In yet another indication of the return of great power politics and the cratering U.S.-Russian relationship, the Defense Department announced last week the return of the historic and venerable Second Fleet , which has traditionally guarded the Atlantic approaches to the continental U.S.
The fleet was disestablished in 2011 in an attempt to save money and free up funding for new ship construction. That decision proved shortsighted. The revamped command will have nearly 300 officers and enlisted men and women, and will take on responsibility for training the Atlantic Fleet and, more importantly, conducting real-world operations to track potentially hostile vessels approaching the U.S. coasts.
What does the return of the Second Fleet say about America’s maritime strategy and relations with a resurgent Russia?
First and foremost, it shows a needed response to new to geographic imperatives. For three centuries, the U.S. has enjoyed the benefits of the vast ocean buffer between it and the querulous states of Europe. During World Wars I and II, the U.S. and its allies had to fight hard to gain full “sea control” over the North Atlantic — Germany used undersea warfare very effectively to try and cut off the vital “sea lanes of communication” (i.e. shipping routes) that enabled the free movement of troops and supplies to beleaguered European allies.
During the Cold War, the two vast fleets — U.S. and Soviet — played extended games of cat and mouse. They tested each other, tracking the other side’s submarines and preparing for a full battle of the north Atlantic — which fortunately never materialized.
The most strategic terrain was in the waters around Greenland, Iceland and the western approaches to the U.K.: the so-called GIUK gap.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the U.S. drew down the overall size of the Atlantic Fleet, correctly believing that the Russian Federation did not pose the kind of threat represented by the old Soviet Union. Fast forward to rule of Vladimir Putin, who has rebuilt the Russian Fleet — especially its undersea forces. In his recent “weapons video,” he showed many new weapons that could be launched from the Atlantic against the American mainland and sea defenses, including hypersonic cruise missiles and nuclear-powered undersea torpedoes.
Whether those are actually operational weapons is still unclear, but the malign intent is hard to overlook. As the recent National Security Strategy and the follow-on National Defense Strategy point out, “great power politics ” is back.
Second, the return of Second Fleet helps re-energize NATO as a maritime force in the Atlantic. While I was supreme allied commander at NATO, the former NATO Atlantic Command, or Saclant, had atrophied into a test bed for innovation and training and was a shadow of its former self. Alongside the return of Second Fleet, NATO has announced a new Atlantic Command as well, which will be embedded within the larger Second Fleet.
Both will be based in Norfolk, Virginia, and the efficiencies of combining them will allow far better allied participation in U.S. military efforts in the Atlantic Ocean. Look […]