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U.S. Revives Navy Fleet To Counter Russian Presence In North Atlantic

The aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (file photo)

The U.S. Navy has formally reestablished its Second Fleet as a result of a renewed focus on the North Atlantic Ocean, where the Russian military has been operating with increasing frequency in a way not seen since the Cold War.

The mostly organizational change announced on August 24 revives an Admiral-level command to oversee American warships as they deploy between the U.S. East Coast and the Barents Sea, off of the coasts of Norway and Russia.

The revived fleet reflects a major shift in U.S. military strategy recently from focusing on terrorism in the Middle East -- where the Islamic State extremist group last year was largely defeated -- to growing U.S. competition with both Russia and China.

"We're not looking for a fight," Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson said aboard the USS George H. W. Bush aircraft carrier in Norfolk, Virginia, where the Second Fleet will be based. "But the best way to avoid a fight is develop the most powerful and deadly and competitive Navy possible," he said.

Richardson asserted that the Second Fleet would be able to "conduct decisive combat operations to defeat any enemy."

Both China and Russia are building larger navies as they move to expand their global influence. And Russia in particular has been increasing its submarine patrols, among other military activities.

In 2017, Russian Admiral Vladimir Korolyov said his nation's submarine crews had spent more than 3,000 days on patrol in the last year, matching the Soviet-era operational tempo. It's unclear how many days Russian subs had been on patrol in the years prior to 2017.

"It's an excellent level," he said in remarks carried by Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.

On August 24, Russian Navy Admiral Viktor Kravchenko dismissed the U.S. announcement as a mostly rhetorical and political move by Washington's "political elite," in an interview with the Russian news agency Interfax.

"They didn't build new ships. Everything is the same. They've just reformed and put together a new cluster of vessels and called it the Second Fleet, which would be focused on operations in the Atlantic," he said.

Still, Kravchenko told the Interfax news agency that to "maintain parity" with the bolstered U.S. presence, Russia's Northern and Baltic Fleets will need new seaworthy vessels.

"Our Navy receives some new ships every year, but, unfortunately, we've been building a very limited number of oceanic vessels," he said.

Increasingly Frequent Encounters

The refocused U.S. naval presence in the North Atlantic also reflects growing concerns about information warfare among NATO allies as Russian ships have been observed lingering near vital undersea communications cables that criss-cross the Atlantic.

Encounters between Russian and NATO warplanes have also become increasingly frequent in the region.

In January, Britain's Royal Air Force scrambled two fighter jets to intercept Russian strategic bombers near U.K. airspace.

The original Second Fleet was created in 1950 as a response to a growing threat from the Soviet Union.

It played an integral role in events such as the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, when its ships established a blockade to stop Soviet ships from reaching the island.

The fleet was eliminated and merged with Fleet Forces Command in 2011 to save costs.

Having a Second Fleet allows the United States to work more closely and effectively with its NATO allies, retired U.S. Navy Admiral Gary Roughead told AP in an interview. And they will be better prepared to respond to potential Russian aggression, he added.

Roughead said he fully expects the Russian military to increase its presence in the Atlantic in the coming years. One critical area will be the waters between the United Kingdom, Iceland, and Greenland, he told AP.

"Clearly, the Russian fleet is not the size that the Soviet fleet used to be, and nor is our fleet," said Roughead, a former chief of naval operations who is now a fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. "But I think the reactivation is a very wise thing to do."

Separately on August 24, the U.S. military also marked the official activation of a new command to innovate and prepare to counter new types of weapons being developed by Russia and China.

The Army Futures Command is headquartered in Austin, Texas and will be headed by a four-star general, with a staff of about 500 civilian and military personnel.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Interfax
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