The United States has made clear its intention to strengthen its presence in the Indo-Pacific region. While former US Secretary of the Navy Kenneth Braithwaite reiterated his proposal to rebuild the US First Fleet, which operated from 1943 to 1973 in the Western Pacific, the US is keen to experience the First Fleet revival as a “trial balloon” or mental exercise. “To see if he can help strengthen his forward presence in the Asia-Pacific region and advance his Indo-Pacific strategy to counter China.
The First Fleet can also serve as an American “Great Power Rivalry” strategy targeting Russia, China and other countries. In 2018, the US Second Fleet was revived to face Russia. The Second Fleet has frequently conducted operations along Russia’s western border in the North Atlantic Ocean, including in the Barents Sea and Baltic Sea, and has had close encounters with the Russian Northern Fleet and the Baltic Fleet.
The Second Fleet coordinated with the US Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean and with the naval and air forces of Washington’s NATO allies to control Russia’s northern and southern sea routes.
Currently, the US Seventh Fleet conducts most of its operations in the western Pacific, and the Third Fleet in the eastern Pacific. Given that the ships that make up the Third Fleet frequently joined Seventh Fleet “missions” in the western Pacific, rebuilding the First Fleet would ease the pressure on Seventh Fleet to conduct operations in the western Pacific and Indian Ocean.
The United States has built a dense network of naval and air bases and stepped up its military build-up in island chains in the western Pacific. He also called on his allies, including Japan and Australia, to strengthen their naval and air forces and missile defense systems. And to advance its Asia-Pacific strategy, the United States renamed its Pacific Command to Indo-Pacific Command.
Strategically, the US military expanded its area of operations to include the Pacific and Indian Oceans in its mission. The United States is determined to step up its military deployment in key areas of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, in line with Braithwaite’s assertion that the First Fleet should be deployed at the crossroads between the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
Since the Ronald Reagan administration, the US has focused on controlling international shipping lanes in an effort to block them when necessary to advance its interests.
And that is exactly what the First Fleet will do if it is rebuilt – it will try to block key routes, especially the “oil channels” of the Straits of Malacca and Hormuz, in order to contain the growth of China.
Hundreds of millions of tons of goods are transported between China and over 150 countries and regions along four sea routes each year.
The eastern route to America, Africa and Western Europe via the “first chain of islands” and the Panama Canal, as well as the northern route to Europe via the Bering Strait and the Arctic Ocean are mainly under the supervision of the US Seventh Fleet.
And the First Fleet, if restored, will cover the intersection between the southern lane to South Asia and Australia through the South China Sea, Makassar Strait and Sunda Strait, as well as the western lane to the Persian Gulf countries through the Strait of Malacca. The Indian Ocean and the Strait of Hormuz, as well as to Europe and Africa through the Indian Ocean, the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb and the Suez Canal.
Since Joe Biden was sworn in as President of the United States in January, the “freedom of navigation” of the United States naval forces, including aircraft carrier battle groups, in the Indian Ocean and South China Sea has increased – they are more frequent than during Donald Trump administration.
And at least one of Theodore Roosevelt and Nimitz’s carrier strike groups, which often pass through the Indian Ocean, the Strait of Malacca and the South China Sea, will join the First Fleet if rebuilt.
As for the coast of the South China Sea, thanks to its Changi Naval Base in Singapore, Subic Bay and Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines, and Da Nang and Cam Ranh Air Base in Vietnam in the past, the US is still doing some exercise. influence there. And the US is inviting countries like India, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand to join their naval exercises to make them part of its military strategy.
Port Darwin in Australia may be the preferred option for the First Fleet command because Australia supports the US Indo-Pacific strategy, and Port Darwin is close to the Strait of Malacca and its three alternative routes: Sunda Strait, Lombok Strait and Macassar Strait.
But Southeast Asian countries are wary of forging closer military ties with the United States because an increased US presence in the region could undermine their growing trade and economic cooperation with China.
The author is a board member and senior fellow at the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association. Views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
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