Second Fleet Flexes Expeditionary Mode in North Atlantic


Norfolk, Va. —  Just 13 months after reactivation, the U.S. 2nd Fleet now has “full operational capability” though its commander stopped short of saying his command is fully up to speed, yet.

The fledgling fleet declared its initial operating capability in May, just before jetting off to the Baltic Sea to honcho a large exercise there. And they’ve wasted no time since as they were heavily involved in July with preparing and evaluating the Truman Carrier Strike Group’s final exercises — the first such deployment under their watch.

“We’re pretty darn close,” Vice Adm. Andrew “Woody” Lewis told a group of reporters on a Sept. 25 conference call.

What he’s still lacking is “capacity,” he said. And to fix that he needs “more people” and is currently looking for what he calls “dynamic” ways to get fill those needs on both a permanent or temporary basis.

A huge part of the fleet’s trajectory to full capacity is playing out in Iceland this month where the fleet is leading the recently deployed East Coast Surface Action Group  —  surface ships minus the carrier — through an “Expeditionary Maritime Operations Center” on the ground in in Keflavik, Iceland.

Under their control at the moment is the guided-missile cruiser Normandy and the guided-missile destroyers Farragut, Forrest Sherman and Lassen. Normandy and Farragut, Lewis said, are currently operating above the Arctic Circle.

Having the ability to deploy an expeditionary headquarters element forward and closer to the fight was a  stated goal for 2nd Fleet when the U.S. Navy brought back the Norfolk-based command in 2018. Lewis says doing so puts much of the command and control functions and decision making closer to the fight and often in the midst of allies who are familiar with the operating environment on the ground and not thousands of miles away in Norfolk.

This idea was tested earlier this year during the BALTOPS exercise in Europe when most of the fleet staff operated forward on board the amphibious command ship Mount Whitney.

What’s different in Iceland is that they’ve set up a fully-capable forward headquarters from scratch and are conducting real-world operations. They have the ability to reach back to Norfolk for help if needed, but are empowered to make many operational decisions themselves. There’s no set size for the fleet’s deploying operations center. Instead, they’ll tailor the size of the headquarters to the mission  at hand and deploy them anywhere wherever they’re needed.

“To paint a picture for you, we have roughly 30 personnel in Iceland who are regularly communicating with our ships, the [2nd Fleet] MOC in Norfolk, and with Naval Forces Europe,” said Capt. Chris Slattery, the MOC commander who was also on the conference call.

“We also have a planning capability organic to the Expeditionary MOC. While the team back in Norfolk is leading and planning for a wide array of operations, our team in Iceland is solely focusing on the SAG deployment.”

That focus allows the on-scene commander the ability to learn “about the operating environment in the high north,” Slattery said.

“Conditions here require additional considerations for all aspects of naval operations, from navigation, to logistics and medical support, to communications.”

The close proximity to the ships, in this case from a location in the middle of the Atlantic, gives real-time benefits to use “communications pathways not possible in Norfolk,” Slattery said.

Co-located with the expeditionary HQ is a NATO command node whose job Slattery said is to “gather best practices” to “improve our interoperability with NATO at our command. — this include everything from the way we write our naval orders, to information sharing, to our command relationships.”

Being able to set up such fleet HQ’s wherever needed is central to how 2nd Fleet plans to operate in the future, officials say.

“This is an extraordinary milestone for 2nd Fleet, and it will not be the last time we exercise this capability,” Lewis said. “This was a big part of it, to be able to prove this concept and have a plan for iterating on that concept over the next couple of years.”

Posted September 25, 2019

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