The commander of the newly reestablished 2nd Fleet said he expects the staff to become fully operational by early next year and said the Russian undersea threat in the Atlantic is a real one.
Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Nov. 28, Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis said he expects his staff of 80 persons to reach full operational capability by January 2019. Lewis plans to keep the staff “lean and agile” as it begins working from Naval Support Activity Hampton Roads.
However, Lewis said he is looking for options for both permanent and expeditionary spaces allowing both mobility and flexibility. This could include a combination of facilities at Naval Station Norfolk and options for a command ship procured via Military Sealift Command.
Lewis underscored with a smaller staff that is also expeditionary, “a small number of our team will operate forward either from a ship or an austere location as a command-and-control element with reach-back capability to our home guard.”
Before the previous iteration of 2nd Fleet was disestablished in 2011 favor of U.S. Fleet Forces, its flagship was the USS Mount Whitney (LCC-20), which currently serves as the flagship of the 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean Sea.
Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. John Richardson reestablished the 2nd Fleet on the recommendation from the Secretary of the Navy’s Strategic Readiness Review, which suggested restarting the command as an operational and testing division under Fleet Forces. The official reestablishment occurred on Aug. 24 in Norfolk, Va. (Defense Daily, Aug. 24).
The CNO announced the return of 2nd Fleet in May (Defense Daily, May 7) and Lewis was nominated to lead it in June (Defense Daily, June 12).
Lewis concurrently assumed command of the newly established NATO Joint Force Command for the Atlantic, which will report to the NATO Supreme Allied Commander.
“We’re driving the [2nd Fleet] team to reach full operational capability in 2019, with Joint Force Command to follow closely behind,” Lewis said.
He said 2nd Fleet will operate as the Atlantic Naval operational arm of U.S. Northern Command for things like training and disaster relief while also working with the 6th Fleet as part of the operational arm for U.S. European Command.
His team will focus on intelligence, operations, planning, training, and logistics while otherwise letting Fleet Forces command oversee the “higher headquarters housekeeping functions.”
Lewis said he expects the 2nd Fleet to have a fusion of operational and intelligence analysis, akin to 5th Fleet but admitted “we’ve got a lot of work to do” on domain awareness.
To help on awareness, Lewis said he has had to learn about the service’s blind spots in the 2nd Fleet region, particularly the Arctic. He cited conversations with officials from the U.S. Coast Guard, Canada, Norway, and others as well as plans to add military members from allied nations with special knowledge of the region.
Lewis said the fleet activities will include renewing American operations in the North Atlantic and Arctic, underscoring the threat from Russia.
“Let’s be frank, the Russian undersea threat is real,” Lewis said. “They are very competent and operationally capable.”
He admitted Russia is adept at acting below the level of war, and the Navy is trying to increase the costs to Russia to react to U.S. Naval activities
“Heretofore, we’ve been somewhat reactive rather than proactive. So what we’re doing and what the National Defense Strategy is really driving us toward is developing a way of operating where we can be operationally unpredictable to our competitors while being strategically predictable to ourselves and our allies and friends.”
He used the example of the deployment of the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group to the North Atlantic in the middle of its six to seven month deployment, where it was then able to participate in the Trident Juncture NATO exercise.
Lewis said he believes this unpredictable deployment caused consternation and imposed costs on the Russians.
He noted while only in the Arctic “aspirationally” now “there’s no question the logical sequence of events with China is they will be there militarily as well.”
The Trident Juncture deployment was an opportunity to challenge sailors who have not been used to operating so far north after years of focusing on the Middle East.
Off the coast of Norway there were “blowing gales, decks moving around, ships getting beat up and people getting beat up,” Lewis said.
While the sailors were not used to it, Lewis noted “they adapt really quickly, but not without repeat effort.”
The 2nd Fleet commander said the Navy did “pretty well” in the exercise “but we could do better.”
The Whidbey Island-class dock landing ship USS Gunston Hall (LSD-44) had to leave Iceland in early November after heavy seas there caused damage that forced it to miss Trident Juncture.