Navy to reconsider Fleet Forces, Pacific Fleet's relationship

By BROCK VERGAKIS | The Virginian-Pilot (Tribume News Service) | Published: January 5, 2016

NORFOLK, Va. (Tribume News Service) — The Navy will reconsider whether the Hawaii-based Pacific Fleet should be in the business of manning, equipping and training the fleet, or whether that should be left entirely to the Norfolk-based Fleet Forces Command, according to strategic guidance released Tuesday by the Chief of Naval Operations .

Any change would be significant when it comes to how the Navy is organized and could leave the Pacific Fleet to primarily focus on operations in its area of responsibility, which extends from California to India and includes an increasingly assertive China.

It wasn't immediately clear whether a reorganization could result in additional personnel in Norfolk or whether existing staff would just take on more responsibility. Navy officials said there is no specific timeline to make decisions or recommendations.

The proposal to reexamine the relationship between Fleet Forces, Pacific Fleet and their subordinate commands is one of numerous ideas unveiled in Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson's strategic guidance, which also calls for examining how Navy headquarters operates and exploring alternative fleet designs. The eight-page document focuses on strengthening naval power at sea, accelerating learning and building partnerships, among other things.

"This Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority will guide our behaviors and investments, both this year and in the years to come," Richardson wrote.

This isn't the first time the Navy has considered a major reorganization.

Fleet Forces Command was created in 2001 to coordinate the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets' requirements and preparations for deployments, among other things. In 2006, Fleet Forces absorbed the responsibilities of the Atlantic Fleet, which ceased to exist as a separate command.

But the Pacific Fleet remained an independent entity with a convoluted relationship with Fleet Forces Command. While Fleet Forces is still responsible for overall fleet preparations and deployment cycles, commands in San Diego and Honolulu in charge of ships, submarines and aircraft in the Pacific also directly report to Pacific Fleet headquarters. Navy officials say part of the examination will be to determine whether that's a wise use of resources.

The original plan to put Fleet Forces directly in control of all manning, equipping and training operations was opposed by former Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye, who died in 2012. Richardson's guidance says examining the organization of the two commands as well as their subordinate commands would "better support clearly defining operational and warfighting demands and then to generate ready forces to meet those demands."

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The destroyer USS John S. McCain, foreground, Philippine navy frigates BRP Gregaorio del Pilar and BRP Ramon Alcaraz and the USS Ashland participate in a training exercise in the South China Sea in June 2014. The U.S. Pacific Fleet has fewer ships now than in the mid-1990s. Navy officials say improved technology outweighs any disadvantage from a drop in ship numbers.


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