Transformation: Navy shifts its priority away from the North Atlantic
U.S. and Soviet tanks square off in Germany for the start of World War III – that image was evoked by the Cold War, but now that’s history.
Instead, the Army is moving its soldiers and machines around and out of Europe to address 21st-century threats. But it’s not the only service branch doing so.
For the Navy, too, there’s no more “hunt for Red October,” at least not like before. It’s disbanded the northern front where it was poised to move against the Russian Bear, and moved south and east as part of military transformation.
“Twenty years ago we were defending the (Greenland-Iceland-United Kingdom) Gap,” said Kevin Mooney, the Navy Region Europe transition manager. “We don’t do that any longer, not to the extent we did during the Cold War.
“This is a realignment of resources from legacy missions to emerging missions.”
The fabled GIUK Gap, where U.S. and Soviet military craft played hide-and-seek in the North Atlantic, has been replaced as a strategic priority by the “Arc of Instability.”
That is what the U.S. European Command calls the swath of the globe that, in part, extends from western Africa to the Balkans. The Navy in Europe has moved its epicenter from London to Naples, Italy, to be closer to the fight.
At Naval Forces Europe’s headquarters in Naples, established in 2005, plans are now made to conduct exercises and operations from the Gulf of Guinea eastward through the Mediterranean and into the Black and Caspian seas.
The three other remaining hubs — forward logistical support bases in Rota, Spain; Sigonella, Italy; and Souda Bay, Crete — primarily support airborne and seaborne craft bringing troops and materiel into and out of the Navy’s Mediterranean-based theater.
The Arc of Instability includes thousands of miles of lands plagued with lawlessness, unstable governments, poverty and disproportionate numbers of unemployed young men — features that U.S. strategists say could fuel terrorist and anti-Western activities.
One ongoing Navy program to mitigate those problems is performed in the Gulf of Guinea, part of the Atlantic Ocean that’s tucked into Africa’s western coast. U.S. forces work there with troops from Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal and other nations.
Then there’s the newly forming Africa Command, or AFRICOM, based for now in Stuttgart, Germany. The command that will oversee military activities in Africa is scheduled to go partially operational in October and be up to full speed a year later.
Mooney said NAVEUR is awaiting word from the new command and others on what they’ll need from the seafarers.
“All the bases will have some magnitude of change,” Mooney said. “They won’t all result in shrinkage. Some will have an expanded mission.”
The number of active-duty servicemembers assigned to Navy Europe has been cut from 14,000 in 2003 to about 7,500 today. Further but smaller reductions can be expected with the closing of installations such as Naval Support Activity La Maddalena, Italy.
But the final look of the Navy in Europe might never be final, Mooney said.
“It’s an evolving process,” he said. “It has been for many years and will continue to be.”
The Navy in Europe today
Naval Activities United Kingdom, London: Established 1951, scheduled to disestablish in September.
Naval Support Activity (NSA) Naples, Detachment Gaeta: Established 1967, home to USS Mount Whitney, reduction in force in progress, DODDS school to close June 2008.
Naval Air Station Keflavik: Established 1951, closed September 2006.
NSA La Maddalena: Established 1973, home to USS Emory Land, which will depart in October, scheduled to close in Spring 2008.
NSA Naples: Established 1951, continues to support 100 tenant commands, home to Navy Europe/6th Fleet. The NAVEUR headquarters moved to Naples from London in 2005.
Naval Station Rota, Spain: Established 1953, provides support for air and sea assets and personnel moving in and out of Mediterranean theater. Owned by Spanish Navy.
Naval Air Station Sigonella: Established 1959, replacing Hal Far, Malta. Also provides provides support for air and sea assets and personnel moving in and out of Mediterranean theater. Shares with Italian air force.
NSA Souda Bay: Established 1969, though ships were home-ported there since 1957. Supports vessels transiting in and out of Mediterranean. Shares base with Greek air force.
Source: Navy Forces Europe
Five years ago, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld sent marching orders to Marine Gen. James L. Jones, telling him that the U.S. European Command needed an overhaul to meet the unique challenges of the 21st century.
Jones’ plan, started in 2002, called for the moving of thousands of troops from Europe back to the United States, moving troops into Eastern Europe and setting up forward operating sites in Africa.
But now, Jones’ successor — Army Gen. Bantz J. Craddock — is questioning whether pulling troops out of Europe during this time of war is a prudent measure.
Stars and Stripes reviews the status of the military’s transformation in Europe in a series of stories that look at the past, present and future.
DAY 1: EUCOM leaders address transformation issues
DAY 2: A look at troop strength through the years
DAY 3: How the military closes its bases
DAY 4: Stateside bases get ready for influx of troops
TODAY: Air Force, Navy also getting new look
DAY 6: The impact of politics on transformation
Today's related story:
Air Force modernizes amid change