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Spanish warship in Norfolk to prepare to deploy with US strike group

The Álvaro de Bazán-class Spanish navy frigate ESPS Méndez Núñez pulls into Naval Station Norfolk, Va., on Jan. 14, 2019.

JEREMIAH BARTELT/U.S. NAVY

By BROCK VERGAKIS | The Virginian-Pilot | Published: January 16, 2019

NORFOLK, Va. (Tribune News Service) — A Spanish warship arrived in Virginia this week for a military exercise that will prepare the frigate to go on a deployment with a Norfolk-based carrier strike group.

The ESPS Méndez Núñez will deploy with the USS Abraham Lincoln and its escort ships later this year. The Spanish ship is in the U.S. to participate in the strike group’s composite training exercise, which tests each ship’s ability to work within a group before it is certified to go on deployment as part of a group.

Where the strike group will deploy and for how long are secret. The Navy does not discuss ship movements, although it announced last year that the Lincoln would be changing its home port to San Diego at an unspecified future date.

The U.S. recently adopted a new deployment model pioneered by the Harry S. Truman Strike Group intended to be less predictable. For about 20 years, Norfolk-based aircraft carriers typically would sail across the Atlantic and into the Mediterranean Sea on their way to the Persian Gulf and come back between seven and nine months later.

The Truman never passed through the Suez Canal, came home a few months after it left and then deployed again to participate in a large NATO exercise in the Arctic Circle.

The Lincoln Strike Group’s upcoming deployment also comes at a time the U.S. is paying closer attention to Russia and its operations in the Atlantic. The U.S. recently re-established the Norfolk-based 2nd Fleet to manage operations in the northern Atlantic, where Russia is becoming increasingly assertive. Norfolk also is home to a new NATO command that focuses on the Atlantic led by the 2nd Fleet commander.

Capt. Sean Anderson, the commodore of Destroyer Squadron 2, said his group has been working with Spain for nearly a year to get to the point where they’re nearly ready to deploy as an integrated team.

“In today’s complex and dynamic maritime environment, we have to forge and employ strong partnerships to protect our mutual interests,” Anderson said in a statement.

The Spanish ship is equipped with the Aegis weapon system and has a crew of 230 who will participate in a variety of local events while moored at Naval Station Norfolk, including a wreath-laying ceremony near Naval Medical Center Portsmouth that will pay tribute to victims of the Spanish-American war, according to ship spokesman Lt. j.g. Oscar Peña.

Other ships in the strike group the Spanish ship will be training with include the guided-missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf and the guided-missile destroyers USS Mitcher, USS Winston S. Churchill, USS Gonzalez, USS Mason and USS Nitze.

The Spanish ship is homeported in Ferrol, Spain and was commissioned in 2006.

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