Navy Re-establishes 4th Fleet to Promote Future Interoperability
By Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 30, 2008 The recent re-establishment of U.S. 4th Fleet will promote increased alignment with the 32 countries and 13 territories in the Caribbean and in Central and South America, a senior Navy official said yesterday.
“The Navy, and probably the Department of Defense, recognized the importance of the region to the south of the United States that includes the Caribbean and western side of the Atlantic and the eastern side of the Pacific and all our partners down there,” Navy Rear Adm. James W. Stevenson Jr., commander of U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command, said in a teleconference with online journalists and “bloggers.”
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead announced the 4th Fleet’s re-establishment April 24.
The 4th Fleet will man, train and equip U.S. ships deploying to Latin America, Stevenson said. He added that it will be patterned after the 5th Fleet and the Navy component of U.S. Central Command.
“The Navy, by re-establishing the 4th Fleet, is serious about the countries in the Caribbean and Central and South America, and … we’re very mindful of the 40 percent of U.S. trade that goes on with those countries and the 50 percent of the oil imports from that region,” Stevenson said. “I think that the other navies and coast guards recognize that, and they would view that as a positive step.”
With headquarters in Mayport, Fla., the new U.S. 4th Fleet commander also will command U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command, which will retain the mission as the Navy component for U.S. Southern Command.
“The area of operations within the Caribbean [and] Central and South American waters will be under the operational and tactical control of the 4th Fleet,” Stevenson explained. “[This includes] its aircraft, submarine, surface ships and personnel.”
The U.S. 4th Fleet originally was established in 1943 to protect the United States against raiders, blockade runners and enemy submarines. It was disestablished in 1950, when its responsibilities were taken over by U.S. 2nd Fleet. While its missions may evolve over time, Stevenson said, the new 4th Fleet’s objectives are to keep the economic sea lanes of communication free and open.
“In this area, … there are no conflicts on the seas or anything like that,” he said. “And so, we’re focused on building relationships and trying to improve the interoperability of our partner navies and coast guards in the region.”
Stevenson said building on the cooperative maritime strategy for the 21st century will include core competencies such as humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and theater security cooperation. The admiral said he believes amphibious forces are among the best assets he has to help in carrying out the theater’s objectives, as they typically have enormous capacity to bring in equipment for military-to-military training.
Stevenson added that he looks forward to using that capability later this year when USS Kearsarge and USS Boxer deploy on humanitarian missions.
“Kearsarge and Boxer will be primarily a humanitarian assistance type of load-out, in that doctors and dentists and nongovernmental organization people will embark, and we’re going to try and perform medical assistance [and] medical training within the Caribbean and also Central and South America,” he said.
The Norfolk, Va.-based Kearsarge will visit about 12 different ports in the Caribbean, and will focus on the northern portion of South America and a few ports in Central America. Boxer, based in San Diego, will visit eight ports in the eastern Pacific.
Stevenson said the Navy’s forward presence and the ability to sail anywhere, any time and sustain itself will be a benefit to the region, especially when that region is faced with natural disasters such as earthquakes, mudslides, forest fires and flooding.
Amphibious units provide “the perfect platform” for those types of missions if they’re postured correctly and officials keep a sharp eye on indications of impending natural disasters, Stevenson said.
(Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg is assigned to the New Media branch of American Forces Information Services.)