The path toward the Sept. 30 disestablishment of 2nd Fleet, the command that oversees all Atlantic-based naval operations and the training and certification of fleet battle groups, and its merger with Fleet Forces Command, runs this week through a “merged staff functional assessment” — a four-day exercise that aims to evaluate the soon-to-be merged command’s ability to react to a crisis event.
It would be interesting to see that evaluation. Concerns about the merged staff’s ability to do so were raised internally by senior officials involved in the planning of the move, according to an internal Fleet Forces Command report and subsequent independent study reported on by Navy Times May 22. As noted by a former 2nd Fleet commander, retired Vice Adm. Marty Chanik, the consolidated staff, minus a total of 460 active-duty and reserve billets being lost at 2nd Fleet, could be overstretched to the extent of possibly “losing either [Area of Responsibility]-wide situational awareness or local fleet focus,” Chanik wrote.
This strain could increase, Chanik said, during out-of-area deployments or unexpected events, such as a hurricane evacuation.
In fact, high-demand situations could force significant internal staff shifts, wrote Vice Adm. Gerald Beaman in the internal staff report. At the time, Beaman was Fleet Forces’ former deputy chief of staff for Global Force Management, Joint Operations and Fleet/Joint Training; he now serves as the 3rd Fleet commander. “Obviously, from an operational perspective, we’d need to maintain our ability to pull personnel throughout the command to support crisis operations,” Beaman wrote.
Despite such concerns, Fleet Forces, in a June 27 press release, says the restructured and merged Fleet Forces staff will be able to “execute its mission without risk to operational forces.”
“The ability to assume no risk to the execution of current operations and all operational functions of C2F is fundamental to the merger of the USFF/C2F staffs,” said Rear Adm. Scott Craig, Fleet Forces’ deputy chief of staff for fleet capabilities requirements, concepts, and experimentation.
In the exercise, which began Monday, about 125 personnel were moved to an unidentified alternate operating facility outside of the Norfolk area in response to a notional hurricane scenario, “testing the command’s ability to execute a Continuity of Operations Plan.” The exercise will “help identify gaps and seams across elements of the staff in a simulated crisis; ensure staff capability to operate across strategic, operational and tactical levels of responsibility; demonstrate the ability to exercise Command & Control of the Fleet from an alternate operating facility; and enable directorates and special assistants to prepare for the upcoming hurricane season.”
The need for an alternate command and control facility outside of Norfolk — should, say, a natural disaster render Fleet Forces’ command capabilities inoperative — is required in part because of the imminent loss of 2nd Fleet’s Maritime Operations Center, also located in Norfolk, which is being merged with Fleet Forces’. Fleet Forces spokesman Capt. Chris Sims said in May that in the long term, the Navy “will gain savings by not maintaining and upgrading two Maritime Operations Centers less than two miles from each other.”
The disestablishment decision is the result of a 2010 Pentagon savings initiative that required the services to find ways to reduce spending by more than $150 billion over the next five years.
The Navy declined to provide an estimate of how much the 2nd Fleet disestablishment will save annually.