Russia, China on the Prowl; How US Navy is Responding
(Source: Voice of America News; issued June 13, 2019)
NORFOLK, VA. --- A major military exercise involving maritime forces from 18 countries is underway in the Baltic Sea, but at its helm is not a fleet permanently based in Europe, but one based half a world away in the U.S. state of Virginia.

Baltic Operations, known as BALTOPS, is one of the largest exercises in northern Europe: 50 ships, two submarines, 36 aircraft, and more than 8,000 troops.

The exercise, which started Sunday and runs through June 21, is steeped in nearly five decades of tradition. And the U.S. Navy’s 2nd Fleet has traveled from the U.S. East Coast to the region to lead the exercises. The fleet was made operational just last month, as increased activity by Russian and Chinese navies worried Washington.

“I can be with a small part of my staff on board this ship, or on board an aircraft carrier, or an austere location somewhere else,” U.S. Vice Admiral Andrew “Woody” Lewis, the commander of 2nd Fleet, told VOA in Norfolk, Virginia, before heading to the exercises.

Lewis said the “whole intent” of re-establishing the 2nd Fleet is to veer away from the “set lines” that break apart the geography between U.S. fleet operations.

“An artificial seam creates vulnerabilities, so you know, re-establishing the 2nd Fleet and focusing on that seam, it presents an opportunity. And that’s what we want to do, turn vulnerabilities into opportunities,” Lewis said.

The 2nd Fleet guards the North Atlantic and the Arctic. It was shut down in 2011 to save money.

Back then U.S officials had fewer worries about those areas, but times have changed. Top U.S. military leaders say Russia is on the prowl at levels not seen since the end of the Cold War, and China is also operating in the region.

“So when we are planning these exercises, and we go out and we operate with our ships, in our aircraft, we are thinking about China and Russia and how we are going to win this high-end fight,” said Navy Cmdr. Tara Golden, who heads U.S. Second Fleet training and development.

New NATO command

NATO has also created a new command to counter a resurgent Russia in the North Atlantic. Vice Admiral Lewis also heads that command, dubbed Joint Force Command Norfolk.

Until now, the NATO presence in Norfolk focused on developing future NATO military strategy and concepts, not day-to-day operations.

NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, French Air Force General André Lanata, tells VOA the new operational command will reinforce the link between North America and Europe, amid growing global instability.

“It is a concrete way that proves that the alliance is adapting today,” he said, “because we need to be fed by the lessons coming from the field in order to adapt our own capabilities.”

U.S. 2nd Fleet’s NATO counterpart is expected to reach full operational capacity in 2021.

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2nd MEB Marines Return to Europe to Support BALTOPS 19
(Source: US Marine Corps; issued June 12, 2019)
USS MOUNT WHITNEY --- U.S. Marines with 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade return to Europe for the third time in just over half a year to support another combined exercise with 17 NATO allies and European partners.

Approximately 100 Marines and Sailors from the MEB commanded by Maj. Gen. Stephen Neary along with 250 Marines and Sailors from 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit are participating in Baltic Operations 19.

The exercise, commanded by Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, Commander U.S. 2nd Fleet, on behalf of U.S. Naval Forces Europe, enhances interoperability between partnering nations and strengthens the already robust strategic relationships.

“No one nation can face today’s challenges alone, we are much stronger together,” said Lewis. “Our partner and NATO alliances must continue to strengthen our deterrence and defense efforts and adapt through improving readiness and responsiveness.”

The MEB demonstrated its commitment to a forward presence in Europe through its support to a number of large exercises recently including Austere Challenge 19 and Trident Juncture 18. In BALTOPS, the MEB will exercise command and control over a multinational landing force consisting of British, Romanian, Spanish, Polish and U.S. Forces through a number of amphibious demonstrations and assaults throughout the Baltic Sea region.

“BALTOPS 19 is a great opportunity for 2nd MEB and Expeditionary Strike Group 2 to operate as an amphibious force in a competitive space, commanding and controlling multinational maritime and amphibious forces with the goal of improving our interoperability,” said Neary. “This reassures our allies and partners and deters potential adversaries around the globe.”

The exercise began June 9 and will continue through June 22.

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