NORFOLK (NNS) -- The U.S. 2nd Fleet served as a protector of the Atlantic Ocean spanning more than six decades. The fleet was a stalwart presence, implementing the Navy’s maritime strategies, patrolling the Atlantic against Cold War rivals, executing the Cuban Missile Crisis, and supporting multinational disaster relief operations.
As global dynamics in the new millennium shifted, 2nd Fleet was pulled from their historic role and disestablished in 2011 to refocus Navy efforts in response to rising threats in the Middle East and Asia,.
But now, once again, warfighting domains have evolved and brought to light new challenges in the fight to maintain global security and a need for a new 2nd Fleet — and this time it may also reshape the future of the Reserve force.
The Navy reestablished 2nd Fleet in August of last year and is now working to command and control forces in support of a new strategic focus on missions in the Atlantic, North Atlantic and Arctic regions.
“The United States’ military focus has shifted from violent extremist counter-terrorism to Great Power Competition against motivated, capable, well-funded adversaries,” said Rear Adm. John Mustin, deputy commander of the newly reinstated 2nd fleet. “Russia has captured our attention with sustained maneuvers throughout the Mediterranean, unsanctioned interventions in Georgia and Ukraine, and provocative maritime patrols along our Eastern Seaboard. Further, the security environment within the North Atlantic and Arctic regions has rapidly evolved as rising temperatures open additional sea routes for passage, and nations jockey for access to sea-based natural resources.”
Even though international threats in the region appear to be a sign of history repeating itself, Mustin stresses 2nd fleet is not returning to Cold War dynamics.
“When I was commissioned as an ensign 29 years ago, GPS, smartphones, Google and social media didn’t exist,” Mustin said. “New threats, technology and domains have emerged over the last decade. Consider advancements in enhanced electronic warfare, unmanned autonomous systems, cyber-attacks, the ubiquity and speed of information, machine learning, quantum computing, artificial intelligence and more. Not only have the competitors in this competition changed, but the very rules and character of the competition have changed.”
Shaping a numbered fleet from the ground up has given 2nd Fleet’s leadership the ability to create an operational team free from what Mustin calls “The burden of ‘We’ve always done it this way.’” That freedom has inspired a significant aspect of the reconstruction; a new look at how active and Reserve forces are integrated.
“We’re not rebuilding the 2nd Fleet of yesterday,” said Mustin. “Instead, we’re creating a team of lean, agile and expeditionary warfighters — a 2nd Fleet that is fit for its time but fit for its purpose as well. It means that we need to evolve the way that we attack the problems, the way we view the problems, the way that we're structured, and the way that we operate.”
As the first assigned Reserve member of the fleet, Mustin says his Reserve Sailors will be seamlessly integrated into providing operational support alongside the active-duty warfighting team. New members are being offered more than the standard plank owner status — historically available to crew members present at the commissioning of a Navy ship or command — Mustin says new members will have a front row seat in defining how Reserve component roles are being redefined and executed.
“Our way forward includes redesigning how Reserve Sailors integrate with active staff members to improve our warfighting effectiveness, and it places tremendous authority in their hands,” Mustin said. “Our Reserve Sailors will participate in multinational exercises, demonstrate interoperability and integration with our partners, and contribute to the strongest defense to adversaries in the Atlantic.”
The construct is unique from drill-weekends spent at a local Reserve center and two weeks at a training exercise — a standard Reserve work schedule familiar to most augmentation units.
The new design aligns with 2nd Fleet’s 24/7/365 operational requirements. Mustin explains that by using flex-drill opportunities — where Sailors can be assigned as needed without arranging Reserve support around a unit drill period — and other creative constructs for support, both fiscal and temporal, there will be a persistent Reserve presence.
“We'll be standing watch beside and integrated into the active-duty watchbill,” he said. “Some members will be Reserve and some will be active-duty — and no one will ever know the difference.”
The redesign is just the tip of the iceberg, according to Mustin, who says the changes are a small sample of what’s being put into practice throughout the larger Reserve force.
“You talk about requirements and it's not active or Reserve, it's a Navy requirement,” he said. “If the Reserve force can deliver against that requirement better than the active-duty can, then by all means we're going to double down and create opportunities to fill those needs.”
Mustin says the Navy needs Reserve officers and enlisted who are thirsty for operational level war billets. But he says the term operational is also being defined theoretically.
In guidance provided to 2nd Fleet, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson directed the new fleet to collaborate with the Naval War College and warfare development centers in order to become a hub for concept development and implementation. Richardson says the purpose is to maneuver in thought, or to continually reassess practices to ensure that as the Navy operates around the world it is prepared to compete, fight and win.
Mustin has taken the concept to heart. “This year marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day — a campaign in which Allied forces joined together to change the course of history,” he said. “We were ready to fight and win then, and we are equally ready now. But we also recognize that we won’t win tomorrow’s wars with today’s weapons, tactics and thinking. At 2nd Fleet we’re leaning forward to define command and control, operations and Reserve component integration of the future fighting fleet.”
“We're a hundred years into being a Reserve force and at this point we know that there are some things we need to do differently,” Mustin said. “We're going to make sure the value of every dollar dedicated to the Reserve force provides maximum utility to make our Navy better.”
For more news from Commander, Navy Reserve Force, visit www.navy.mil/local/nrf/.