US Navy plans to revive formation focused on Indian and Pacific oceans

The US Navy plans to revive a tactical formation that will focus on the Indian and Pacific Oceans and work with partners such as India and Singapore to cope with potential contingencies, a top American naval defence official has said.

Kenneth Braithwaite, secretary of the US Navy or the top civilian official in the department of the navy, made the announcement about establishing the First Fleet while addressing the Naval Submarine League’s annual symposium on Tuesday.

The First Fleet, which will be one of the US Navy’s “numbered fleets” or major tactical units, could be based out of Singapore in the long run, said Braithwaite, according to a report by USNI News, the journal of the US Naval Institute.

“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,” Braithwaite said.

“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,” he said.

“More importantly, it can 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 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.”

The move assumes significance because of the current focus on China’s assertive actions across the Indo-Pacific, especially the South China Sea. The US and the other members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue – India, Australia and Japan – have said they are committed to ensuring freedom of navigation and a rules-based order in this region.

The First Fleet existed from January 1947 to February 1973, when it was redesignated as the Third Fleet. The US Navy currently has seven active numbered fleets. Each numbered fleet has task forces and other units for specific operations.

Braithwaite, who is expected to visit India soon, said he had not spoken to acting defense secretary Christopher Miller about the plan for the First Fleet but had “crossed all the other t’s and dotted all the other i’s”. An unnamed US defence official told USNI News Braithwaite had discussed the proposal with former defense secretary Mark Esper, who was onboard with it.

During his address at the symposium, Braithwaite also referred to the Chinese showing “their aggressiveness around the globe”.

“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 US and our sovereignty been under the kind of pressures that we see today,” he added.

The US alone cannot stand up to China and nations around the Pacific and the globe need to assist in “pushing back militarily and economically if there was a chance for deterrence to work”, he was quoted as saying.

Braithwaite said he would travel to India in the coming weeks to discuss security challenges and how the two sides can help each other.

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