Warship Watch: US Navy reactivates Second Fleet to control the North Atlantic

Protest against warships in Halifax harbour and expansion of the Canadian navy, CFB Stadacona, May 29, 2012.


The U.S. Navy is reestablishing its Second Fleet to control the North Atlantic, navy sources report.[1] It will be operational by July 1 and headquartered in Norfolk, Virginia.

According to reports, U.S. plans are to increase its fleet, including reactivating the Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates. The lives of the ships already in active service could be extended in order to meet the goal of a 355-strong navy. There are plans to install vertical launch systems on at least six San Antonio-class landing ship docks and six auxiliary vessels, in order to increase the navy’s missile strike capability.

The Second Fleet was disbanded in 2011, as nothing challenged the U.S. Navy in the Atlantic Ocean at that time. However, the 2018 National Defense Strategy lists the mission to counter Russia and China as a top priority, and the U.S. Navy’s announcement makes it clear that the competition between the world’s leading naval powers is back on again. Russia’s modernization efforts have made its navy a formidable force for the U.S. to reckon with, military sources report. U.S. ships and aircraft have recently stepped up their activities in the Atlantic Ocean, the North Sea, Baltic Sea and even the Irish Sea.

The proposed NATO Joint Forces Command (JFC), also operating out of Norfolk, Virginia, will be responsible for much the same region.

Protecting sea lanes to transfer troops and equipment to Europe has become a mission of paramount importance.

In this regard, the U.S. is reactivating and modernizing its naval aviation base at Keflavik, Iceland. This includes renovating a hangar to accommodate P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft that are designed to hunt Russian submarines. Iceland is viewed as essentially an unsinkable aircraft carrier and, along with the Azores, deemed vital as one of the “stepping stones” for the U.S. armed forces to deploy to Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.

GIUK Gap map

A military presence in Iceland makes it possible to control the Greenland-Iceland-United Kingdom gap, which Russia’s Northern Fleet surface ships and submarines have to cross on their way to the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean. Roughly 300 U.S. Marines are based out of Norway. A similar base is maintained by the United States on the island of Lajes in the Portuguese Azores since World War II.

An analysis published May 8 by the Russian-based Strategic Culture Foundation says:

Having crossed the Atlantic, the Second Fleet ships will join the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean. The Harry S. Truman carrier strike group entered the Sixth Fleet’s area of operations on April 18, which was a change from the previous plan to operate in the Persian Gulf. This is the first time a carrier has been deployed in the Mediterranean Sea since July 2017. It looks like from now on, a flat top will be present in the region permanently, just like back during the days of the Cold War. After all, any forces that are based in Europe could easily move to other theatres, if need be. The carrier group is being drawn into combat operations on Syrian soil. The Sixth Fleet has considerably boosted its firepower. Today it can launch about 90 flat top-based aircraft and over 1,000 ship-based long-range surface-to-shore cruise missiles.

After Crimea joined Russia in 2014, the U.S. substantially increased its military presence in Europe by deploying an armoured brigade combat team supported by a combat aviation brigade. The Army has also prepositioned equipment for another armoured brigade.

Since 2015, four Aegis-equipped guided-missile destroyers have been based out of Rota, Spain, as an element of NATO’s ballistic missile defence. They can always move to the Mediterranean. Meanwhile, the bloc has stepped up its naval training activities in the region.

The U.S. Navy has doubled its deployments to the Black Sea. NATO has followed suit.

The Military Sealift Command (MSC) is increasing its logistics support of the Sixth Fleet as more warships are deployed to counter Russia. Last year the command transported twice the ordnance, three times as many critical parts, and 33 per cent more cargo to Europe and Africa than in 2016. This is a very important fact that illustrates a trend.

According to Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson, the Navy is “spending a lot more time in the European theatre.” It is “working the Russian presence problem’ there. The U.S. Naval Institute is sounding the alarm, claiming that those poor Europeans have been left grappling with ‘aggressive’ Russian operations. And the U.S. Navy has to reluctantly do something about the impending ‘Russian threat.’”

In reality, the revival of the Second Fleet is part of a well-planned preparation for possible war against Russia that could take place on the land, on the sea, and in the air. It is offensive – not defensive – operations that the U.S.-led bloc is getting ready for. The West is engaged in a multi-front and multi-domain campaign against Moscow. It has just taken another step down that path. With so many problems threatening its existence, it needs someone to unite it and distract the public’s attention from those other problems that Russia has nothing to do with. An imaginary threat justifying all the steps that have been taken to boost its military capabilities fits that bill nicely.


1 The U.S. Second Fleet played a crucial role during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 and invaded Grenada in 1983.

