The US Navy is moving forward with a plan to add a numbered fleet to the Indo-Pacific as part of its efforts to counter China in the region. The plan would resurrect the First Fleet, which was in operation from 1945 to 1973.
The “administrative requirements” to recommission the First Fleet “are in the final stages of coordination,” Capt. Jereal Dorsey, a spokesman for Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite, told Stars and Stripes. Dorsey said Braithwaite is working with other US military chiefs to ensure the Navy maintains “maritime dominance in an era of great power competition.”
Braithwaite first mentioned the idea during a speech on November 17th. He said the US wants to place a new fleet in the “crossroads between the Indian and the Pacific Oceans” to “have an Indo-Pacom footprint.”
The US Navy frequently sails warships into the South China Sea to challenge Beijing’s claims to the waters. The ships deployed to make these provocative maneuvers usually come from the Seventh Fleet, which is based in Japan. As Braithwaite commented, “We can’t just rely on the Seventh Fleet in Japan.”
Braithwaite floated Singapore as a possible location to base the new fleet. Some analysts believe housing a new permanent US base in Singapore is unlikely, as the Southeast Asian country would not want to appear to take a side in the growing US-China rivalry. Another possible home for the new fleet is Western Australia.
A former Australian defense official told Stars and Stripes that housing the new fleet in Western Australia was the “obvious” choice. “The obvious location for the fleet’s home port is Cockburn Sound in Perth alongside the Australian naval base HMAS Stirling,” said Ross Babbage, a former Australian assistant defense secretary.