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