The US military has been steadily increasing its activity in the Indo-Pacific to counter China, and the US Navy is looking to expand its presence in the region on a more permanent basis.
“We can’t just rely on the Seventh Fleet in Japan,” Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite said on Tuesday at a virtual event hosted by the Naval Submarine League. “We want to stand up a new numbered fleet.”
“And we want to put that numbered fleet in the crossroads between the Indian and the Pacific Oceans, and we’re really going to have an Indo-Pacom footprint,” he said. “We have to look to our other allies and partners like Singapore, like India, and actually put a numbered fleet where it would be extremely relevant if, God forbid, we were to ever get in any kind of a dust-up.”
Braithwaite said he hasn’t spoken with the new acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller about the plan yet, but said he’s “crossed all the other T’s and dotted all the other I’s.” The Navy chief said the new fleet would be called the “First Fleet” and could be based in Singapore.
Braithwaite said the US could not stand up to China on its own in the region and stressed the importance of building alliances in the region. He said he would be traveling to India next week to discuss the plan with New Delhi. In October, the US signed a new defense pact with New Delhi to give India access to satellite data to increase the accuracy of its missiles and drones.
The US, Japan, Australia, and India are currently participating in the Malabar exercises, annual naval drills held near India’s coast. The four countries form the informal alliance known as the Quad, a group some US officials are hoping to turn into a more formal security alliance. This year marks the first time the Quad held military exercises together in over a decade.
In previous years, India has been cautious about letting Australia participate in the exercises for fear of sending the wrong message to China. But with tensions high between New Delhi and Beijing over a border dispute in the western Himalayans that turned deadly this summer and a more hostile US posture towards China, the Quad countries joined together for a show of force off India’s coast.