NORFOLK, Va. — Less than a year after Vice Adm. Andrew “Woody” Lewis resurrected the Navy’s 2nd Fleet, he announced it’s operating and will reach full capabilities by the end of 2019.
To punctuate his perspective, Lewis delivered his announcement against the backdrop of three aircraft carriers, two of which now fall under his operational control, during a press conference at Naval Base Norfolk’s Iowa Point.
“This means the 2nd Fleet has the capability to command and control forces assigned in high end maritime operations as it is expected of any other numbered fleet,” Lewis said. “The only difference between 2nd Fleet (Initial Operating Capability) today and 2nd Fleet at our final operational capability is the capacity.”
That capacity will continue to grow as the fleet adds staffers "in order to take on more and more forces.” he said.
Lewis will focus fleet operations on the Atlantic Ocean, a body of water that covers 20 percent of the globe’s surface.
“The North Atlantic has some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. And with the opening of waterways in the Arctic, this traffic will only grow,” Lewis said.
Last month, the Navy announced that 2nd Fleet will spearhead the 47th annual Baltic Operations, an exercise that’s slated to kick off in mid-June. BALTOPS 2019 is expected to draw at least 8,000 sailors from 18 nations.
Held on Russia’s doorstep, the drills are designed to promote “peace and security through cooperation, collaboration, interoperability and an unambiguous display of strength in the Baltic region," Lewis said.
Under the Navy’s current plan, forces on the East Coast "will be assigned once in the final stage of the training cycle, and through the end of the period in which forces are available for operational tasking” to 2nd Fleet, Lewis said.
“This allows 2nd Fleet to focus its attention on the development and employment of forces at the highest level of warfare.”
As warships journey across the Atlantic Ocean and into zones controlled by other numbered fleets, they’ll temporarily fall under the control of those admirals.
For now, Lewis controls several key strategic assets, including the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group. When he returns from BALTOPS 2019, Lewis pledged to “start doing some exercises” with it.
He also has at his command sister carrier John C. Stennis, which returned to Norfolk on May 16 after a seven-month deployment.
“Stennis is assigned to me until she goes into maintenance,” he said, adding that it can be used for hurricane relief efforts and “other fleet operations” before beginning a lengthy midlife Refueling and Complex Overhaul at Newport News Shipbuilding.
And although the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln will finish its deployment in a new homeport, Naval Air Station North Island, the rest of its strike group is slated to return to Virginia and fall under 2nd Fleet control.
For now, Lewis continues to hash out the “geographic boundaries” separating 2nd Fleet from Naples-based 6th Fleet so there’s no “seam in the Atlantic for our competitors to exploit.”
Mark D. Faram is a former reporter for Navy Times. He was a senior writer covering personnel, cultural and historical issues. A nine-year active duty Navy veteran, Faram served from 1978 to 1987 as a Navy Diver and photographer.