WASHINGTON (AP) — The top US military commander for the Middle East boarded a US ballistic missile submarine in the Arabian Sea on Wednesday, a rare move that highlighted US nuclear submarine capabilities during tense times with Iran and Russia.
Gene. Erik Kurilla was taken to the USS West Virginia and boarded for approximately eight hours when the submarine surfaced at an undisclosed location in international waters in the sea.
The West Virginia is one of the Navy’s Ohio-class submarines, also known as boomers. They are insidious and, as part of America’s nuclear triad, can launch nuclear missile attacks and are considered an important strategic deterrent. The US rarely advertises the location of its nuclear-powered submarines and does not often allow them to patrol the Middle East.
In a statement Wednesday, the US Central Command said Kurilla met with Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, the commander of the US Navy’s 5th Fleet, on the submarine. It said Kurilla also received a “practical demonstration of the ship’s capabilities.”
“These submarines are the crown jewel of the nuclear triad, and the West Virginia demonstrates the flexibility, survivability, readiness and capability” of US forces at sea, Kurilla said in the statement.
The unusual visit of a submarine by a Central Command leader comes after Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened to use nuclear weapons as his troops lose ground in the war in Ukraine. And Iran — which is in the Central Command region — has become more involved in the war, supplying waves of drones that Russia has used to attack targets in Ukraine, including power plants, residential buildings and other key infrastructure.
Central Command leaders have frequently visited US Navy ships in Middle Eastern waters, including huge aircraft carriers routinely sent to the region as a deterrent to Iran. Since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ended, the navy has not had a frequent presence in the region.
Kurilla’s submarine journey also came as NATO began its long-planned annual nuclear exercises in northwestern Europe. Fourteen of NATO’s 30 member states would participate in the exercises, which are held around the same time each year and last about a week.
The exercises involve fighter jets that can carry nuclear warheads, but do not involve live bombs. American long-range B-52 bombers take part in the maneuvers.
Russia usually holds similar nuclear weapons exercises this month, and they are expected to begin shortly.
The Ohio-class submarines are equipped with Trident II D-5 missiles. Divided between bases in Bangor, Washington, and King’s Bay, Georgia, the U.S. submarine fleet represents one leg of the U.S. nuclear “triad,” along with the Air Force’s long-range B-2 and B-52 bombers and land-based Minuteman 3 missiles.
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