Disruptive Change in European and Trans-Atlantic Defense and the Nordic Opportunity


By Robbin Laird

The coming of Sweden and Finland into NATO is not simply an additive event.

But the prospect of Nordic defense integratability provides for an opportunity for disruptive change to reset and recast how North Atlantic defense can be done.

When combined with the significant fleet redesign for the U.S. and allied navies associated with the 2018 re-establishment of Second Fleet and the establishment of Joint Force Command—Norfolk, there is a very significant opportunity to focus on how the United States and Canada could rework how they re-enforce Nordic defense while the Nordics themselves shape greater defense capacities to defend themselves against the Russians.

In other words, with the right recalibration of the United States contribution, Canada stepping up its contribution and the Nordics working new ways to integrate their forces, both the warfighting and deterrent functions of North Atlantic defense can be enhanced cost effectively and intelligently, truly embodying what some analysts referred to as “smart defense” in earlier times.

But the opportunity needs to be recognized, worked and creativity in reshaping the concepts of operations, and force development.

In an earlier piece, I highlighted this possibility in an interview with the former head of the Danish Navy, Rear Admiral (Retired) Nils Wang.

In that piece, I underscored: “the prospect of shaping really for the first time a Northern Europe integrated defense force able to operate throughout the area in a distributed manner shapes significant opportunities for innovations and rethinking. How to best shape capabilities going forward and how best to connect diverse platforms in a multi-domain manner across the defense space up to and including projecting power into Russia itself in case of conflict?”

I then added: “The opportunity for much better Nordic defense coordination and working integrated concepts of operations provides a significant challenge for the Nordic nations.

“The ability to respond to the opportunity would be attenuated in Wang’s view by “legacy” military thinking that is focused simply on “more of the same” building out traditional platforms, rather than focusing on force integrability or in my terms how to do the core missions with the required payloads through the kinds of platforms which can accelerate force integration.”

Ed Timperlake and I in our very recently published book, A Maritime Kill Web Force in the Making: Deterrence and Warfighting in the 21st Century, highlighted how important we saw the Norfolk innovations begun in 2018 by the U.S. and allied navies.

We have provided an excerpt from chapter eight where we describe the innovations launched from 2018 on Second Line of Defense.

That excerpt starts: The U.S. Navy is shaping an integrated distributed force. Working connectivity throughout the force and working new ways to shape modular task forces provides the capability for the U.S. Navy to be more lethal, survivable, and effective and lays down the foundation for working new technologies into the fleet along the lines of the payload/utility kill web approach which we discuss in the next chapter.

The standup of new fleets in Norfolk to deal with the Russian threat starting in 2018 provides a case study of such change. We spent time with the command as well as with the North Carolina-based Marines to understand how the relaunch of Second Fleet and the standup of a new NATO command in the United States drive and reflect the changes in fleet operations shaping a way ahead for a distributed force within integratable kill webs.

Second Fleet and Allied Joint Force Command Norfolk were placed under the command of Vice Adm. Lewis to launch the new approach and to shape the initial way ahead. According to his original deputy, Vice Adm. Mustin, who is now head of the Naval Reserves, “What made us successful over the last 20 years, post 9/11, is not what’s going to make us successful into the next few decades.

Working with Vice Adm. Lewis has been important as well. As Second Fleet Commander, he clearly understands that we need to shape a new approach. When I was in High School in the 80’s, my father was Second Fleet Commander, so I can legitimately say that “The new Second Fleet is not your father’s Second Fleet.” He went on to add that “What Vice Adm. Lewis wants and what we are offering started with a clean sheet of paper as it relates to the design of the reserve force for C2F.”

The opportunity which the U.S. Navy has had to standup a new fleet in Norfolk to deal with North Atlantic defense as well as to work interactively with the standup of the only NATO operational command on U.S. territory has clearly allowed for shaping an innovative way ahead for fleet operations, and joint and allied integration to deal with the Russian, not the Soviet threat.”

Recently, I had a chance to discuss with Vice Admiral (Retired) Lewis the potential synergy between Nordic defense developments and the standup and now operations of C2F and Joint Force Command – Norfolk.

This is what he had to say: “With the changes in the Nordic region, there will be an opportunity, for JFC Norfolk to become a four-star command on an equivalent level with JFC Brunssum and Naples from a rank standpoint.

“We could also have a subordinate command physically stationed in the Nordic nations, that would have the effect of pulling the continents together whereas JFC Norfolk is stationed obviously in the continental United States.

“This would allow for significant innovation in thinking through how, in a practical sense, operations from east to west and west to east in the North Atlantic battlespace.”

The Nordics are thinking about establishing a Nordic command that is fully integrated with NATO.

As Lewis noted: “If such a change happens, they would enhance their ability to defend themselves (Article III NATO) , but also to be able to contribute to the common defense of NATO and throughout the Arctic, into the Atlantic (Article V NATO).”

From VADM (Retired) Lewis’s perspective, working more innovative ways to integrate Nordic with the North Atlantic continent operations is a key aspect of agility.

As he noted: “I see agility as in three aspects. First, there is physical agility. In the case of Second Fleet this means being able to move across the Atlantic and the Arctic, in the physical domain and also in the electromagnetic spectrum.

“The second aspect of agility is being able to operate throughout the spectrum of warfare. That means being able day one to be operate from peace-time operations through full-out war, and maritime forces are particularly suited to being able to do so.

“Third, is agility of thought which equates to shaping effective disruptive change which positions the force to be more effective in changing conditions.

“The third aspect challenges traditional military thinking. There’s never an appetite, particularly in a bureaucratic organization, which all militaries are by definition, and particularly peace-time militaries for disruptive, innovative-type thinking. But we clearly have an opportunity being opened up by change in the Nordic region.”

Featured Graphic: Credit: https://www.mappr.co/thematic-maps/nordic-countries/

A Maritime Kill Web Force in the Making