Turkish observers spotted the Porter sailing through the Bosporus on Monday, the first US Navy ship to enter the Black Sea this year.
The Arleigh Burke-class destroyer will “conduct routine operations during a routine deployment,” the US Sixth Fleet said in a statement, adding that “US vessels routinely operate in the Black Sea region to promote peace and stability.”
The Sixth Fleet is the US Navy’s command for Europe and Africa, with the headquarters in Naples, Italy. The Porter, along with three sister ships of the same class, is based out of Rota, Spain.
While the Sixth Fleet said Porter’s cruiseis “meant to enhance maritime security and stability, readiness, and naval capability with our allies and partners,” the ship’s deployment is part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, NATO’s ongoing saber-rattling effort along the Russian borders. One of the Porter’s ports of call will be Odessa in Ukraine.
In March, the destroyer was the first Navy ship to test the new SeaRAM missile defense system, urgently developed by weapons manufacturer Raytheon to counter “a new Russian threat,” according to the US Naval Institute. The SeaRAM launchers replaced Phalanx point-defense mounts, and was clearly visible as the Porter sailed through the Bosporus Monday morning.
DDG-78 and her three system ships were deployed to Spain as part of the US missile defense program, to complement ground stations in Eastern Europe. The ground interceptor station in Deveselu, Romania, came online on May 12. While the US insists the missile shield is aimed against Iran and not Russia, Moscow remains skeptical.
The Porter took part in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, launching Tomahawk cruise missiles into the country. A decade later, it was equipped with RIM-161 Standard Missile interceptors, becoming part of the Aegis missile defense system. At that point it was assigned a permanent berth in Spain as part of the Sixth Fleet.
As the US does not border the Black Sea, the Porter’s stay in the area will be limited to no longer than 21 days, under the terms of the 1936 Montreux Convention regulating the transit of warships through the twin straits controlled by Turkey.
US Navy warships have been rotating in and out of the Black Sea since 2014, when Ukraine plunged into turmoil following the ousting of President Victor Yanukovich. The last USN ship to visit the region was the USS Donald Cook in 2015.