With the strategic opportunity for rebuilding Nordic defense, the project begun in 2018 in Norfolk in reshaping the U.S. and allied navy’s command structures and force design can find its real impact and meaning. The Nordic defense renaissance provides an opportunity for disruptive change and strategic redesign to deal with the challenges facing both European direct defense and North American defense.
Whether the United States fully embraces this opportunity rests in part on whether the strategic shift launched in 2018 can be maintained and leveraged over the next few years.
In our just published book, A Maritime Kill Web Force in the Making: Deterrence and Warfighting in the XXIst Century, we have provided analysis of how the maritime forces can work together to deliver the kind of defense capabilities appropriate to 21st century threats from the authoritarian powers.
When one combines this book with our earlier book,The Return of Direct Defense in Europe: Meeting the Challenge of XXIst Century Authoritarian Powers, one can see how we have been focusing on both strategic changes, and the changes in both the art of warfare and the art of warfighting required as we move beyond the land wars of the past twenty years. We have argued that this is not only a strategic shift but a strategic shock, and Russian actions in Ukraine certainly have underscored those key points.
What follows is an excerpt from chapter eight in our new book:
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.
We have discussed the standup of the commands and their interaction in crafting a fully operational fleet with the leadership of both commands as well as with the Marines who are working with them. It is clear that from the outset, the approach has been to work from the ground up to have a distributed integrated force.
As Vice. Adm. Lewis put it to us: “We had a charter to re-establish the fleet. Using the newly published national defense strategy and national security strategy as the prevailing guidance, we spent a good amount of time defining the problem. My team put together an offsite with the Naval Post-Graduate school to think about the way ahead, to take time to define the problem we were established to solve and determine how best to organize ourselves to solve those challenges.
“We used the Einstein approach: we spent 55 minutes of the hour defining the problem and five minutes in solving it. Similarly, we spent the first two and a half months of our three-month pre-launch period working to develop our mission statement along with the functions and tasks associated with those missions. From the beginning our focus was in developing an all-domain and all-function command.
“To date, we clearly have focused on the high-end warfighting, but in a way that we can encompass all aspects of warfare from seabed to space as well.”
In a speech in early 2021 to DSI’s Fifth Annual Joint Networks Conference, Vice. Adm. Lewis underscored how he viewed the central role of allied and joint integration in shaping a way ahead for the commands.
“At C2F, we have integrated officers from multiple allied nations directly into the fleet staff. The U.S. Marines, reserve component officers, and foreign exchange officers are fully functioning staff members—not just liaison officers—and they include a two-star Royal Canadian Navy officer as the vice commander of C2F.
“At JFCNF, an initial team of fewer than ten individuals stood up the command with the help of reserve, joint, and international officers—a testament to integration from its inception. We are also integrating the staff by functional codes (C2F N-codes in the same building with their JFCNF J-codes), and we aspire to use NATO standards for everything from classification to mission orders and associated command-and-control systems to realize our full potential.”
In that speech, Vice. Adm. Lewis highlighted the importance of interoperability and interchangeability in working fleet capabilities. “Interoperability is defined as ‘the ability to act together coherently and efficiently to achieve tactical, operational, and strategic objects,’ often involving the ability to exchange information or services by means of electronic communications. We must then be integrated—the ability of forces to not only work toward a similar mission, but to do so as one unit.
“An example of this is the Mendez Nunez, who deployed as part of the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group in 2019. The final step in the spectrum of relationships is interchangeability. That is the ability to accomplish the mission, regardless of which nation is executing a particular role.”
The launch of the C2F saw the addition of Lewis’s Vice Commander to be a Canadian Rear Admiral. One clearly important fact cannot be missed when visiting VADM Lewis, is that one finds his office flanked on one side by a Canadian Rear Adm. and on the other by a British Rear Adm. The first is his C2F deputy, and the second is his NATO deputy.
It is hard to miss the point: this is a command focused on integration of maritime capability across the North Atlantic. The importance of having a Canadian Rear Adm. within the American command cannot be overstated. Rear Adm. Waddell brings experience from commanding Canadian forces in the Pacific and the Atlantic.
According to Waddell: “We will not be as large a command as other numbered fleets. We are designed to max out at about 250 people and currently are around 200 now. We must be different and innovative in how we get after the missions. We need to make sure we’re using tools and alternative resources, because we don’t have that depth and capacity of people, so you have to find a different way.”
As a startup command that is FOC, they are not emulating other numbered commands in many ways. “We are not primarily focused on the business of force generation, but we focus on how to use assigned forces to shape a desired outcome. We don’t want to get in the space of those responsible for force generation: we just want to be able to advocate for timely, effective outputs that optimize the use of the fleet.”
He noted that the assumption that the Second Fleet was going to be the Second Fleet of old was misplaced. “The old Second Fleet was interested in sea lines of communication. But the new Second Fleet is focused on strategic lines of communication. This is an all-domain perspective, and not just the convoy missions of past battles of the Atlantic.” He referred to C2F as the maneuver arm in providing for defense, deterrence, and warfighting but as part of a whole of government approach to defending the United States, Canada, and NATO allies against threats.
He underscored that “we are flexible and unconcerned with regard to whom we will work for. Operationally, we work for NAVNORTH (Fleet Forces Command) for the Homeland Defense Mission, but we can seamlessly transfer and work for NAVEUR/ EUCOM to defend forward, or to work in the GIUK Gap for an Allied Joint Force Command.”
How did we end up with a Vice Commander who is Canadian?
