As part of the U.S. exercise Defender Europe 20 last year, the guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf (CG-72) transited the North Atlantic with three roll-on, roll-off vessels from Military Sealift Command (MSC), carrying troops and matériel to Europe. The U.S. Navy advertised this transit as a convoy operation and linked it to the previous transit of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69), stating that the carrier and other units in the strike group “cleared the maritime battlespace prior to the transit of the Vella Gulf–escorted MSC convoy.”
This convoy operation followed the establishment of NATO’s Joint Force Command in Norfolk, Virginia, and the reestablishment of the U.S. Navy’s Second Fleet, with the mission to confront the Russian Navy in the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans.1 In December 2020, the Secretary of the Navy renamed U.S. Fleet Forces Command U.S. Atlantic Fleet and stated that its focus would be the threat posed by the Russian Navy.2 U.S. Navy commanders have argued that a Fourth Battle of the Atlantic between NATO and Russia is underway.3
1. David B. Larter, “U.S. Navy Declares New Fleet Created to Confront Russia Fully Operational,” Defense News, 31 December 2019.
2. Megan Eckstein, “SECNAV Announces the Return of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, Focus Will Be on Russian Threat,” USNI News, 2 December 2020.
3. VADM James Foggo III, USN, and Alarik Fritz, “The Fourth Battle of the Atlantic,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 142, no. 6 (June 2016); and Richard R. Burgess, “Foggo: Fourth ‘Battle of the Atlantic’ Underway,” Seapower, 25 June 2020.
4. Andrew Radin et al., The Future of the Russian Military: Russia’s Ground Combat Capabilities and Implications for U.S.-Russia Competition (RAND Corporation, 2019).
5. James J. Wirtz, “Strategic Culture: The Russian Integration of Cyber Power into Grand Strategy,” in Kenneth Geers, ed., Cyber War in Perspective: Russian Aggression against Ukraine (Tallinn, Estonia: NATO CCD COE Publications, 2015).
6. Under “cruiser rules,” military vessels could stop merchant or passenger ships and search them for contraband, such as war matériel. The crew and passengers were to be taken off to safety before the ship could be captured or sunk.
7. Bradford Dismukes, “The Return of Great-Power Competition—Cold War Lessons about Strategic Antisubmarine Warfare and Defense of Sea Lines of Communication,” Naval War College Review 73, no. 3 (2020).
8. NATO’s Allied Worldwide Navigation Information System provides the procedures to promulgate safety and security of navigation information on navigation hazards that result from military operations—e.g., sea mines.
9. Defense Science Board, Task Force on Survivable Logistics Executive Summary (November 2018).