The USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier strike group and NATO allies will launch a major military exercise in the Mediterranean Sea on Monday as concerns surge over Russia's massing of forces and looming invasion of Ukraine.
The exercise, which has been planned since 2020, will include multiple nations and demonstrate that the trans-Atlantic alliance is "united, capable and strong," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Friday.
The announcement comes as those bonds may be tested. President Joe Biden raised doubts Wednesday about the U.S. and NATO countries being unified in response to Russian aggression in Ukraine.
"I think what you're going to see is that Russia will be held accountable if it invades," Biden said during a press conference. "And it depends on what it does. It's one thing if it's a minor incursion and then we end up having a fight about what to do and not do, et cetera."
The "minor incursion" comment sparked a concerned response from the Ukrainians and fueled criticism that Biden was giving Putin an opening to invade -- or at least running the risk of causing a miscalculation among nations at the brink of conflict.
As a show of alliance unity, the Truman strike group will sail under NATO control as the centerpiece of Neptune Strike '22. It includes a carrier air wing with nine squadrons, four guided missile destroyers, and a Ticonderoga-class cruiser that has been in the Mediterranean on a routine deployment.
Vice Adm. Gene Black, commander of the Navy 6th Fleet based in Naples, Italy, will be in command of the carrier. He has a "dual-hatted" role as the commander of Striking and Support Forces NATO.
Several NATO allies will participate in the coordinated maritime maneuvers, anti-submarine warfare training and long-range strike training, according to Kirby, who did not name the other nations and referred questions to the alliance.
"As we conduct large-scale exercises, some people participate in some sections of it and not others based on their own operational demands and schedules, as well as the capabilities that they're trying to improve," Kirby said.
The exercise to show NATO solidarity will start as Russia is ready "at any moment" to launch an invasion of Ukraine, a former part of the Soviet Union, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said earlier this week.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has demanded guarantees that Ukraine will not be admitted to NATO as he amassed about 100,000 troops near Russia's border with the country in recent months.
Biden warned Wednesday that Russia would pay a "serious and dear price" for an invasion through sanctions imposed by the U.S. and other nations in the alliance. His administration hasn't proposed using military force to expel the Russians if Putin gives the invasion a green light.
"We've had very frank discussions, Vladimir Putin and I, and the idea that NATO is not going to be united, I don't buy," the president said during a marathon press conference at the White House.
Psaki sought to clarify the president's earlier comments that suggested a limited invasion could cause disagreements among allies.
"If any Russian military forces move across the Ukrainian border, that's a renewed invasion, and it will be met with a swift, severe, and united response from the United States and our allies," she said in a released statement.
-- Travis Tritten can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Tritten.