Tuesday, November 03, 2015

We Really Don't Need to Rebuild Sixth Fleet

Do we need to rebuild 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean Sea? I don't think we need it. And just what fleet do we take these ships and subs from to rebuild it?

This author argues that we should rebuild Sixth Fleet:

Despite a dearth of resources, the current U.S. Sixth Fleet could likely protect merchant shipping from IS in an uncontested operating environment. Unfortunately, the Mediterranean is now a contested operating area. Russian intervention in Syria, which added air power to existing naval power, represents a clear challenge to America and NATO in the Mediterranean. Putin has reopened Russia’s naval base at Tartus, allowing Russian surface combatants to operate in the eastern Mediterranean indefinitely. Russian air cover could extend to that region with proper tanker support, giving the Russian navy a definitive combat advantage over the thinly stretched and unsupported U.S. Sixth Fleet. The refugee crisis compounds this situation, because it presents a dual humanitarian issue and security threat. Thus, after a hiatus of almost two decades, the Mediterranean is again a contested operational zone.

The reestablishment of the Sixth Fleet would bolster American capabilities in the region. It would send a clear message to the Russians and deny IS access to the inland sea. This means keeping an aircraft carrier strike group (CSG) on station in the Mediterranean. A CSG would provide U.S. commanders in Europe and the Mediterranean with the full power of the carrier air wing, along with its various destroyer, cruiser, and submarine escorts.

We need to rebuild 6th Fleet because of Russia and ISIL? We need a carrier battle group with nuclear attack submarines to handle the migrant crisis? Really? We're to be southern Europe's coast guard?

Even if we didn't have higher priority areas for our Navy, I wouldn't really care if we had a robust 6th Fleet. Yes, we had a large 6th Fleet in the Cold War. But in 1980, the Soviets had 3 cruisers, 40 destroyers and frigates, and ten attack submarines in that sea.

Russia has few enough warships in the Mediterranean (a cruiser and a few frigates) that our NATO allies can handle them and police the seas against ISIL and migrants.

I recently addressed the so-called rebirth of our virtual 6th Fleet and concluded we just don't need it:

We have NATO allies Spain, France, Italy, Greece, and Turkey--which also chokes off Russian reinforcements from the Black Sea through the Turkish straits--with decent navies (with about a 125 subs and principal surface combatants in 2012, plus smaller vessels and air support from ashore and afloat) that we can support. We don't need a significant 6th Fleet these days to control the Mediterranean Sea.

And while we can't afford a carrier battle group for 6th Fleet, I'll ask again in this context: why can't we deploy a carrier air wing to land bases?

Navy planes based at Sicily, Crete, Cyprus, or bases on the mainland of Europe could provide the air support for NATO naval operations without a carrier. There's little room to maneuver in the constricted Mediterranean Sea, anyway.

Sixth Fleet is still a virtual combat fleet, notwithstanding the four ballistic missile defense ships now assigned to the fleet. Those ships have a dedicated mission and they really aren't going to be available for routine missions.

But I don't think we really need to rebuild 6th Fleet. Our European NATO allies are mostly incapable of fighting out of area to support us. We should at least take advantage of those NATO capabilities in Europe's own back yard to make up for our smaller navy.

And even if we needed more ships there and a dedicated carrier battle group (when we can't maintain one at all times in CENTCOM), who do we take these assets from?

Sixth Fleet is basically a command ship to control ships transiting the Mediterranean Sea going to or from CENTCOM. So far that has sufficed. And now it has 4 anti-missile ships that oddly enough are being used for routine missions, too. Which seems odd to me.

If we need more US naval power in the Mediterranean to bolster our NATO allies, we'd need to send more from the Atlantic Fleet. But if our NATO allies can't handle the Russians, migrants, and the ISIL threat in their own backyard, why bother having allies at all?