WASHINGTON — Amid rising tensions with Russia, the Pentagon on Friday announced the official launch of a new naval command that will bolster the U.S. and NATO presence in the Atlantic Ocean.
Outlines of the plan were approved at the February meeting of NATO defense ministers, as part of a broader effort to insure the security of the sea lanes and lines of communication between Europe and North America.
"The return to great power competition and a resurgent Russia demands that NATO refocus on the Atlantic to ensure dedicated reinforcement of the continent and demonstrate a capable and credible deterrence effect," said Johnny Michael, a Pentagon spokesman. He said the new NATO command "will be the linchpin of trans-Atlantic security."
The decision reflects escalating worries across Europe and within NATO over Russia's increased military presence and patrols in the Atlantic region. Under the new plan, the U.S. will set up NATO's new Atlantic Command headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in February that "we have seen a much more assertive Russia, we have seen a Russia which has over many years invested heavily in their military capabilities, modernized their military capabilities, which are exercising not only conventional forces but also nuclear forces."
He said the new Atlantic Command will be vital for the alliance to be able to respond. NATO also created a new logistics command, which is expected to be located in Germany.
At the same time, the U.S. Navy is re-establishing its 2nd Fleet command, which was eliminated in 2011 in a move to save costs. It was merged with the navy's Fleet Forces Command.
Adm. John Richardson, the chief of naval operations, said the move comes as the security environment "continues to grow more challenging and complex."
The command will oversee ships, aircraft and landing forces on the East Coast and northern Atlantic Ocean, and will be responsible for training forces and conducting maritime operations in the region.
Restarting the command was recommended in the Navy study done following the two deadly ship collisions last year that killed a total of 17 sailors.
The destroyer USS Fitzgerald struck a commercial ship off the waters of Japan in June, killing seven U.S. sailors. The destroyer USS John S. McCain collided with an oil tanker in coastal waters off Singapore in August, killing 10 U.S. sailors.
The Navy concluded that the two crashes, as well as a third collision in May and a ship grounding, were all avoidable, and resulted from widespread failures by the crews and commanders who didn't quickly recognize and respond to unfolding emergencies.
A report called for about 60 recommended changes to address the problems. They ranged from improved training on seamanship, navigation and the use of ship equipment to more basic changes to improve sleep and stress management for sailors.
The command will begin operations July 1. It will report to U.S. Fleet Forces, and will initially include 11 officers and 4 enlisted personnel. Those numbers will eventually increase to more than 250 personnel.