Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Navy Mulls Reviving The Fourth Fleet

The Navy is considering restoring the Fourth Fleet in the Atlantic Ocean, a bureaucratic change that would raise the prominence of Pentagon maritime activities in Latin America and Caribbean. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made the disclosure during a visit to the Southern Command on Monday - calling it "a great idea" that "as far as I know is moving forward." The move would bring no new vessels to the region but would put Southcom on par administratively with other Pentagon outposts that have large budgets and bigger muscle. For example, the Central Command operates the Fifth Fleet in the Middle East. It would also restore an institution that sent U.S. Navy warships into southern waters in search of Nazi U-boats. The Navy created the Fourth Fleet in 1943 to hunt submarines in the South Atlantic during World War II. It was disbanded seven years later with naval operations in the region run from Norfolk, Va. At the Pentagon, Navy Cmdr. Jeff Davis said no final decision has been made. Mullen said if such an institution were created, it would be worked out between the Navy's top officer, Adm. Gary Roughead, and Adm. James Stavridis, the Southcom commander who runs the region's U.S. military operations out of South Florida. In theory, the Fourth Fleet would operate out of Mayport, Fla., now a smaller headquarters for Navy South, which coordinates Navy activities in Latin America and the Caribbean for Southcom.It is run by a one-star officer, Rear Adm. James W. Stevenson Jr. A Fourth Fleet would be run by a two- or three-star admiral, and may need congressional approval. Davis emphasized that no new vessels - and no additional budget - would come with the creation of a Fourth Fleet. Instead, warships from various bases would be assigned to sail in the fleet - in waters stretching from the Caribbean through Central and South America. Military analysts said the establishment of a Fourth Fleet admiral could elevate Southcom's prominence in discussions on where ships are deployed - and would surely send a signal to southern neighbors. "It gives the Navy a bigger profile in the region," said Frank Mora, professor of national security strategy at the National War College in Washington, D.C. "It sends a message to the region that you are important at a time when there is a sense that we don't care." Moreover, it may also reflect the Navy's increasing commitment to Latin America and the Caribbean at a time when the Pentagon is preoccupied - and when ground forces are focused on Middle East operations. In recent years, the Southern Command has increasingly relied on the Navy for humanitarian operations. "Symbolism is something that has some currency," said Mora. "It's a way of compensating for limited resources and funds, perhaps lack of focus in Washington or other things." Mullen, the top U.S. military officer since October, was at Southcom as part of a five-day trip to the region that includes Colombia and El Salvador.

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