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2nd Fleet Functions, AOR Still Being Determined, But Will Support Cross-Atlantic Theater ASW

The official crest for the re-establishment of Commander, U.S. 2nd Fleet. US Navy Image

This post has been updated to include a statement from U.S. 2nd Fleet.

ARLINGTON, Va. – The Navy has not yet worked out all the details of how the new U.S. 2nd Fleet will pass control of forces to and from U.S. 6th Fleet in Europe, but a U.S. Fleet Forces Command director is confident the Navy will be able to conduct seamless theater anti-submarine warfare throughout the entire Atlantic.

2nd Fleet Commander Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis still only has about a dozen people on his staff and is still in the process of finalizing the numbered fleet command’s missions, tasks and functions, according to Rear Adm. Doug Perry, director of joint and fleet operations at Fleet Forces Command. 2nd Fleet is gearing up to reach initial operational capability in the spring and full operational capability about a year from now, Perry said while speaking at the Naval Submarine League’s annual symposium last week.

Though much is still to be decided, he said 2nd Fleet was resurrected this year because the Navy needed a commander to direct sustained combat operations in the Atlantic. Perry made clear that the standup sends the message that “we understand we are in a battle for the Atlantic, and we will contest it.”

Lewis told USNI News today, “For the last several months my team has spent a considerable amount of time conducting mission analysis in order to build a new C2F that is fit for its time. The 2nd Fleet staff is lean, agile, and most importantly, operationally focused. We have the opportunity to build this command with purpose, and that is what we will do.”

Asked during a question and answer session how 2nd Fleet and 6th Fleet would work together, Perry said that was all yet to be decided. Technically, U.S. Northern Command and U.S. European Command – the joint commands that own 2nd Fleet and 6th Fleet, respectively – are divided at the 45 West line of longitude, which hits Greenland around its southernmost point.

Though NORTHCOM owns the forces west of that line and EUCOM owns forces east of that line, “what they don’t restrict – and we have proven this over the last several years, I can’t go into all the details – but we have proven through demonstrating our ability to execute theater ASW execution orders and task orders that we can operate our forces across 45 West. We can shift (tactical control) of forces, (operational control) of forces, force flow from NORTHCOM under service authority, U.S. Fleet Forces Command under service authority, to the European theater,” Perry said.
“We can do that and have the right operational commander in control of an anti-submarine warfare asset – whether that’s a P-8 Poseidon, a submarine or a destroyer. So the 45 West line does not impede us getting the mission done” today and would not impede that under the new 2nd Fleet/6th Fleet construct.

Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, commander of U.S. 2nd Fleet, speaks to Sailors on the bridge aboard the guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy (CG-60) on Sept. 10, 2018. US Navy Photo

Creating an interesting dynamic to work through is that Lewis is double-hatted in his job. He will command 2nd Fleet, putting him on par with Vice Adm. Lisa Franchetti as a numbered fleet commander. But Lewis will also command Joint Force Command Norfolk, putting him on par with Franchetti’s boss, Adm. James Foggo, who commands all U.S. naval forces in Europe as well as JFC Naples in Italy.

Though it is still unclear who will command what forces in what locations under what circumstances, Perry said it was vital that naval leaders on both sides of the Atlantic are on the same page about providing high-end training that corresponds to potential high-end conflict.

“Great power competition today at the tactical level really means that every submarine that submerges, every destroyer that leaves the pier, every F-18 that launches off of a carrier – even the reconnaissance aircraft that flies out of Keflavik (Iceland) or out of the U.K. – they can expect and plan to have an encounter with a Russian or a Chinese equivalent aircraft or ship or submarine. … So we must prepare our crews on a daily basis to that high-end fight,” Perry said. The high-end live and virtual training taking place in the Western Atlantic prepares forces to deploy to the Eastern Atlantic, “so that when that 22-year-old Hornet pilot encounters that SU-27 Flanker or whatever other platform, he doesn’t flinch. Because if he flinches, our adversaries will know where our weak points are.”

  • Ed L

    How about from the Southern Point of Greenland going south till you meet the Mid Atlantic Ridge near 55 north then when the Ridge ends then continuing south to Shackleton Base in the Antarctic. 6th Fleet and Africom can cover the east of the ridge including the Denmark Strait. Also 6th Fleet can also deal with the Russian Project 23550 icebreakers which will include the ability to deploy missile weapons…The Kalibr-NK [cruise missile] system’s launch containers can be placed comfortably on the ship behind the helicopter landing pad

    • Lazarus

      And all the way into the Barents Sea. Sink Russian subs there or in the Norwegian Sea before they ever get near the Atlantic.

      • Ed L

        Consult a chart

        • Lazarus

          What for? The real battleground is the high north and not the Atlantic.

          • the_artist_formerly_known_as_m

            Doubtful Laz. The fight is and will be in the Atlantic. Just as it was in the last Cold War.

            Russia views it’s submarines as strategic / power projection assets. The addition of KALIBR missiles arguably makes them much like our SSNs with TLAMs.

            It seems illogical that Russia would leave their submarines bottled up in the north. Keeping SSNs at sea in the Atlantic makes them very hard to find, and allows the space to maneuver and strike when needed.

          • Ed L

            a couple of AIP submarines could raise a lot of havoc in the Atlantic. Especially with today’s Torpedos. Shoot one, then slink away and hide for a while. Then do it again. Thus getting all targets to gather to an area and then let the Nuclear Power Subs Launch Missiles have a field day.

      • the_artist_formerly_known_as_m

        The problem is that Russian subs are (presumably) already deploying into the Atlantic.

