VADM Lewis on the Full Operational Capability of Allied Joint Forces Command, July 15, 2021

By Robbin Laird

I “attended” the Full Operational Capability ceremony for Allied Joint Forces Command on July 15, 2021 aboard USS Kearsarge.

Of course, I “attended” via the web link.

Ed Timperlake and I have had the opportunity to discuss with both 2nd Fleet and Joint Allied Forces Command the standup of these commands under VADM Lewis.

What we have seen is shaping new capabilities drawing together the focused efforts of the United States and core allies to deal with the challenges which Murielle Delaporte and I focused on in our book on the return of direct defense in Europe.

Russia is not the Soviet Union, and the focus on new defense capabilities among a number of a core allies requires a revamped approach to how we organize our collective defense.

The efforts Ed and I have seen in Norfolk clearly is doing so.

But watching the ceremony and reflecting on what we have learned in Norfolk, I could not but be reminded of the famous quote from Ben Franklin at the time of establishing our country.

On September 17, 1787, as the delegates left the Constitutional Convention in Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin was asked what kind of government do we have? “A Republic,” he replied, “if you can keep it.”

What VADM Lewis and his team and the allies have launched is clearly a template for change and can shape a way ahead for effective direct defense of our interests.

Will those who follow be able to meet the challenges of keeping pace with what I believe is the pacing threat for the United States, Russia, China and the explosive forces of terrorism and authoritarianism coming from the Euro-Med region.

While China may well be a pacing threat, the Russians spearhead a continuous direct challenge with political-military capabilities underlying that challenge.

VADM Lewis at the ceremony provided insights with regard both to the standup of the commands and shaping the way ahead.

His presentation can be read below as well as viewed in the video of his remarks as well.

The Atlantic is clearly at the core of our collective priorities. I echo the Chairman’s sentiment about the importance of strong relationships, indeed friendships with Allies and Partners in the Region.

Building upon these relationships through continued interoperability, integration, and interchangeability has been at the center of our vision since our establishment in 2018.

This has been recognized in both NATO and U.S. national strategic documents.  We can no longer assume we have control of the Atlantic as we had at the end of the Cold War. We are again being challenged by threats in these waters.

Last month, I had the honor of leading the First Phase of NATO’s premier exercise of this year, STEADFAST DEFENDER, which took place in the international waters off the coast of Lisbon, Portugal.

The Portuguese Chief of Defense, Admiral António Silva Ribeiro, welcomed us and clearly described the 4 x Strategic Trends we are facing in the Atlantic today and in the future.  I think those are worth repeating today.

The first trend, no surprise to anyone, is escalating competition with both Russia and China. Both have increased their presence in the Atlantic Region from the Arctic Circle to the South Pole…and that requires a pro-active approach by the Alliance and like-minded Partners to ensure the sustainment of a rules-based operational environment in order to assure access to the Strategic Lines of Communication across all domains.

This problem-set was the focus of STEADFAST DEFENDER 21 where we exercised the rapid re-enforcement of NATO’s European Allies by North American forces.

The second trend, which demands our focus in the Atlantic is the ever-increasing exploitation of information, of both words said and shared, as well as, in the actual network infrastructure.

Today, 97 percent of information transmitted between Europe and North America travels on the ocean floor through undersea cables. These undersea cables are an indispensable component of modern life and our economy, but they are vulnerable to attack both in the ocean and on land.

The third trend is the increase in threats to national economies, causing rising poverty and instability in areas of strategic interest.

This reality compels us to remain active in crisis management and cooperative security.

On this side of the Atlantic, I am referring to the region connecting North and South America, and in the Eastern Atlantic, the Gulf of Guinea.

Organized crime… mass migrations… and an upsurge of terrorism in vulnerable regions of the world will, no doubt, require the attention and focus of Atlantic nations.

And the last trend is our changing climate.  We are seeing stronger, more violent weather patterns, melting ice caps and the opening of waterways in the Arctic. The protection of our oceans demands reorienting ourselves to this new reality and building strong, cooperative relationships with Allies and partners, in the military domain and beyond.

These four themes: strategic competition with China and Russia, the manipulation of information, economic instability in regions of strategic interest, and a changing climate, all have one common denominator – the need for like-minded nations and their militaries, to preserve the Atlantic… the ocean that gives name to our alliance.

JFC Norfolk was formed In response to this security environment  NATO embarked on an ambitious program of adaptation starting at the 2014 Summit, which emphasized the importance of protecting the strategic lines of communication and the reinforcement of Europe in conflict.

Then in 2016, the NATO Command Structure Adaptation was initiated.

With the support of the nations, in 2018, the Alliance approved the establishment of Joint Force Command Norfolk.

Today, this command is perfectly situated on the Western seaboard of the Atlantic. This third NATO Joint Force Command, alongside JFC Brunssum, located in the heart of Europe, and JFC Naples, located along the Mediterranean, creates a link between North America and Europe, and helps to further develop the desired 360-degree approach, for our collective defense and security.

JFC Norfolk is the first operational level NATO headquarters in North America… and is the Atlantic Advocate within the Alliance, enhancing NATO’s readiness and responsiveness.  The command reached Initial Operational Capability last September… ready to take on an initial set of tasks from SACEUR, authorized by NATO’s 30 Member nations.

