Having just recently revealed plans to re-establish the 1st US Fleet In the Indian Ocean region, Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite has confirmed that the United States Fleet Forces Command will be renamed to “U.S. Atlantic Fleet”. In 2006, its centennial year, the original Atlantic Fleet was renamed as Fleet Forces Command which, somewhat confusingly, was at the time the name of a separate organization. The “old” Fleet Forces Command was disestablished and its duties were taken on by the “new” Fleet Forces Command which itself was the renamed Atlantic Fleet.
Justifying the most recent decision, Secretary Braithwaite explained that:
“As the world changes, we must be bold, evolve, and change with it. Instead of perpetuating a structure designed to support yesterday’s Joint Forces Command, we are aligning to today’s threat. To meet the unique maritime challenges of the Atlantic theater, we will rename Fleet Forces Command as the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, and we will refocus our naval forces in this important region on their original mission: controlling the maritime approaches to the United States and to those of our allies”
As the new Atlantic Fleet shifts away from the global war on terror, Russia has been underlined as its main concern. With increased frequency, Russian naval vessels have been deploying closer and closer to the US East Coast. In Washington, concerns over Russian belligerency have been on the rise ever since the Kremlin’s 2014 annexation of the Crimea. Furthermore, with global warming opening up new northern sea routes, the arctic has increasingly become a space for strategic competition. With the US and Russia both bordering the arctic, their increased focus on the region is anything but surprising.
In December of 2014, Russia asserted its intensified arctic focus by forming the Northern Fleet Joint Strategic Command. Meanwhile in 2018, the US re-established the 2nd Fleet which covers the East Coast and North Atlantic. The 2019 Department of Defense Arctic Strategy report to Congress explained that:
“The Navy’s 2nd Fleet has responsibility for ensuring the readiness of and dynamically employing, maritime forces in the Atlantic and the Arctic, and the ability to fight across multiple domains, thereby deterring aggression.”
The new Atlantic Fleet plans can therefore be seen through the lens of a longer, multi-year trend.