The Second Fleet was one of two major naval fleets operating in the Atlantic and Caribbean, the other being the Standing Naval Force Atlantic of the NATO bloc.

At the time, the Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic was one of two supreme commanders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, the other being the Supreme Allied Commander Europe. The SACLANT-led Allied Command Atlantic, is based at Norfolk, Virginia. That is, the commander-in-chief of the fleet, by terms of the NATO pact, is at the same time the commander-in-chief of the NATO fleet; in parallel, the commander-in-chief of the NATO armed forces is an American general, nominated by the president of the United States and approved by the NATO bloc. The U.S. has seven fleets which operate throughout the world’s oceans.

On 1 January 2005, new names and missions were allocated to NATO’s maritime Immediate Reaction Forces, to make them part of the NATO Response Force (NRF) as dictated by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s “transformation of the armed forces” program

Standing NATO Maritime Group One (SNMG1) is one of NATO’s standing maritime Immediate Reaction Forces. Prior to 1 January 2005 it was known as Standing Naval Force Atlantic (STANAVFORLANT), which was activated in January 1968 and operated in the Caribbean and the North Atlantic. The group was also briefly called the Standing NATO Response Force Maritime Group One. That force was under the operational control of the U.S. SACLANT. In 2003 it was decommissioned as part of U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s “transformation of the armed forces” program, and reformed as SNMG1 in 2005. SNMG1 is a component of the NATO Response Force.  The force exercises primarily in the eastern Atlantic as well as the Mediterranean Sea.

SNMG1 consists of 4 to 6 destroyers and frigates. The Royal Canadian Navy, the German Navy, the Royal Netherlands Navy, and the United States Navy each contribute one ship on a permanent basis. These are joined periodically by ships from the navies of Italy, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Poland, Portugal, and Spain. The force operates, trains and exercises as a group, providing day-to-day verification of current NATO maritime procedures, tactics and effectiveness.

NATO’s naval expansion involved the creation of a second fleet in 1992, one year after the dissolution of the former Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 (SNMG2) is a NATO standing maritime Immediate Reaction Force. Prior to 1 January 2005 it was known as Standing Naval Force Mediterranean (STANAVFORMED or more colloquially as SNFM).

SNMG2 carries out a continuous programme of operational training and conducts port visits to know and get known in many ports in and out of the Mediterranean, in NATO and non-NATO nations. These include ports in nations that are part of the NATO Partnership for Peace, Mediterranean Dialogue and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative programmes.

Composition of the Force varies as naval units are provided by NATO contributing nations on a rotational basis while Command of the Force rotates among them in one year intervals. Canada, Germany, Greece, Italy, The Netherlands, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom and United States regularly deploy warships to this fleet. Tour of duty for each warship is approximately six months duration. Other NATO nations also occasionally contribute.

The composition of warships also varies depending on the current contributions of nations, but generally consists of 4–8 frigate or destroyer type ships and one oiler or support ship.

The commander of SNMG2 until 2013 reported to the Commander of Allied Maritime Command Naples, one of the two component commands of Allied Joint Force Command Naples.

In 1999 the fleet was ordered to deploy to the Adriatic Sea to increase NATO presence as part of the war of aggression against former Yugoslavia. Since 9/11 it has mainly operated in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea as part of Operation Active Endeavor.

In addition, NATO also operates Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group 1 and Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group 2.

The U.S. has divided the world between six regional military commands and seven navy fleets.

In addition to these fleets, the U.S. operates the Combined Maritime Forces in the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea. it consists of three combined task forces (CFTs) — CTF 150, CTF 151 and CTF 152 [5] – which are identified as conducting maritime security, counter-piracy and Persian Gulf maritime security operations, respectively.

Under the U.S. Fifth Fleet, Combined Maritime Forces now includes naval forces from 26 nations, all but one (Thailand) are NATO members states, partners and Troop Contributing Nations for the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

Member states: The U.S., Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Turkey.

Partners: Australia, Bahrain, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, New Zealand, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates.

Troop Contributing Nations not yet in the second category: Malaysia and Singapore.

The Arabian Sea is covered by three of the Pentagon’s overseas military commands – Central Command, Africa Command and Pacific Command – to provide an indication of the importance attached by the U.S. to the region.

Canada has consistently deployed frigates, along with helicopter air detachments, to the Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf region since the Persian Gulf War. In fact, it initiated deployments following the successful 1979 revolution in Iran which overthrew the fascist Shah. Canadian forces are new permanently stationed in that region, thousands of miles from Canada and the American continent. Canada maintains a military “hub” in Kuwait.

(TML Weekly, military.com, Washington Post, Strategic Culture Foundation, Wikipedia)

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