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US Navy to divide Japan-based 7th Fleet's operations

Newly restored expeditionary '1st Fleet' will cover Indian Ocean: Sec. Braithwaite

Kenneth Braithwaite, then the U.S. Navy secretary, speaks with sailors assigned to the guided-missile destroyer USS Milius during a 2020 visit to Fleet Activities Yokosuka in Yokosuka, Japan. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy)

NEW YORK -- The U.S. Navy will divide the maritime area now covered by the Yokosuka, Japan-based 7th Fleet and create a new 1st Fleet to focus on the Indian Ocean, Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite has told Congress.

In a hearing of a Senate Armed Services subcommittee Wednesday, Braithwaite talked of the need to revive the 1st Fleet, currently not in service, to improve the American posture in the Indo-Pacific.

"We will reconstitute the 1st Fleet, assigning it primary responsibility for the Indo and South Asian region as an expeditionary fleet," he said, describing "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.

Braithwaite first floated the idea of reestablishing the 1st Fleet at a Naval Submarine League symposium in November. He pushed the plan forward in Wednesday's hearing, saying that "the decision has been made" to create the new fleet.

The secretary said the 7th Fleet -- which now stretches from Hawaii to the India-Pakistan border, encompassing the maritime territories of 36 countries -- faces "formidable challenges" covering the entire region and indicated that its area will be divided in two.

"It wouldn't necessarily take ships from the 7th Fleet or from the 3rd Fleet. It would be a sharing," he said, after explaining that, like the 7th and 3rd fleets, the 1st Fleet would be under the Pacific Fleet headquartered in Hawaii.

Asked whether the 1st Fleet will be an expeditionary fleet without a land-based headquarters, at least at first, Braithwaite replied: "That is correct."

Braithwaite had suggested last month that Singapore could be a location from which the fleet would be run. He offered no elaboration Wednesday on the location of a future base.

"We are still determining where, from where that fleet would operate from," he said. "But its major focus would be on the Western Pacific and the Eastern Indian Ocean."

After the November proposal made news, Singapore's Ministry of Defense said it had not been consulted on basing a new fleet. Pointing to a 2012 agreement to let the U.S. deploy up to four littoral combat ships to Singapore on a rotational basis, the ministry said: "This remains the standing arrangement with no further requests from or discussions with the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) on additional deployment of U.S. ships in Singapore."

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