The US Navy’s move to revive a tactical formation focused on the Indian and Pacific Oceans is aimed at emphasising the growing importance of the region and the strategic partnership with India, a top American defence official has said.
Kenneth Braithwaite, secretary of the US Navy or the senior-most civilian official in the department of the navy, made the remarks while testifying before the US Senate armed services subcommittee on Wednesday.
Braithwaite had last month announced the US Navy’s plan to re-establish the First Fleet, one of the “numbered fleets” or major tactical units, and deploy it in the “crossroads between the Indian and the Pacific Oceans”.
Asked by a senator during his appearance before the Senate subcommittee whether the move is meant to emphasise the Indo-Pacific’s growing importance and the strategic relationship the US has with countries such as India and members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad, he replied: “That’s exactly right, senator.”
Braithwaite said the First Fleet will be reconstituted to improve the US posture in the Indo-Pacific and the formation will be given the “primary responsibility for the Indo and South Asian region as an expeditionary fleet” with an “agile, mobile, at-sea command”.
“This will reassure our allies and partners of our presence and commitment to this region, while ensuring any potential adversary knows we are committed to global presence to ensure rule of law and freedom of the seas,” he added.
The US 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 other members of the Quad – India, Australia and Japan – have said they are committed to freedom of navigation and a rules-based order in this region.
The First Fleet, which functioned from January 1947 to February 1973, is being revived because the Japan-based 7th Fleet covers the maritime territories of 36 countries in the area between Hawaii and the India-Pakistan border. Braithwaite said this causes “formidable challenges” for the 7th Fleet in covering a massive expanse of water.
Though Braithwaite had said last month that the revived First Fleet could be based in Singapore, he told the Senate subcommittee it would initially function without a land-based headquarters.
“We are still determining…where that fleet would operate from. But its major focus would be on the Western Pacific and the Eastern Indian Ocean,” he added.
The US Navy currently has seven active numbered fleets. Each numbered fleet has task forces and other units for specific operations.
Revival of US navy formation focused on Indian Ocean, partnership with India: US Official