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U.S. 2nd Fleet Racing Toward a 2019 Operational Capability

Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Equipment) Airman Daniel Brown verifies the weight of an EA-18G Growler, assigned to the “Rooks” of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 137, on the flight deck aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) on Nov. 8, 2018. US Navy Photo

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The leader of the Navy’s newest numbered fleet has a tight deadline to establish a command that will be at the forefront of the U.S. and NATO mission to counter Russia’s growing and increasingly sophisticated navy – specifically its submarine force.

By next year, U.S. 2nd Fleet Commander Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis aims to be staffed and ready to command and control naval forces able to operate on the high-end of warfare with a focus on Russia, he said on Wednesday. Hand in hand, Lewis has also assumed the command of the newly established NATO Joint Force Command for the Atlantic that will report to the NATO Supreme Allied Commander.

“We’re driving the team to reach full operational capability [for 2nd Fleet] in 2019, with Joint Force Command to follow closely behind,” Lewis said at an event cohosted by the U.S. Naval Institute and the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Wednesday.

Pushing the effort is a wider Pentagon recognition that the U.S. must prepare for great power competition with adversaries like China and Russia.

“For the last few decades our focus has been pulled away to regional threats in the Middle East,” Lewis said.
“Under our former model, we weren’t poised to best compete in that space.”

The new model will have the reestablished 2nd Fleet operate both as the Atlantic operational naval arm of U.S. Northern Command – for training and operations like disaster relief – and work along with U.S. 6th Fleet as the operational arm for U.S. European Command.

In the new construct, the command will focus on operations in the North Atlantic and the Arctic in an effort to renew a dormant capability for the U.S. Navy to operate in the High North, Lewis said. However, Lewis said that Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson’s intent for the command was less about geographical boundaries and more about providing reliable command and control to naval forces in the European and Atlantic theaters.

“The imperative that standing up 2nd Fleet and doing things differently in that regard by CNO has been that we have to erase those seams that aren’t natural geographic seams, otherwise seams are where adversaries can take advantage. Where we have seams is where we have vulnerabilities,” he told USNI News following the event.
“We’ve drawn lines in the ocean that don’t exist. Last I looked there are no fences out there.”

Lewis painted a hypothetical situation where the three-star 6th Fleet commander would have command and control of a force in the Baltic responding to an unspecified threat, while 2nd Fleet would command a force in response to a separate threat in the Mediterranean. Both would report to the four-star U.S. Naval Forces Europe/Africa commander.

The construct is similar to the Pacific “3rd Fleet Forward” idea that was established by now-retired commander Adm. Scott Swift in which the San Diego-based U.S. 3rd Fleet could command and control a naval force providing general presence in the Pacific while the Western Pacific-based 7th Fleet was handling a specific threat – all under the command of the U.S. Pacific Fleet commander.

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

“Conceptually, it’s the exact same thing,” Lewis said.

While the geographic boundaries of the command are fluid, a major focus for 2nd Fleet is a line of command and control from Norfolk, past the Greenland-Iceland-U.K. gap and into the Arctic and Barents Seas to support a theater anti-submarine warfare mission, Rear Adm. Doug Perry, director of joint and fleet operations at Fleet Forces Command said earlier this month.

“The Russian undersea threat is real, and they’re very competent and operationally capable,” Lewis said.

In addition to the undersea threat, Lewis acknowledged Moscow’s skill in so-called gray zone and hybrid warfare operations that impose a cost on adversaries but don’t rise to the level of a declared conflict.

“They operate in that space pretty well,” Lewis said. “Heretofore, we’ve been pretty reactive rather than proactive. What we’re doing and what the National Defense Strategy is really driving us toward is developing a way of operating in which we can be operationally unpredictable to our competitors while being strategically predictable to ourselves and our allies.”

Lewis cited the experimental deployment of the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group to the North Atlantic as an example of how the Navy was trying to keep Russian planners on their toes.

“Operationally, the Russians didn’t know where they were going so as to impose cost,” he said.

