Presidential hopeful Fiorina issues call to ‘rebuild’ 6th Fleet

Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina on the debate stage at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015.


By STEVEN BEARDSLEY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 17, 2015

NAPLES, Italy — Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina vowed Wednesday to “rebuild” the U.S. 6th Fleet as a signal to Russia.

Her comments came during a CNN debate among Republican candidates, when the former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard was asked about Russian actions in Syria and how she would deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin. After the debate moderator mentioned that Fiorina had met Putin, she responded she wouldn’t meet with him again.

“What I would do, immediately, is begin rebuilding the 6th Fleet,” she said. “I would begin rebuilding the missile defense program in Poland. I would conduct regular, aggressive military exercises in the Baltic states.”

Her meaning wasn’t immediately clear — the U.S. 6th Fleet is less a collection of ships than a command structure for operating American warships in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. Moreover, the fleet is one of the few growing military commands in Europe. It is building land-based missile interceptor sites in Romania and Poland, and in the coming days it will welcome the last of four guided-missile destroyers to arrive for permanent stationing in Rota, Spain.

Yet if Fiorina was referring to deploying more ships to the region, she would likely find a receptive audience. Once a Cold War hot spot, with a regular aircraft carrier presence, the region has struggled to receive ships and aircraft in the shadow of two wars in the Middle East and the U.S. rebalance toward the Pacific.

Carriers and amphibious warships still spend little time in the theater, using it as a transit point to the Middle East. Even the four destroyers are limited in their missions, earmarked largely for ballistic-missile defense patrols.

Commanders point out that Russia is only the latest threat in the region, with instability in the Eastern Mediterranean due to the Syrian civil war and the presence of militants in North Africa.

As it is, they have had their hands full in recent years. They conducted the 2011 airstrikes against Libya. They prepared for missile strikes against Syria in 2013 and later carried out the at-sea disposal of Syria’s most potent chemical weapons.

Navy leaders say the high demand for warships from commanders across the globe limits the number they can send to any one theater. And while plans call for increasing the size of the fleet, their feasibility given current budgets is an open question.

“Rebuilding” the fleet, then, may come down to a conversation that has raged in Congress, the White House and the Pentagon for years — how best to spend a limited number of defense dollars.

Twitter: @sjbeardsley