I cannot overstate the amount of work that goes into a command of this nature. The role of hundreds, if not thousands, of people, who have supported the command and the staff… to which a “Thank you” feels like not enough, but I would like to attempt to recognize everyone nonetheless.

The Framework and Host Nation, the United States, who has been critical, not only to the roof over our heads and other infrastructure, but leaned in…to meet short and demanding timelines by surging support from critical areas.

And the unique command relationship with U.S. Second Fleet, which brought a large national maritime knowledge and expertise to the team.  The two commands have a shared commander and geography makes for a partnership that has already strengthened the Alliance.

The support from the NATO Military authorities has been crucial to our success. This starts with SHAPE headquarters in Mons, Belgium, including our fellow JFCs, and all of the component commanders, especially Maritime Command.

Across the street, we have developed a strong relationship with Allied Command Transformation, NATO’s warfighting development command.

And the Combined Joint Operations from the Sea Center of Excellence, which we have brought under my directorship, will ensure experts in maritime strategy and tactics are within arm’s reach of our staff.

Those personnel with Arctic and Atlantic expertise on my staff have been critical to shaping our understanding of this rugged geography, both in the waters and in the littorals. Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Iceland, Norway and the United Kingdom were quick to send their brightest minds, and we have appreciated the regional experience they bring to the growing body of professional knowledge of the command.

Also the joint expertise that we have built here, re-emphasizes this command is not about geographic boundaries, but it’s about the mission. Land, Air, Sea and special operations expertise from across Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Spain and Turkey.

And the presence of officers from Albania and Estonia is a testament to NATO’s spirit of collective security and defense, while liaison officers from Partners Finland and Sweden show how important the transatlantic link is to even non-NATO members.

The support of the nations, especially the signatories to our founding Memorandum of Understanding, has been essential to the development of the staff and the command as a whole.

During STEADFAST DEFENDER, this team showed that they are prepared to operate together as a NATO JFC, as we stood up our Joint Operations Center for the first time and executed a robust battle rhythm and crisis scenario, augmented by an expert team of U.S. Reservists from across the joint force. From here on out, we will build on that success as we connect Allied and Partner nations operating in the Atlantic.

With our inaugural commanders’ conference in June, we solidified the enhanced relationships that have been fostered with National and NATO headquarters that share our common aim of trans-Atlantic security. This Command Network sits at the core of JFC Norfolk. It unites diverse expertise and capabilities through coordination and guidance to better meet SACEUR’s Strategic Direction. It also allows us to remain adaptable in our own staff and utilize resources in the most efficient way to meet complex problems.

It is this sustained high performance that gives me the assurance and confidence that JFC Norfolk is FULLY OPERATIONAL.

As a fully operational NATO command, we are executing our peacetime mission in line with SACEUR’s direction and guidance. We will continue to provide All-domain situational understanding, both lead and contribute to NATO planning… and participate in exercises like STEADFAST DEFENDER and STEADFAST JUPITER.

As the commander of both JFC Norfolk and 2nd Fleet, our mission is to prepare for every possible crisis or situation that could develop throughout the Atlantic region, so that the Alliance has options in both forces and how to employ them.

We will be ready to fight, so that we do not have to.

So where do we go from here?

Going forward, we must shift from a “startup” mindset, to an ethos of readiness and persistent vigilance. We will continuously build on our mission of transatlantic security, by developing innovative ideas and interoperability with our Command Network of both national and NATO Commands.

In 2019, the Alliance endorsed the NATO Military Strategy for comprehensive defense and shared response. This is the first major change to NATO’s Military Strategy in more than 50 years.

We are moving into a new, exciting era for the Alliance.

The new concept for the ‘Deterrence and Defense in the Euro-Atlantic Area’, or DDA, continues to develop at a rapid pace. This will provide nations with a common framework to align National Military Deterrence and Defense Activities in Peacetime, Crisis or Conflict.

At the most recent Brussels Summit, our heads of state reiterated their endorsement for the new strategy and DDA, embedding them within the NATO 2030 project.

In addition to JFC Norfolk, Joint Support Enabling Command and the Cyber Operations Center are set to declare Full Operational Capability in the coming months.

NATO has again shown its ability to adapt to an evolving security environment. JFC Norfolk stands as the operational embodiment of the transatlantic bridge that connects the most successful Alliance in history.

What you see here today is an Alliance that is cohesive, strong, and unified in its enduring purpose to safeguard the freedom and security of all its members by political and military means.

Standing up JFC Norfolk demonstrates the dedication on both sides of the Atlantic to the security and stability of the Euro-Atlantic area. It also sends a strong message of assurance to both North Americans and Europeans, while serving as a powerful signal to deter any potential adversary.

No one nation can face today’s challenges alone. Our Alliance will continue to grow throughout the years as we work together every day to defend our shared values.

JFC Norfolk is steadfastly dedicated to ensuring the strategic lines of communication from Florida to Finnmark, and from Seabed to space, remain secure and free for many years to come.

Thank you for your attention and thank you again for being here today.

For the complete ceremony video, see the following:

Allied Joint Force Command Norfolk: July 15 Full Standup

For our report on Second Fleet and Allied Joint Forces Command, see the following: