The United States Secretary of the Navy, Kenneth J. Braithwaite, wants the Navy to stand up a new fleet, the Navy reported. The new fleet, which would be the United States’ eighth, would help bolster the United States Indo-Pacific Command.
Based out of Hawaii, Indo-Pacific Command, or USINDOPACOM, is the largest combat command in terms of area covered and is vital to American and allied interests. The challenges in the region are enormous.
In addition to containing 50% of the global population, the area covered by USINDOPACOM includes the world’s biggest democracy (India), the most populous country (China), and the world’s largest Muslim-majority country (Indonesia), as well as nine out of the world’s ten largest sea ports, and the busiest maritime shipping lanes. As if that were not enough, five of the world’s nuclear powers are in the region, as well as seven of the world’s ten largest militaries, underscoring the region’s global importance.
China, China, China
In comments delivered during the annual Naval Submarine League symposium, held online this year on account of the global pandemic, Secretary of the Navy Braithwaite explained what the driving force behind the idea of a new Navy fleet is, stating that “the Chinese have shown their aggressiveness around the globe. Having just come from the High North, Chinese presence in the Arctic is unprecedented.”
Braithwaite further explained how concerns about China are not due to American fear-mongering, relating the concerns expressed during a trip to Asia, where “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.”
Existing fleets are insufficient to meet this challenge. “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 get in any kind of a dust-up,” Braithwaite explained.
The Navy’s 7th Fleet covers most of the western Pacific, from the International Dateline to the Indian Ocean, and though the San Diego-based 3rd Fleet has sometimes supported the 7th Fleet, a new 1st Fleet would greatly alleviate the burden placed on both. But where would the new 1st Fleet be stationed? Lion City, perhaps.
“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 U.S. Navy has had a presence in Singapore since the early 1990s, when an agreement was signed with the Singapore Navy to use Changi Naval Base facilities. It’s a prime piece of real estate.
Though significantly farther from China than Okinawa or mainland Japan, it is not far from China’s so-called nine-dash line, an expansive but unrecognized area in the South China Sea claimed by China. Regional proximity to this area would clearly benefit not just the United States but American allies as well.
Many, many details have yet to be made public, though Braithwaite said that the former Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper had been informed and was in agreement. Watch this topic for further future information.
Caleb Larson is a defense writer for the National Interest. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.