Royal Navy Rear Adm. Andrew Betton, deputy commander of Joint Force Command Norfolk, (left) and U.S. Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, commander of the command, cut the ribbon during an Initial Operational Capability ceremony on Thursday. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Theodore Green/U.S. Navy
Sept. 17 (UPI) -- NATO's new Atlantic Command, Joint Force Command Norfolk, was declared operational at a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Norfolk, Va., Thursday.
The new command was established to protect sea lanes between Europe and North America and is the first NATO headquarters dedicated to the Atlantic since 2003, according to NATO officials.
The new command will provide command arrangements for allied forces, maintain situational awareness, conduct exercises and draw up operational plans for areas from the East Coast past the Greenland-Iceland-Britain gap and into the Arctic.
The ceremony was held at the Naval Support Activity Hampton Roads in Norfolk and streamed online with participants from other NATO's commands.
"NATO is a transatlantic Alliance and the North Atlantic is vital for the security of Europe. Our new Atlantic Command will ensure crucial routes for reinforcements and supplies from North America to Europe remain secure," said NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg.
The Atlantic Command will be co-located with the U.S. Second Fleet and led by U.S. Vice Admiral Andrew Lewis.
"This ceremony marks a significant milestone in providing a new, crucial location and link to the Alliance, ultimately ensuring a 360-degree approach for our collective NATO defense and security," Lewis said. Lewis also serves as the Commander of U.S. Second Fleet.
Joint Force Norfolk joins NATO's two existing Joint Forces Commands, located in Brunssum, Netherlands, and Naples, Italy.
Day-to-day NATO maritime operations will continue to be run out of Allied Maritime Command in Britain.
NATO defense ministers decided in June 2018 to adapt NATO's command structure with an Atlantic command in Norfolk and a command for support and logistics in Ulm, Germany.