New Destroyer Task Force Established To Hunt Russian Submarines In The Atlantic

The U.S. Navy has established a dedicated anti-submarine task group of Arleigh Burke-class destroyers that will be on call to conduct operations in the North Atlantic Ocean on short notice. The establishment of this force follows years of Navy and other U.S. military officials sounding the alarm about the potential threats posed by Russian submarines off the East Coast of the United States. The Russian Navy’s continued acquisition of more modern and increasingly quiet nuclear-powered submarines, especially examples of the Yasen and Yasen-M class guided-missile submarines that American officials have said are “on par with ours,” has been of particular concern.

This new anti-submarine force, officially named Task Group Greyhound, quietly reached initial operational capability on Sept. 1, 2021, but the Navy only recently highlighted its creation. Greyhound is set to be a rotational force with four Arleigh Burkes assigned to it at all times.

US Navy Arleigh Burke class destroyers., USN

Greyhound’s job is to “provide the fleet with predictable, continuously ready and fully certified warships,” Navy Rear Admiral Brendan McLane, head of Naval Surface Force Atlantic, said during a ceremony aboard the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer Thomas Hudner (DDG-116) in Mayport, Florida, on Monday. “The ships will be ready to accomplish the full range of missions — including tracking Russian undersea activity in the Atlantic and maritime homeland defense for our nation.”

The task group’s name appears to be, at least in part, a reference to the 2020 movie of the same name, starring Tom Hanks, which was based on the C.S. Forester novel The Good Shepherd. The book, and its film adaption, center on the exploits of a U.S. Navy destroyer escorting merchant ships across the Atlantic during World War II in the face of Nazi submarines. Certain types of destroyers at that time were referred to as greyhounds.

Those convoy escort operations were part of a larger Allied naval campaign that became known as the Battle of the Atlantic, or sometimes the Second Battle of the Atlantic to acknowledge similar operations during World War I. Soviet and Western naval activity in this ocean during the Cold War has been referred to on occasion as the Third Battle of the Atlantic. U.S. military officials have more recently dubbed the latest increase in Russian naval activity in this region, and Western responses to it, as the Fourth Battle of the Atlantic

At present, the Thomas Hudner and USS Donald Cook (DDG-75), the latter of which only returned to the United States earlier this year after years of being forward-deployed in Spain, are the only ships assigned to Greyhound. The USS The Sullivans (DDG-68), which is presently part of the multinational carrier strike group centered on the U.K. Royal Navy’s HMS Queen Elizabeth, is set to join the unit when it returns home in January. Later next year, the USS Cole (DDG-67) and Gravely (DDG-107) will arrive at the task group, while Donald Cook will leave to begin a planned maintenance period, at which point the force will have the expected four destroyers.

“The idea is we put in the ships that already have deployments under their belt and are most ready and most experienced,” Rear Admiral McLane told reporters during a call afterward, according to USNI News. The hope is that the rotational task group will also help streamline the scheduling of training opportunities, including larger exercises involving other assets besides Arleigh Burkes. Anti-submarine warfare, in general, is a complex mission set, as you can read more about in this past War Zone feature.

“We can align everybody up to take advantage of whatever training opportunities may exist, as well as tactical development exercises like in the past Black Widow, and then training opportunities like submarine command course operations,” Rear Admiral Brian Davies, the commander of Submarine Group 2 and the deputy commander of U.S. 2nd Fleet, also told reporters. “We can align those assets to go after these training environments that may exist.”

The Navy reactivated 2nd Fleet in 2018 specifically in response to concerns about increased Russian naval activity, particularly submarine operations, in the North Atlantic. Exercise Black Widow, which Davies mentioned here, is a relatively new annual submarine and anti-submarine warfare drill in the Atlantic, the first iteration of which was conducted in 2020. The second one just wrapped up in August. Various Navy ships and submarines, as well as aircraft, such as P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol planes and MH-60R Seahawk helicopters, have taken part in these exercises, which have also seen the service’s new submarine aggressor squadron, or AGGRON, help provide realistic subsurface opponents. You can read more about AGGRON, which was established in 2019, here.

An unidentified Arleigh Burke-class destroyer seen through one of the periscopes on the Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS San Juan (SSN-751) during the first Black Widow exercise in 2020., USN

Of course, Greyhound isn’t just about training. The Navy clearly expects the task group to help the service respond faster and more effectively to potential submarine threats, especially to the U.S. homeland.

“The strategic threat to the homeland has entered a new era and our key competitors have deployed and continue to advance a range of capabilities to hold the homeland at risk,” Rear Admiral McLane had said at the ceremony earlier this week. “So instead of having to go out and find an asset to go and hunt, say, a high-end Russian submarine, we have these assets pre-assigned and they’re able to practice in this team-to-teams approach that we like to talk about when it comes to the arc of undersea warfare.”

As already noted, all of this is well in line with a steady stream of public statements from the U.S. military about the potential threats that increasingly advanced Russian submarines present to American interests in the Atlantic and the immediate security of the country. “Within a five-year period, they’ll have eight to nine of those submarines, which will be a persistent proximate threat off of our East and West Coasts that we haven’t had ever in the past,” U.S. Air Force General Glen VanHerck, head of U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) and the U.S.-Canadian North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), said at a Congressional hearing earlier this year.

VanHerck was speaking specifically about Russia’s nuclear-powered Yasen-class guided-missile submarines, and the new subclass of Yasen-Ms, which reportedly have a number of improved features. He said that these boats, which you read more about here, are “on par with ours.” 

The Russian Navy is also in the process of acquiring new Borei-A-class nuclear-powered ballistic-missile submarines, improved subvariants of the original Borei class design that first entered service in 2013. 

“Our new reality is that when our sailors toss the lines over and set sail, they can expect to be operating in a contested space once they leave Norfolk,” U.S. Navy Vice Admiral Andrew “Woody” Lewis, then head of 2nd Fleet, had said last year about the overall situation as the Navy sees it. “Our ships can no longer expect to operate in a safe haven on the East Coast or merely cross the Atlantic unhindered to operate in another location.”

In addition, Russia has a significant fleet of specialized submarines, including deep-diving mini-submarines and highly modified mothership boats to carry them. There have long been concerns that the Kremlin could utilize those capabilities to tap or even attack sensitive undersea cable lines

Russia’s newest special mission submarine, the absolutely massive modified Oscar-II class Belgorod is also expected to be a launch platform for the Poseidon nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed long-range torpedo, a novel strategic weapon you read more about here. There are a number of other Russian unmanned underwater vehicles known to be in development that it could use to undertake various missions, as well. 

The Navy, as well as the U.S. military as a whole, is also increasingly concerned about Russian naval activity in the Arctic and in the Pacific. However, China, which is in the midst of a massive effort to expand and modernize its naval capabilities, including the acquisition of new advanced submarines, is the predominant near-peer competitor in the Pacific. American officials have also been pointing to the potential for increased Chinese naval operations in the Arctic, and even possibly into the Atlantic, as time goes on. 

Other U.S. adversaries, such as North Korea and Iran, are also working to expand their subsurface capabilities and advanced submarine technology is proliferating more and more, in general, around the world. Submarines, and the capabilities they offer and the threats they present, have been a general topic of increased interest recently with the announcement that Australia has begun working with the United States and the United Kingdom to acquire a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines

All told, it is hardly surprising that the Navy has stood up a force of surface ships dedicated to anti-submarine operations in the Atlantic. The creation of Task Group Greyhound may well presage the establishment of similar units elsewhere, especially in the Pacific, as concerns about potential hostile submarine activity from Russia and China, among others, continues to grow. 

Contact the author: