Missile defense task force stands up in Naples

U.S. 6th Fleet Commander Vice Adm. James Foggo III, right, congratulates Capt. Jeffrey Wolstenholme, the first commander of the fleet's new Task Force 64, as Navy chaplain Capt. Wayne Macrae looks on during the task force establishment ceremony on March 24, 2016, at the Navy base in Naples, Italy.



NAPLES, Italy — U.S. 6th Fleet formally established its new air and missile defense task force here Thursday, giving added weight to one of the Navy’s primary missions in Europe.

Task Force 64 will command ballistic missile defense and integrated air defense missions across the theater, among them operations involving ballistic missile defense destroyers stationed in Rota, Spain, and Navy ground-interceptor sites in Deveselu, Romania, and Redzikowo, Poland.

The command is also responsible for ensuring U.S. ships can defend themselves against air and anti-ship missile threats at sea, a growing concern for 6th Fleet with the rise of Russian patrols in the region.

The move would elevate missile and air defense, which was formerly a staff position within 6th Fleet, to the same level of command as U.S. surface ships or submarines in the region.

The Navy is at the center of the Obama administration program to build a ballistic missile defense shield in Europe, known as the European Phased Adaptive Approach. The four destroyers in Rota and the two ground-based interceptor sites are the “shooters” in a sophisticated track-and-fire system that also employs a radar facility in Turkey and a command-and-control node at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

Navy Capt. Jeffrey Wolstenholme assumed command of the new task force on Thursday, receiving the honorary title of commodore.

“By establishing this task force, U.S. 6th Fleet is aligning itself to deal with the changing threats in Europe,” Vice Adm. James Foggo III, commander of the 6th Fleet, said during the ceremony.

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