With Chinese maritime aggression increasing, the US is planning a new numbered fleet — First Fleet — that will focus on the Indo-Pacific region.
The US First Fleet, which was disbanded in 1973, is being resurrected and will likely be based out of Singapore.
“We want to stand up a new numbered fleet. And we want to put that numbered fleet in the crossroads between the Indian and the Pacific oceans, and we’re really going to have an Indo-PACOM footprint,” said US Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite, who is slated to travel to India in the coming weeks.
A numbered fleet is the tactical unit of the Navy, subordinate to a major fleet command. It comprises of various task forces, elements, groups and units which have specific naval operations.
The announcement comes in the backdrop of the second phase of Malabar 2020, the joint naval exercise by the Quad, that includes Aircraft Carrier battle groups from India and the US in the North Arabian Sea. The US, India, Japan and Australia make up the Quad.
The senior US military official, who was speaking late Tuesday at the Naval Submarine League’s annual symposium, added, “We can’t just rely on the 7th Fleet in Japan. We have to look to our other allies and partners like Singapore, like India, and actually put a numbered fleet where it would be extremely relevant if, God forbid, we were to ever to get in any kind of a dust-up.”
Braithwaite said he is travelling to India in the coming weeks to “discuss both their security challenges and how the US Navy can uniquely help them,” as well as how India can help the US.
His argument is that the US alone cannot stand up to China and that nations around the Pacific and around the globe need to assist each other in pushing back at Beijing militarily and economically if there was a chance for deterrence to work.
ThePrint had reported on 26 October that with an increasingly aggressive China flexing its muscles, India and the US have agreed to expand their bilateral military relationship, especially in the Indo-Pacific.
Explaining the need for the First Fleet, Braithwaite explained that the new fleet can “more importantly provide a much more formidable deterrence”.
“So we’re going to create the First Fleet, and we’re going to put it, if not Singapore (then) right out of the chocks … we’re going to look to make it more expeditionary-oriented and move it across the Pacific until it is where our allies and partners see that it could best assist them as well as to assist us,” he was quoted as saying by USNI News.
Further, the Naval Secretary red flagged the increasing Chinese aggression.
“The Chinese have shown their aggressiveness around the globe. Having just come from the High North (where he previously served as US Ambassador to Norway), Chinese presence in the Arctic is unprecedented. Most recently, I was on a trip to the Far East; every single one of our allies and partners are concerned about how aggressive the Chinese have been. I would argue with anybody that not since the War of 1812 has the United States and our sovereignty been under the kind of pressures that we see today,” he said.
America’s many fleet commands
The United States Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) is one of the six geographic combatant commands defined by the Department of Defense’s Unified Command Plan (UCP).
The world’s largest fleet command, the US Pacific Fleet comes under the US-INDO PACIFIC Command. It encompasses 100 million square miles, nearly half the Earth’s surface, from Antarctica to the Arctic circle and from the West Coast of the United States into the Indian Ocean.
The US Pacific Fleet consists of approximately 200 ships/submarines, nearly 1,200 aircraft, and more than 130,000 sailors and civilians.
It has the Seventh Fleet and the Third Fleet operating under it. The 7th Fleet operates out of Japan and covers regions from the International Dateline to about the India-Pakistan border.