The U.S. Navy 2nd Fleet, reestablished in 2018 to counter Russia, reached full operational capability on Dec. 31, seven months after achieving its initial operational capability, the Navy announced.
Based in Norfolk, Virginia, the 2nd Fleet will oversee and control assigned ships, aircraft, and landing forces on the Eastern, Western, and North Atlantic Ocean, as well as further north into the Arctic.
Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, commander of the 2nd Fleet, who has led its reestablishment, said in a statement, “Within an increasingly complex global security environment, our allies and competitors alike are well aware that many of the world’s most active shipping lanes lie within the North Atlantic.”
The 2nd Fleet will primarily focus on forward operations and “the employment of combat-ready naval forces in the Atlantic and Arctic,” the statement said. Also, it will have a limited role in “final training and certification of forces preparing for operations around the globe,” according to the statement.
“Combined with the opening of waterways in the Arctic, this competitive space will only grow, and 2nd Fleet’s devotion to the development and employment of capable forces will ensure that our nation is both present and ready to fight in the region if and when called upon,” Lewis said.
Opening new waterways due to ice melting in the Arctic creates new opportunities for trade but also poses new security challenges.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described the situation in the Arctic when speaking at the ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council in Rovaniemi, Finland, on May 6: “Steady reductions in sea ice are opening new passageways and new opportunities for trade. Such new passageways could potentially slash the time it takes to travel between Asia and the West by as much as 20 days. Arctic sea lanes could come before—could come the 21st century Suez and Panama Canals.”
“To leverage the Arctic’s—the Arctic continental, all nations, including non-Arctic nations, should have a right to engage peacefully in this region. The United States is a believer in free markets. We know from experience that free and fair competition, open, by the rule of law, produces the best outcomes,” Pompeo said.
The establishment of the 2nd Fleet addresses security concerns posed by Russia, according to Defense News.
In June, the 2nd Fleet led a Baltic Operations exercise on behalf of Naval Forces Europe. In September, it established a Maritime Operations Center in Keflavik, Iceland in the North Atlantic region. According to Defense News, the Russian submarine activity in that area has reappeared.
“The new [2nd Fleet] is now fully postured to support the employment of forces, whether that is on the western or eastern side of the Atlantic Ocean, or further north into the Arctic Ocean,” the Navy said.
Close cooperation with NATO allies and partners “to ensure there is no seam in the Atlantic for our adversaries to exploit” is also a focus of the 2nd Fleet, Lewis said.
Developing Threats in the Arctic
Pompeo considers both China and Russia as potential threats in the Arctic.
Pompeo, in his speech given at the Arctic Council meeting, commended Russia for its cooperation in the “expansive conservation efforts” in the Arctic. However, he expressed concern over Russia’s aggressive actions in the Arctic like re-opening its “Cold War Arctic military base,” building new “bases north of the Arctic Circle,” as well as securing its “presence through sophisticated new air defense systems and anti-ship missiles.”
Russia plans to connect its sea shipping lane between the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean along the Russian coast (Northern Sea Route) with China’s Maritime Silk Road, the maritime component of China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR). The initiative would develop a new shipping channel from Asia to northern Europe, said Pompeo.
China has already invested nearly $90 billion in the development of the Arctic. China is developing shipping lanes in the Arctic Ocean, and plans to invest in building infrastructure between Canada, Northwest Territories, and Russia, Pompeo said.
“Pentagon warned … that China could use its civilian research presence in the Arctic to strengthen its military presence,” Pompeo said.
Pompeo also said that investment can be used by China as a tool of political influence and coercion, for example, to obtain rights to operate strategically located ports and terminals.
In economically strong countries, Chinese companies enter into equity participation or joint ventures. When dealing with weaker or developing countries, China uses a debt trap. In 2017, Sri Lanka could not pay its debt to China and was coerced into signing a 99-year lease with a Chinese company for the use of its Hambantota Port. In 2013 China obtained the operating rights to 15 terminals in eight countries on four continents. Among them is the Suez Canal Terminal in Egypt, the Euromax Terminal in the Netherlands, which is known as “the gate of Europe,” and the Panama Canal.