Navy to reconsider Fleet Forces relationship with Pacific Fleet


The Navy will consider reorganizing major commands in Hawaii and Norfolk as part of an effort to define their roles more clearly, according to strategic guidance released Tuesday by the chief of naval operations.

A central question officials will address is whether the Honolulu-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.

Fleet Forces Command already is responsible for overseeing the generation of Navy forces for combatant commanders around the world, but the Pacific Fleet directly manages some lower-level commands in San Diego and Honolulu that also have to coordinate with Fleet Forces. Navy leaders want to determine whether that still makes sense.

More direct oversight could be put in the hands of commanders in Norfolk, leaving the Pacific Fleet to focus primarily on operations in its increasingly important area of responsibility. The Pacific Fleet oversees Navy operations from California to the Indian Ocean and from Antarctica to the Arctic Circle. The region includes an increasingly assertive China, North Korea and Russia.

“Our competitors are moving quickly, and our adversaries are bent on leaving us swirling in their wake,” the Navy document says.

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 re-examine 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. It also makes a clear call for funding the construction of submarines armed with nuclear weapons, saying “this is foundational to our survival as a nation.”

Richardson, a former submariner who became the Navy’s top uniformed officer in September, wrote that his “Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority” will guide the Navy’s investments and behaviors in the coming years.

Fleet Forces Command was created in 2001 to coordinate the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets’ 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, creating a convoluted relationship with Fleet Forces Command and its subordinate commands.

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.”

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., supports the organizational review, according to spokeswoman Rachel Cohen.

“Given the threats our country faces from terrorism and instability around the globe, Sen. Warner believes it is appropriate and important to re-examine the armed forces organizational structures to ensure that they are optimized to effectively achieve their mission,” she said in a statement.

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