On Friday the Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson, announced the reactivation of the US 2nd Fleet, which was the US Navy fleet responsible for operations in the North Atlantic until it was deactivated in 2011. Its AOR, and operations were taken over by the 6th Fleet, which covered both the Mediterranean and Atlantic during the time. The move has been expected for some time now. As relations between the United States and Russia began their downward trend after the 2014 annexation of Crimea, Russian naval activity in the North Atlantic increased. In the later years of the Obama tenure, the US Navy began to take a hard look at the possibility of standing up 2nd Fleet once again. The prospect did not begin to gain momentum until 2017 when the Trump administration and then-new Secretary of Defense James Mattis began to take a hard look at the US military and the changing geopolitical realities around the world
Richardson alluded to that in his remarks. “Our National Defense Strategy makes clear that we’re back in an era of great power competition as the security environment continues to grow more challenging and complex.” This move is a clear indication that the Pentagon has placed a high priority in countering Russia’s heightened military activity. A large part of this strategy includes a US pivot back to Europe and the North Atlantic.
Increased Russian naval activity in the Atlantic over the last 2-3 years has been a concern for NATO as well as the US Navy. In a nod to the Cold War days and SACLANT, NATO’s new Atlantic Command will join the 2nd Fleet as being headquartered in Norfolk.
Attention is focused on Washington DC today as the world waits to see how the United States chooses to respond to the suspected chemical weapons attack in Douma, Syria on 7 April. This morning it was announced that President Trump will not be attending the Summit of the Americas in Peru, or traveling to Bogota, Columbia afterwards as planned. Instead, the president will remain in Washington to “oversee the American response to Syria and to monitor developments around the world” according to the White House. This recent development has increased speculation that US military action could be coming soon. Reports that Trump has been in consultation with London and Paris suggest a broader Western military response is possible as well.
In fact, the possibility of British involvement at the very least is growing. A short time ago I spoke to an associate of mine who lives a short distance away from RAF Akrotri, the British airbase on Cyprus. He verified that the level of activity there has increased over the past few hours and shows no sign of dropping off. Right now I am trying to obtain more information from him. If I do, I will pass it along.
On the military front, numerous reports surfaced yesterday that the destroyer USS Donald Cook was moving into waters near Syria, and Russian aircraft were conducting low level flights nearby. The Pentagon denied the reports and they were never confirmed by any major independent media outlets. If Cook is in the vicinity of Syria it makes sense for Russian aircraft to harass any potential TLAM shooters, and keep a close eye on them as the situation unfolds. It should also be noted that given the range of the TLAM, Cook does not have to be anywhere close to the Syrian coastline. She could launch cruise missiles from practically anywhere in the Mediterranean. However, given political considerations and such, it does make sense to volley TLAMs as close to Syria as the situation allows.
It is mid-afternoon here in the eastern United States and there is much happening with regards to Syria from Washington to Europe, and the Med. I’ll try and post another update early in the evening and offer some thoughts about if or when military action against the Syrian government might begin.
Today the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) activated Japan’s first marine unit since World War II. The Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade (ARDB) has come into being to help Japan meet the evolving security situation in that part of the world. The troop strength of the brigade will be around 2,1000 troops, NCOs, and officers. It’s equipment will include V-22 Ospreys, and AAV7A1 amphibious landing vehicles. Although a brigade in name, the ARDB more closely resembles a US Marine Expeditionary Unit in size, organization and capabilities.
The main role of the marine unit will be to retake islands from an occupying force. In recent years Japan and China have seen a rise in tensions over Japanese islands at the edge of the East China Sea. As access to the Western Pacific becomes more of a priority for China, Japan is not taking the potential threat likely. Chinese military capabilities continue to increase and Japan is making strides in its own rearming process. The ARDB marks a significant increase in Tokyo’s ability to defend its most exposed territories.
Creation of the marine unit has brought controversy too. Amphibious and expeditionary forces have the capability to project power far beyond a home nation’s borders. Japan’s post-World War II constitution renounces the nation’s right to wage war. Japan’s neighbors could point to the creation of the ARDB as a provocation if they wanted.
In any case, Tokyo’s rearmament is moving at full speed ahead. The Japanese Self Defense Forces are loading for bear….or dragon, as the case may be.
It has taken years to bring to fruition but the largest arms procurement deal in Polish history has become reality. Yesterday, Poland reached an agreement with the United States to purchase the Patriot air defense system for the amount of $4.75 billion. The deal comes as the latest step in Poland’s effort to modernize its armed forces in the face of a growing Russian threat. Following the annexation of Crimea in 2014, Poland stepped up modernization of its aging military equipment and structure. This deal calls for the purchase of 2 batteries of the PAC-3+ variant of the Patriot system, which is the same advanced model fielded by US Army air defense units. They will take the place of the Soviet era SAMs currently in the Polish inventory such as the SA-2 and SA-6.
The deal has come just days after the United States and many Western nations expelled Russian diplomats in response to the use of a nerve agent on a former Russian intelligence officer in Great Britain. Warsaw is already in negotiations with the US to purchase more Patriots, advanced radar systems, and a separate interceptor missile as part of the next phase of its military modernization. The batteries purchased today will be delivered in 2022.
This deal could also potentially lead to the US offering stronger air defenses to the Baltic states. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have all been requesting just that in recent years. The Baltic region has become a military focal point since 2014. Russia has deployed SS-26 ballistic missiles to Kaliningrad, increased air activity around the Baltics, and held a number of major military exercises. NATO’s response has included strengthening the Baltic Air Police contingent for an extended period of time, rotating troops into the Baltic states on a regular basis, and the pre-positioning of US armor in Eastern Europe.
This week will mark the end of NATO’s current Baltic Air Policing rotation which stood began in September, 2017. USAFE F-15C Eagles of the 493d Fighter Squadron spent the rotation operating from Šiauliai air base in Lithuania, and Belgian F-16A MLU Falcons flew from Amari air base in Estonia. Later this week Danish F-16AMs will replace the US fighters, and Italian Air Force Typhoons will assume BAP duties from the Belgians. The September-January time period was a busy time in the air over the Baltics. US fighters were scrambled 30 times to intercept Russian aircraft flying near the airspace of the Baltic nations. Most of the activity took place in September around the time of Zapad ’17. Overall, the numbers are similar to those of recent BAP rotations, but still significantly higher than what they were in the days before Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and involvement in the Ukraine conflict.
The Baltic States are not the only area NATO conducts air policing missions. Iceland is another. The USAF ended the practice of rotating fighter squadrons to Keflavik in 2006. Shortly thereafter, Russian aircraft began to make incursions into Icelandic airspace. As a result, NATO stood up the Icelandic Air Policing mission in 2008 and has been rotating fighter detachments from member nations ever since.
The air policing rotations safeguard the sovereignty of air space for member nations that do not possess their own air arms, as well as provide valuable experience for pilots and ground personnel deployed. In a time of crisis, the numbers of NATO fighters operating from the Baltics and Iceland would increase. Therefore, it is heartening to know that there is a good amount of aircrews and support personnel who are familiar with operating from these locations.
The next Baltic Air Policing rotation will run from this coming week until May, 2018.