As Rear Adm. Waddell tells it, “Vice. Adm. Lewis was asked to stand up Second Fleet and given much latitude to do so. He went to a senior Canadian official to ask for a Royal Canadian Navy officer to serve as his deputy.”
Waddell felt that bringing a Canadian officer into the force made a lot of sense for a number of reasons.
First, because of the partnership nature of operations in the area of interest.
Second, because the Canadians have experience in operating in the high north, which could be brought to the renewed efforts on the part of the United States side to do so.
Third, as Waddell himself works the C2F experience he can weave what he learns into Canadian approach to operations. “It’s not lost on me that we as a Canadian service honed our teeth in the battle of the Atlantic in the Second World War in the North Atlantic and then in the ASW fight through the Cold War. Those competencies, although we were collectively distracted a little bit from iterations to CENTCOM and in the Persian Gulf for some time, are crucial going forward. I think we’ve reinforced those capabilities and are investing in new capabilities at home in Canada, such as with the Type 26 surface combatant program, a very robust platform.”
He discussed various tools and approaches being used to understand how to scope the challenges and priorities, including hosting a Battle of the Atlantic tabletop exercise. The goal of efforts like these are to scope out the various interactions across an extended battlespace to understand how fights influence one another.
All of this leads to a very significant conclusion about the U.S. Navy and allies integrating across an extended battlespace and operating distributed forces. “For the web of capabilities, you need to be ready to fight tonight, you need to be able to seamlessly integrate together across the fleet, inclusive of U.S. and allied forces. You fight as a fleet.”
That means fundamental change from a cultural assumption that the U.S. Navy has run with for many years. “You need to understand and accept that a fighting force needs to be reconfigurable such that others can seamlessly bolt on, participate in, or integrate into that force. That might mean changes from the assumptions of how the Navy has operated in the past to successfully operate with allies.” Reconfigurable across a coalition is clearly enabled by kill web capabilities to operate as flexible modular task forces.
The standup of Allied Joint Forces Command occurred shortly after that of the new C2F. And the concept from the outset was that both commands would work together under the leadership of a single U.S. Admiral to find ways to shape more effective leveraging of U.S. and Allied capabilities and to be able to operate as a much more effective integrated force than in the past.
JFC Norfolk was created at the 2018 Brussels Summit as a new joint operational-level command for the Atlantic. It reached an important milestone in September 2020 when it declared Initial Operational Capability. JFC Norfolk is the only operational NATO command in North America and is closely integrated with the newly reactivated U.S. Second Fleet.
JFC reached its initial operating capability in September 2020. Royal Navy Rear Adm. Betton, who was the first commander of HMS Queen Elizabeth, is the Deputy Commander of Allied JFC.
According to a discussion we had with Betton in March 2021, “Coming here 18 months ago has been a really exciting professional opportunity, and genuinely a pleasure to have another run at setting up a team pretty much from scratch. The Second Fleet team was well on the way by the time I got here, but the NATO team was just about at conception, but not much beyond that.”63 The geography and three-dimensional operational space of the NATO zone of responsibility is very wide indeed.
As Betton put it: “SACEUR’s area of responsibility, goes all the way from the Yucatan peninsula in the Gulf of Mexico to the North Pole. I’ve always loved the phrase from Finnmark to Florida, or Florida to Finnmark. But it is also important to realize all domain challenges and threats that we face. It’s everything from seabed infrastructure, through the sub-sea water column, the surface, the airspace above it, and up into the satellite constellation above that.”
The allies are bringing new capabilities to the fight, such as P-8s, and F-35s, and new combat ships as well. Finding ways to integrate evolving allied capabilities by the “relevant nations” is crucial to shaping a more effective allied deterrent and warfighting strategy in the North Atlantic.
As Betton put it: “The U.S. is by far the dominant figure of NATO, but it’s not the only piece. And it’s not always just the heavy metal that is relevant. It’s the connectivity, it’s the infrastructure and the architecture that enables the 30 nations of NATO to get so much more than the sum of the parts out of their combined effort.
“But it’s particularly the relevant nations in the operational area and their ability to work together which is an important consideration.”
The Rear Adm. underscored the importance of the only operational NATO command on U.S. soil. “The idea of integrating it with the second fleet headquarters under a dual-hatted command was a fantastic move because it emphasizes bluntly to Europe that the U.S. is fully committed to NATO. It’s not NATO and the U.S. The U.S. is part of NATO. And having an operational headquarters here in CONUS really emphasizes that point in both directions.”
He noted that there are 16 nations at the command currently with three more arriving in the next few months, namely, Portugal, the Netherlands, and Bulgaria. And reworking how to create the most effective defense is also a work in progress.
As Rear Adm. Betton put it: “One of the key efforts we are pursuing in this integrated command is not just stitching together NATO and U.S. assets, but it’s also stitching together teams within teams. It could be the U.S. cooperating with Norway, Sweden, and Finland, with Admiral Lewis commanding a multinational command.
“And a crisis might grow and evolve into something that the North Atlantic Council agree to respond to and therefore activate the JFC to command in a NATO sense. But because the Commander has that flexibility to go from a unilateral U.S. only under second fleet, through a growing coalition, there’s the opportunity to coordinate activity with a whole diverse range of entities before it becomes a formal NATO response.”
It is clear that agility and scalability are a key part of the way ahead for 21st century full-spectrum crisis management. And the JFC working in an integrated manner with C2F certainly is working such capabilities. This is a case of startup fleets working core capabilities which are clearly needed across the combat force….