Moscow’s At­lantic, Arc­tic moves im­peril U.S. dom­i­nance

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY CARLO MUÑOZ

NOR­FOLK, VA. | It was the U.S. Navy’s sto­ried 2nd Fleet that stared down Soviet nukes dur­ing the Cuban Mis­sile Cri­sis more than a half-cen­tury ago. Now, the Pen­tagon has brought the fleet back to counter an in­creas­ingly ag­gres­sive Rus­sian mil­i­tary around the world.

The 2nd Fleet “was born by virtue of a dy­namic event,” said Adm. John M. Richard­son, chief of naval op­er­a­tions. He said the fleet holds a leg­endary role in pre­vent­ing the Cold War from turn­ing hot and is well-pos­tured to curb Rus­sian ex­pan­sion­ism to­day.

“You do get a sense of the grav­ity of this mo­ment,” Adm. Richard­son said aboard the USS Ge­orge H.W. Bush at a cer­e­mony mark­ing the fleet’s re­turn to com­bat op­er­a­tions af­ter nearly a decade of dor­mancy.

The cer­e­mony was held at the 2nd Fleet’s Nor­folk head­quar­ters just days be­fore Rus­sia an­nounced plans to hold its big­gest war games in nearly four decades. The Rus­sian mil­i­tary will hold mas­sive ex­er­cises this month with the Chi­nese and Mon­go­lian armies.

Al­though the Rus­sian an­nounce­ment caused a stir at the Pen­tagon, U.S. of­fi­cials said their de­ci­sion to re­in­state the 2nd Fleet — a de­vel­op­ment that was months in the mak­ing — was driven mainly by a need to un­der­gird Amer­i­can naval dom­i­nance in the At­lantic.

Rus­sian naval ac­tiv­ity has surged on and be­low the North At­lantic and through the Arc­tic Cir­cle in re­cent years. With the 2nd Fleet dis­banded since 2011, the job of match­ing and coun­ter­ing Rus­sian op­er­a­tions in those re­gions has fallen al­most solely on the U.S. Navy’s 6th Fleet, whose re­spon­si­bil­i­ties were al­ready stretched be­tween Euro­pean and North African wa­ter­ways.

Top U.S. and NATO lead­ers agreed that the 2nd Fleet’s re­ac­ti­va­tion was over­due. “It’s about time,” Adm. Richard­son said. “It may have been too long.”

NATO is bol­ster­ing the de­vel­op­ment by cre­at­ing the Joint Force Com­mandNor­folk, the al­liance’s coun­ter­part to the 2nd Fleet, which is set to break ground in the com­ing weeks. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from sev­eral NATO na­tions who will be based at the com­mand at­tended the cer­e­mony.

Both es­tab­lish­ments will spear­head U.S. and allied ef­forts to cur­tail Rus­sian op­er­a­tions in the At­lantic, with Washington and Brus­sels keep­ing a wary eye on Moscow’s fleet amid ris­ing con­cern about the prospect of an event sim­i­lar to the Cuban Mis­sile Cri­sis.

Of­fi­cials say an in­crease in Rus­sian sub­ma­rine ac­tiv­ity in the At­lantic, com­bined with re­ports that Moscow is test­ing a long-range, nu­clear-pow­ered mis­sile in the Bar­ents Sea — a water­way in the Arc­tic be­tween Rus­sian and Nor­we­gian waters — are signs that Rus­sia is push­ing to ex­pand its op­er­a­tional bound­aries in both re­gions.

The chal­lenge posed to the U.S. and its al­lies in the North At­lantic, specif­i­cally, has made the re­gion “the most rapidly chang­ing na­tional se­cu­rity [sit­u­a­tion] in re­cent years,” said Adm. Richard­son. “The Navy is re­spond­ing.”

Adm. Christo­pher W. Grady, chief of U.S. Fleet Forces Com­mand, said the re­in­stated 2nd Fleet “will not sim­ply pick up where we left off” when the fleet was dis­banded seven years ago. He as­serted that the fleet’s ini­tial slate of op­er­a­tions will in­clude mis­sions ex­tend­ing across the At­lantic.

Lt. Cmdr. Ashley Hock­y­cko, com­mand spokes­woman, told The Washington Times that of­fi­cials were still de­ter­min­ing specifics on the size of the fleet as well as the types of sub­marines, war­ships and air­craft that will be at its dis­posal.

To­ward the Arc­tic

A surge in Arc­tic Cir­cle ac­tiv­ity by Rus­sian sub­marines — by far the most po­tent seg­ment of Moscow’s naval fleet — has sent U.S. of­fi­cials scram­bling to re­spond in re­cent years.

Sources say the Pen­tagon’s con­cern cen­ters on the po­ten­tial threat that the Rus­sian subs pose to some 550,000 miles of un­der­wa­ter fiber-op­tic ca­bles that crisscross the At­lantic and Arc­tic ocean floors and trans­mit some of Amer­ica’s most sen­si­tive mil­i­tary se­crets.

While that hung in the back­drop at the cer­e­mony, Adm. Richard­son sig­naled that the 2nd Fleet’s ini­tial mis­sion will likely be to ad­dress a sep­a­rate bur­geon­ing threat: long-range weapons that Moscow seeks to field in the near fu­ture.

“A new 2nd Fleet in­creases our strate­gic flex­i­bil­ity to re­spond, from the Eastern Seaboard all the way to the Bar­ents Sea,”

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