NAVAL STATION ROTA, Spain — When the USS Enterprise carrier strike group left its home port earlier this year, one ship stood out like an orange in a barrel of apples.

The ship was the Argentine destroyer Sarandi, the first non-NATO navy vessel to join a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group on a deployment.

This week, crew members wrapped up a seven-month tour with the group and stopped in Rota on Wednesday before heading back to Argentina.

The trip broke new ground for the U.S. Navy and could pave the way for more countries joining American carrier strike groups.

Adm. Gregory Johnson, commander of U.S. Naval forces in Europe, told Argentine petty officers during a visit on Wednesday that he would like to see every U.S. carrier group leave with a foreign-flagged ship on deployments. He said the threats of the 21st century call for navies from across the globe to work together.

“No nation can do it by themselves,” said Johnson, who also is the commander in chief of Allied Forces Southern Europe. “And so I think the Argentine navy has set the example here.”

The Navy deemed the Sarandi’s trip so important it paid for it. From the food to the fuel, the U.S. military picked up the bill. That included additional spare parts, equipment and a new computer network.

For a country with a fleet of only about 30 combatant ships, it would be impossible to work in a U.S. Navy battle group without some help, said Cmdr. Julio Alberto Graf, Sarandi’s commanding officer. Because U.S. warships are so reliant on computers, the ship needed an upgrade.

“It’s very difficult for a navy like ours, which is a small navy, to conduct this kind of operation without support,” he said.

Although military officers for both countries did not know the exact cost of the deployment, the amount is substantial. For example, the Sarandi used about 10,000 cubic meters of fuel during the entire evolution at a cost of an estimated $3 million, Graf said.

But, he added, the money is worth it.

Ships from NATO-member countries have worked with the United States for years. But non-alliance members have never immersed themselves into a U.S. battle group like the Argentine destroyer.

“Interoperability is the whole issue here,” Graf said. “So as long as the United States Navy works with our Navy, we will understand each other and we will be able to work with the rest of the navies. That’s the purpose of all this.”

Other countries have taken notice and are inquiring about embarking on similar missions with carrier groups, Johnson said. He did not say which countries are interested. While including other navies in the groups would build relations between the nations, it also could free up U.S. ships for other missions.

“I think more and more navies will work together,” Johnson told Argentine sailors during his stop in Rota. “There are other navies that are talking to us also about doing the exact same thing as you did on this deployment.

“In fact, I hope in the future, every battle group that deploys will have a guest partner, some other nation that wants to join us. Because the kind of threats that we face in the 21st century are going to require collective action by those who care deeply about democracy.”

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