The Navy’s fleet structure is not set up to deal with today’s challenges, the service’s top civilian leader told lawmakers on Wednesday.
Terrorism is no longer the biggest threat facing the U.S., Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite said during a hearing on Navy and Marine Corps readiness. Threats from Russia and China are increasing, and the Navy must reorganize to address them.
“To meet the unique maritime challenges of the Atlantic theater, we will rename Fleet Forces Command as the U.S. Atlantic Fleet,” Braithwaite said. “We will refocus our naval forces in this important region on their original mission — controlling the maritime approaches to the United States and to those of our allies.”
The Atlantic Fleet, Braithwaite said, will confront the Russian navy, which has been “deploying closer and closer to our East Coast.” He’s planning to visit Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk, Virginia, to talk about the changes.
There will be no loss of jobs or revenue in the Tidewater region, he told Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat.
U.S. Atlantic Fleet dates back to 1906, but the name was changed to Fleet Forces Command in the mid-2000s, after the military turned its focus to missions in the Middle East. Fleet Forces Command oversees Navy missions to protect the homeland, as well as those in the Atlantic.
The move to bring back the Atlantic Fleet follows the Navy’s 2018 decision to reestablish the U.S. 2nd Fleet to counter Russian presence in the Atlantic. U.S. 2nd Fleet currently falls under Fleet Forces Command.
Military leaders have warned of Russia’s increased presence in the Atlantic and the Arctic. When sailors leave the East Coast, they should now expect to be operating in a contested space, Vice Adm. Andrew “Woody” Lewis, 2nd Fleet’s commander, said this spring.
“Our ships can no longer expect to operate in a safe haven on the East Coast, or merely cross the Atlantic unhindered to operate in another location,” he said.
Braithwaite during Wednesday’s hearing also offered new details on another big organizational shift he’s planning: a new numbered fleet in the Pacific. Part of the massive area currently covered by 7th Fleet will soon be picked up by a new 1st Fleet.
U.S. 1st Fleet’s primary responsibility will be in the Indo and South Asian region, he said.
“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,” Braithwaite said.
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