On August 24th, it was announced that the boundaries of the Navy’s reestablished U.S. 2nd Fleet extends well past the old submarine stomping grounds of the Cold War and into waters north of Scandinavia and the Arctic Circle, near the submarine headquarters of Russia’s Northern Fleet, as announced by US Chief of Naval Operations John Richardson.
“A new 2nd Fleet increases our strategic flexibility to respond — from the Eastern Seaboard to the Barents Sea,” Richardson said. “Second Fleet will approach the North Atlantic as one continuous operational space and conduct expeditionary fleet operations where and when needed.”
Richardson and new 2nd Fleet commander Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis reiterated the new placement was a reflection of the National Defense Strategy from Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. The new strategy signaled a return to “great power competition” with nation-states, rather than the low-intensity ground wars the US has waged since 2001. Effectively, the new Cold War has officially began.
“We will not simply pick up where we left off. We are going to aggressively and quickly rebuild this command into an operational warfighting organization,” Lewis said.
USNI News cited former Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work, who said that the extension of the boundary so close to Russia is in-line with Jim Mattis’s new strategy.
“This truly is about great power competition and demonstrating it to the great powers that we can operate in waters nearby when and where we chose to do so. It’s signaling we’re here. We’re ready to go,” Work said. He further commented that “in China we have a rival that is really has a full-spectrum naval capability. The Russians truly are more of an undersea competitor. The best way to get there is to operate in those grounds close to them and not let them break out into the open ocean.”
USNI News also cited former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe retired Adm. James Stavridis who said that the extension was a result of new realities in dealing with the capabilities of the Russian Navy. “The new battle space for 2nd Fleet reflects two critical elements: The first is Russia’s desire to extend the distance over which its fleet can roam,” Stavridis said. “The second is new long-range attack technologies that allow Russia far greater maritime standoff distance.”
The increased capability and standoff distance the Russians can employ drives an increased focus on the North Atlantic, according to Magnus Nordenman, deputy director of the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council, also cited by USNI News.
The reconstituted 2nd fleet was announced in May 2018, however as reported by USNI News, the notion of increasing focus on the North Atlantic has been developing since the 2014 annexation of Crimea by Russia.
“Russian submarines are prowling the Atlantic, testing our defenses, confronting our command of the seas, and preparing the complex underwater battlespace to give them an edge in any future conflict,” he wrote. “Not only have Russia’s actions and capabilities increased in alarming and confrontational ways, its national-security policy is aimed at challenging the United States and its NATO allies and partners,” said U.S. Naval Forces Europe Adm. James Foggo as early as 2016.
The Kremlin, meanwhile, has been increasing their presence in the Arctic region over the last several years – deploying submarines and other assets on a permanent basis. “In the future, we plan to further increase our presence in the Arctic region [as] a matter of national state security,” Russian Rear Admiral Viktor Kochemazov told Russian newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda in 2017. Kochemazov is the head of the combat training department of the Russian Navy.
Astute News further reported that Moscow has plans to open ten Arctic search-and-rescue stations, 16 deep-water ports, 13 airfields and 10 air defense radar stations across the Arctic.
On August 27th, RT cited Russian analysts, who predict a further escalation in tensions, despite US officials declaring they are not “looing for a fight.”
“This a return to the Cold War, and its marine rivalry. There is nothing good that can come from this, and we can expect the US to start acting more aggressively, particularly around the North Atlantic,” said Igor Korotchenko, editor-in-chief of National Defense magazine. “The overall temperature of the relations between the two states will rise, and the area will become a flashpoint,” said the analyst, noting that Russia’s own northern fleet is its most powerful.
RT also cited Aleksey Leonkov of Homeland Arsenal magazine who says that the US actions are a reactive measure. “NATO has almost no forces in the North Atlantic, because they were not expecting Russia to develop its Arctic fleet and to build on-shore defenses. Together with the growing potential economic importance of the Arctic, this caused genuine alarm in the Pentagon, and this is the response,” he said.
None of the expert cited by RT believed that there is any risk of live confrontations or shows of strength, at least not imminently. This is mostly due to the strategic parity. “As long as Russia remains a nuclear power and maintains strategic parity, nothing is likely to tilt the balance, particularly since it is also developing its own counters,” Korotchenko said.
There has been no official response by Russia as of yet, however on August 6th, the Russian Ministry of Defense released a report from the Army-2018 IMTF in Kronstadt. The Navy presented state-of-the-art armaments, military and special equipment inside the historical city. The Kronstadt water area hosted over 15 warships and auxiliary vessels. Among them there were the newest corvette Sobrazitelny, small missile ship Serpukhov, counter-sabotage boat Nakhimovets, amphibious, patrol and special boats, as well as auxiliary vessels and high-speed boats.
The National Defense Strategy from Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has, for all intents and purposes, unilaterally began a new Cold War with Russia and quite possibly China.