Top Navy brass recently announced the reestablishment of the U.S. 2nd Fleet.
According to reports from the Navy, Second Fleet will exercise “operational and administrative authorities over assigned ships, aircraft and landing forces on the East Coast and northern Atlantic Ocean.” The Fleet will be earmarked for missions ranging from planning and conducting combined operations, and training and certifying maritime forces in “responding to global contingencies.”
The Fleet will have a slow start after being officially activated on the first of July. Initially it will be staffed by 11 officers and four enlisted personnel, eventually growing to 85 officers, 164 enlisted personnel, and seven civilians, according to a memo announcing the change obtained by U.S. Naval Institute News. Technical issues such as the rank of the commander and relationship with joint commandant commands remain to be decided.
The reinstating of the Second Fleet comes only seven years after the force was taken out of service in 2011. This major about-face for the Navy highlights quite a bit regarding the changing trends within U.S. defense, the shifting attitudes of officials, as well as the morphing global security landscape.
The Second Fleet traces its origins back to the Cold War era, as America’s armed forces were reshuffling after World War II. By 1950, there was an organized naval force with the task of securing some 6,700,000 square miles (17,000,000 km2) of the Atlantic Ocean from the North Pole down to the Caribbean, and from the eastern shores of the United States to the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The force played an important role in several incidents in the Western Hemisphere, from the Cuban Missile Crisis to the American invasion of Grenada.
After the Soviet threat it was created to take on had disappeared, the Fleet’s importance began to decline. The Fleet’s final contribution to a regional crisis wasn’t in the midst of armed conflict, but during the recovery efforts following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Three whole carrier strike groups (CSG) participated in the relief of Haiti, just months before the first notices arrived that the Defense Department was planning to decommission the force.
Now with Russia back on the radar as a force to be reckoned with, the need for a fleet to secure the western Atlantic is back. Of course what the Navy was referring to when it listed prep for “global contingencies” as Second Fleet’s operational duty, was the possibility of maritime conflict with Russia. As Adm. Richardson told his audience: "our National Defense Strategy makes clear that we're back in an era of great power competition as the security environment continues to grow more challenging and complex...that's why today, we're standing up Second Fleet to address these changes, particularly in the north Atlantic."
The signing of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) by president Trump last December was the first step in upgrading America’s naval assets in the Atlantic. The Act included a provision sponsored by the Senate Seapower Subcommittee calling for the country to build up to 355 new warships “as soon as practicable.” Second Fleet’s return has now established the infrastructure at the organizational level.