        Theater ASW is largely a phase 0/1 game. Success requires maintaining track on adversary subs wherever they go.

  • Curtis Conway

    2nd Fleet and 6th Fleet relationship is starting to look like the 3rd Fleet and 7th Fleet relationship. They ought to have a conference.

    • SDW

      I hope that there is no trend to return to the 2-Ocean Navy of the past where entire squadrons would follow procedures unique to the Pacific or the Atlantic and a transfer between them meant re-learning (after un-learning) so much of what you had been doing for years.

      • Duane

        That was one of the key recommendations from the Naval and third party investigations of the ship collisions last year … the “Inouye Amendment” was fingered as setting up separate standards for the 7th fleet from the rest of the Navy, and the recommendation was to get rid of the amendment and go to a single Navy wide standard of operations. I believe that the Inouye Amendment was discarded in the NDAA this year.

      • Curtis Conway

        Using the same combat systems under the same regulations and concept of operations, and with technology changing so fast . . . just like SWO qualifications, we better be adhering to standards. We cannot afford to be doing different things in different theaters that is not driven by operational necessity. We are much more Joint today than ever before, so standards are even more important. That is what Joint and Allied Exercises is all about. The example of ‘7th Fleet going their own way’ simply will not do today. We have seen where that ended up with two tragic accidents in the Pacific.

        In the Pacific the advent of Expeditionary Transfer Dock (ESD) / Expeditionary Sea Base (ESB), formerly known as the Mobile Landing Platform (MLP) / Afloat Forward Staging Base (AFSB) will provide the advantage we require. IMHO they have not gone far enough with Expeditionary Basing with should include more air support via the aforementioned V-22 Tanker, F-35B support, and an EV-22 AEW&C aircraft which does not yet exist.

  • b2

    I can relay from personal experience that during the early 1990’s until termination C2F ( a 3-star then as now..) had a flagship for staff use, the USS MTW; led and conducted the varsity level JTFEXercises for deploying Battlegroups and MEU/SOCs, conducted combat/humanitarian operations in their AOR for places like Cuba, Haiti and Grenada for the US Navy for the regional Combatant Commander. This was what was once called the “operational level of war”- C2F/18ABC/8AF/MARDIV …

    In addition, C2F was also “Striking Fleet Atlantic” for all of NATO.. That includes all that recent blather discussions/exercise about NATO GIUP gap ops, ASW, etc…

    What they need has been established before..dont let them shine you on…All these leader geniuses of today have to do is just ask us older warriors, what is needed..but they never do, being so much smarter… Nor do they go back and really read about how things were conducted back when the US Navy was clearly “numero uno”. As an article I recently read, there are more Flag/general officers on AD that ever before yet our Navy is 1/3 the size it was back when C2F was in business before….Chew on that fact. Are we certain this is not just another job program for Flags?

    Staffs are cheap compared to real HW- CVNs, CG/DDgs, SSNs and purpose-built naval carrier strike aircraft, etc.

  • Duane

    Are we really seeing significant numbers of Chinese aircraft and vessels in the north Atlantic? I haven’t seen any news reports to that effect.

    A Chinese nuclear submarine can go through the Bering Strait to the Arctic then to the north Atlantic … but we would certainly know it from our underwater sensor network, as the Bering Strait is extremely narrow and shallow and passes US land and waters, and can be transited only in the warm season months. Otherwise it is an extremely long round trip through the Indian Ocean round the Cape of Good Hope then much longer still to the north Atlantic.

    Aircraft – again, Chinese aircraft can only get to the Atlantic via the Arctic which means crossing Siberia, which the Russians are not going to let them do. People mistakenly think that Russia and China are allies – they are ancient enemies, and only temporarily not engaged in war with each other.

    • El_Sid

      Last year China sent three ships including an 052D through the North Sea for exercises with Russia in the Baltic, having sent one the year before. Also happened to coincide with QNLZ trials…

      • Duane

        Yes, of course, any ship can sail to any of the world’s oceans … but that is not the same as maintaining a continuous presence, which is what I asked about. It is entirely impractical for Chinese to deploy on a continuous basis tens of thousands of miles from home, without the benefit of any forward basing to support their operations.

        The only Chinese forward naval operating base outside of China itself today is in Bahrain on the Red Sea. A base that just a few miles from our own operating base in Bahrain, so it’s not exactly a secure location in event of a war, and it is located in very constricted waterways so that any warships operating from there are easily targeted and destroyed by US or allied forces that literally surround it on all sides.

        • El_Sid

          You asked “Are we really seeing significant numbers of Chinese aircraft and vessels in the north Atlantic?” You didn’t mention “continuous presence”.

          Look, they’re taking baby steps – the year before they sent just 1 ship to the Baltic. At some point within the next 10 years no doubt they will do their equivalent of the Great White Fleet. They’re starting from a very different place to where the US is today – but even the US had to start somewhere.

          “in Bahrain on the Red Sea”

          That’s interesting, I never knew Bahrain was on the Red Sea. I suspect you’re thinking of Djibouti? They also have commercial ports in places like Gwadar and Hambantota that could easily be turned into military facilities should they choose to.

  • Chesapeakeguy

    Well, if it’s all about who controls what, and where, and the hope is to avoid bureaucratic foul ups that might impede missions and the like, why not make 2nd Fleet responsible for ALL of the actual Atlantic, and let 6th Fleet deal with the Med? If any aspect of the 6th Fleet has to sail forth and perform missions in the Atlantic and/or waters that abut the European landmass that are not part of the Med, how about they automatically come under the ‘jurisdiction’ and direction of the 2nd Fleet? Let Gibraltar be the ‘dividing line’.