By Robbin Laird
Recently, I had a chance to talk with VADM Lewis, Commander of Second Fleet and of Allied Joint Force Command Norfolk. We spoke one day after the full operational capability ceremony held on the USS Kearsarge for Allied Joint Force Command Norfolk.
Together, the two commands represent a key capability for shaping a way ahead for North Atlantic defense, and the challenge will be to continue to build out capabilities to enhance crisis management and deterrent force integration over the next few years. The Russians and the Chinese are certainly focused on encouraging disunity among nations, and conflict within those nations as well.
We started by discussing the recent series of exercises held in the North Atlantic and worked with Sixth Fleet as well. In those exercises, in effect, different modules were worked in shaping an overall North Atlantic maritime-focused defense capability. Two major North Sea maritime exercise, namely the Royal Navy’s Strike Warrior Exercise and the U.S. Exercise Ragnar Viking occurred first; then Steadfast Defender; then Formidable Shield 2021, and then BALTOPS-50.
In his prepared remarks at the July 15, 2021 ceremony, this is how VADM Lewis highlighted the Steadfast Defender exercise:
“During STEADFAST DEFENDER, this team showed that they are prepared to operate together as a NATO JFC, as we stood up our Joint Operations Center for the first time and executed a robust battle rhythm and crisis scenario, augmented by an expert team of U.S. Reservists from across the joint force. From here on out, we will build on that success as we connect Allied and Partner nations operating in the Atlantic.
“With our inaugural commanders’ conference in June, we solidified the enhanced relationships that have been fostered with National and NATO headquarters that share our common aim of trans-Atlantic security. This Command Network sits at the core of JFC Norfolk. It unites diverse expertise and capabilities through coordination and guidance to better meet SACEUR’s Strategic Direction. It also allows us to remain adaptable in our own staff and utilize resources in the most efficient way to meet complex problems.
“It is this sustained high performance that gives me the assurance and confidence that JFC Norfolk is FULLY OPERATIONAL. As a fully operational NATO command, we are executing our peacetime mission in line with SACEUR’s direction and guidance. We will continue to provide All-domain situational understanding, both lead and contribute to NATO planning… and participate in exercises like STEADFAST DEFENDER and STEADFAST JUPITER.”
During the interview VADM Lewis underscored the multi-domain aspect of the exercises which allows for the nations to work more effectively together for crisis management, war-fighting and deterrence. VADM Lewis noted that what these efforts are providing is “connecting the blue dots. It is about coordination of efforts, as the Nations are going to do what they are going to do. But by more effective coordination we can take those efforts and deliver a more significant capability for deterrence.”
Having just returned spending time with 2nd MAW and II MEF, I asked him about how he saw the contribution of the USMC to his efforts. He noted that he had recently visited II MEF for the retirement ceremony of Lt. General Beaudreault and had met with the new CG of II MEF, Lieutenant General William M. Jurney, while there. He noted: “I think typically we’re going to be integrating task force efforts and exercising how best to use USMC capabilities in an integrated manner with the fleet.”
When I visited II MEF recently, Lt. General Beaudreault highlighted the efforts underway to shape an integrated task force whereby 2d MEB would stand up an integrated headquarters working with 2nd ESG, potentially based at Camp Lejeune that would work integrated operations between the fleet and the MEB. This was reinforced by VADM Lewis as well.
The final point we discussed was about the Nordics. In the period in which 2nd Fleet was re-established, the Nordic nations have clearly ramped up their defense efforts and cooperation with each other and with the United States and NATO. In my visit to 2nd MAW, I discussed their recent exercise in Finland with the Finnish air force. There the Marines worked closely with the Finns and worked tactics guided by Finnish capabilities and combat approaches. It was a Finnish lead to combat learning for the Marines when operating in their country and in the region.
This learn from others approach is also a key part of how VADM Lewis has led his command. As he commented: “That has been my mantra from day one here: learning from our regional operations. As we work how best to operate in the region, we are learning from our regional partners some of the best ways to do so.”
In his remarks on July 15th, VADM Lewis underscored this “mantra” as well as follows: “Those personnel with Arctic and Atlantic expertise on my staff have been critical to shaping our understanding of this rugged geography, both in the waters and in the littorals.”
In short, watching the ceremony on the 15th, reflecting on what Ed Timperlake and I have learned in Norfolk, and after talking with VADM Lewis on the 16th of July, I could not but be reminded of the famous quote from Ben Franklin at the time of establishing our country. On September 17, 1787, as the delegates left the Constitutional Convention in Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin was asked what kind of government do we have? “A Republic,” he replied, “if you can keep it.”
What VADM Lewis and his team and the allies have launched is clearly a template for change and can shape a way ahead for effective direct defense of our interests.
Will those who follow be able to meet the challenges of keeping pace with what I believe is the pacing threat for the United States, Russia, China and the explosive forces of terrorism and authoritarianism coming from the Euro-Med region. While China may well be a pacing threat, the Russians spearhead a continuous direct challenge with political-military capabilities underlying that challenge.