of fresh water daily and carries over one million gallons of fuel.

As a command and control ship, the Mount Whitney is the flagship vessel of the Navy's 6th Fleet. The ship has an advanced suite of communications gear and electronics, Navy officials said. It can receive, process and transmit large amounts of secure data from any point on earth through HF, UHF, VHF, SHF, and EHF communications, Navy officials said.

In March 2011, the Mount Whitney functioned as the main command vessel in the Mediterranean for the tactical commander of Operation Odyssey Dawn, Adm. Samuel Locklear. It helped enforce the no-fly zone over Libya.

Meanwhile, the 453-foot Taylor is an Oliver-Hazard Perry class Frigate built during the Cold War to challenge submarines from the former Soviet Union.

Daniel Goure, vice president of the Lexington Institute, a Va.-based think tank, said the communications assets of the USS Mount Whitney and the helicopter landing ability of both ships could provide a lily-pad type of presence in the event of crisis.

"You could deploy something off of the back of these ships if you had to operate," he added. "You also have command and control if you had to communicate with the Russian Navy and Coast Guard."

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