The Royal Norwegian Navy Fridtjof Nansen-class frigate HNoMS Thor Heyerdahl (F 314), left, pulls alongside the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) for a replenishment-at-sea in the Norwegian Sea on Oct. 26, 2018. US Navy photo.

The Truman CSG deployment and participation in the Trident Juncture 2018 exercise were also an opportunity to get the Navy used to operating in an environment more challenging than the Middle East: north of the Arctic Circle.

“We haven’t been operating up there in a long, long time. We were operating in the Persian Gulf where it’s like a lake and it’s really hot,” he said.
“Now we’re operating up off the coast of Norway where it’s blowing a gale, the decks are moving around, the ships were getting beat up and the people are getting beat up. We’re not used to being out on the flight deck for long periods of time when it’s really cold. Overall, we did pretty well, but we could do to better.”

  • Marcd30319

    While I am remain mildly skeptical of the effectivity of the so-called “3rd Fleet Forward” concept, this split command arrangement may work well against the Russians by creating an element of uncertainty for them while providing a de facto multiplier effect for our forces.

    While not going back to the old Striking Fleet Atlantic of the Cold War era, the fact that the Second Fleet commander is also head of the new NATO Joint Forces Command Norfolk is the right move.

    • Ed L

      southern Atlantic and pacific oceans around South America belongs to 4th Fleet under the US Southern Command. Africa under TF60

      • Marcd30319

        I’m sure Second Fleet command relations with the Sixth and Fourth fleets will be worked out.

        • Ed L

          Roger that. And maybe retra will go back to Gitmo

  • Curtis Conway

    Once again the 2nd Fleet many knew and loved, which in the day was the core and center of the Surface Warfare Community in so many ways, will be back to take on the mission in the Atlantic . . . once again…

  • East Bound & Down

    Doing away with the 2nd Fleet was a great idea after the end of the cold war (the Peace Dividend) and the determination that we will never again have to worry about anyone….ever! Thanks Bush #1, Clinton, Bush #2 and Obama! What a bunch of brilliant statesmen!

    • Marcd30319

      The U.S. Second Fleet was disestablished effective 30 September 2011, which occurred during the Obama administration, a fact easily verified by a Google search.

      • East Bound & Down

        Who set the tempo to take advantage of the “Peace Dividend”?

        The major-league cuts began with Bush #1 and continued with his three successors.

        • Marcd30319

          Your specific comment dealt with the disestablishment of the U.S. Second Fleet in 2010 during the Obama administration, and my response reflected that.

  • Ed L

    Strike Force Atlantic arriving. Surface Force Atlantic arriving, Amphibious Forces Atlantic arriving, etc,

  • DemocracyRules

    “Great Power” talk is silly-talk
    – Russia is NOT a “great power” anymore
    – 1 Ruble = 1.6 cents [and still sinking]
    – US mil budget = approx $700 billion
    – Russia mil budget = approx $60 billion
    – Russia GDP = S. Korea GDP
    – China is a much more real threat
    – but it is extremely poor, with low income/person [pop= 1.4 billion]
    – and the US seldom acts alone
    – so the smaller collateral nations [UK, Canada, Australia, NATO, etc.]
    – make all the difference
    – and none but the US is a stand-alone “Great Power”

  • Let 6th Fleet deal with the African region. 2nd Fleet whole of the Atlantic and Mediterranean.

    • Marcd30319

      I think the intent is that the Second Fleet will concentrate on the Atlantic region and the Sixth on the Med.

  • Sharkey

    Don’t sell the Russian sub fleet short. They are very capable and dangerous. With their 200 mph torpedos they can send a nuke into a fleet or an American port in minutes. Just that threat alone means we can’t ignore or minimize them. China is also rapidly growing into an underwater fleet must also stay on top of.
    Their “claim” to all of the South China Sea, while invalid internationally is still a large threat to international shipping. Shutting it down could destroy both European and Western economies almost overnight.