US 3rd Fleet expands operational role in Indo-Pacific

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Vice Admiral Michael E. Boyle, Commander 3rd Fleet, and U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Justin Muller, Mission Commander Rim of the Pacific Detachment (RIMPAC) 2022 MQ-9 hug each other hand as Boyle exits the MQ-9 Operations Center during RIMPAC, July 29, 2022. US Air Force Photo

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, HAWAII – The U.S. 3rd Fleet is expanding its operational role in the Indo-Pacific as dynamics in the region become increasingly complex, the new fleet commander told USNI News.

In a recent interview in Hawaii, Vice Admiral Michael Boyle described the changes the US 3rd Fleet has made in recent years and how he views the operational situation in the region.

“Five, six years ago, the 3rd Fleet was a headquarters that mainly did [certifications] and we played in drills. Now we are a real operational headquarters that has a watch that is currently standing at Point Loma,” Boyle told USNI News.
“They manage the space from the International Date Line to the coast. And so all the operations that are going on there – if the Russians were to send submarines or ships, they would follow them from an intelligence point of view, from a force posture point of view.

Boyle, who took command of the 3rd Fleet in June after serving as director of maritime operations for the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said his command could act as a maneuver arm of PACFLEET or operate forward when the 7th US fleet is tied to other tasks.

“We were also instructed to practice, to be ready to rehearse, to be able to operate as the center forward of maritime operations. So we have plans over the next two years to do expeditionary command and control, either from ships or from Australia or the Philippines, … you name it,” he said.

“If we needed to set up a command and control facility, maybe we had to. And that may be because 7th Fleet is busy doing other things and an earthquake is happening here and we need a task force to come down and command and control the effort,” said added Boyle. “And so 3rd Fleet might be the perfect one to do disaster relief in the Philippines because Russia is getting arrogant. And so 7th Fleet is focusing on Russia and 3rd Fleet is doing something else. Or we connect to the larger PACFLEET as half its maneuver strength.

Boyle said U.S. forces in the region need both the infrastructure in place to continuously work with allies and partners and for personnel to cease operating as if in peacetime.

“In the Pacific, we are training a lot for a war that could be in five years, in 10 years, in 30 years. But we are not in a hot war. And so our headquarters is kind of structured to be a peacetime headquarters. And that has changed in the last two years,” Boyle said.

The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) sails in formation during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022, July 28, 2022. US Navy photo

As the biennial Rim of the Pacific gives the United States and partner nations the opportunity to drill together, Boyle argued that infrastructure must remain in place so nations are ready to respond to events and conflicts. In the region. The commander of 3rd Fleet, who also leads RIMPAC, pointed out that the commander of the United States Pacific Fleet of the combined task force, Admiral Samuel Paparo, has ordered his staff to stand up in the area and compared it to the Combined Marine Forces operating in the U.S. 5th Fleet.

“If we do that, then we’ll have long-range predictive intelligence, long-range plans, future operations, current operations — all the things that a staff does,” Boyle said.

“And it will give all of these countries that come to RIMPAC a place to plug in day-to-day to rehearse as a combined force, where our goals overlap…as opposed to, hey every two years, we’re going to build a fake structure and we’re going to have 3rd Fleet lead it. And then we’re going to dissolve it. And then we will rebuild it two years later. And then we will dissolve it,” he continued.

Earlier this year, Paparo said US Indo-Pacific Command Chief Admiral John Aquilino ordered PACFLEET to operate with Japan as a de facto task force in the region.

Building the infrastructure with the combined force would allow the US to move outside of the Western Pacific and conduct more operations in locations near Pacific island nations or the Aleutian Islands, Boyle argued. .

“Because right now we’re so focused – we the United States – in the South China Sea, the East China Sea, the ballistic missile defense of Japan, of Guam. It is difficult for us to penetrate the Pacific island nations. It is difficult for us to access the Indian Ocean. It’s hard for us to reach the Aleutians,” Boyle said.

“But if I had a combined force, which we relied on, planning seamless execution in those areas, then we could extend the field and present a much more robust overtaking to our competitors, which ultimately gets us there. [where] we want to be, which is to say that every day a competitor wakes up, looks out his porch and says, “Today is not the day. We truly believe that China will not start a fight unless they think they can win. It’s just their culture.

A combined task force could ensure that the United States, its allies and partners can come together for the kinds of exercises that the United States Navy and the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force have conducted more in the Indo-Pacific. over the past year.

The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) sails behind the Lewis and Clark-class dry freighter and munitions ship USNS Washington Chambers (T-AKE-11) before a replenishment at sea during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022 July 20, 2022. U.S. Navy Photo

Canadian Rear Admiral Christopher Robinson, deputy commander of RIMPAC 2022, told USNI News that he thinks ad hoc naval special forces coming together for exercises and operations will happen more often.

“I kind of think that shorter groupings – so getting working groups together for shorter groups of times and then ships coming and going as their national tasks change – will be the way forward. future,” he told USNI News.

While deployments like the one in 2021 led by the UK queen elizabeth (R08) the multinational carrier strike group will continue, Robinson stressed the need for more impromptu groupings.

“Large-scale deployments like this will always happen. They require a lot of planning. They require a lot of forethought and commitment of resources,” he said.

“But there are still ships in the area and we are looking at how to create a task force like this task force, but made up of a Canadian ship that is passing and has a month to spare, and an Australian ship that has five weeks. to loose. , and a Japanese ship that’s in the area for maybe three months and the way you get these task forces to work together, makes it the real…future success,” Robinson added.

ITS Carvour (CVH550) and Queen Elizabeth (R08) sail together for the F-35 Interoperability Exercise in the Mediterranean. Italian Navy Photo

Boyle referred to exercises in the Philippine Sea last October, when the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group, Carl Vinson CSG, Queen Elizabeth CSG and Japanese helicopter destroyer JS ise (DDH-182) exercised together, as an example of these ad hoc working groups.

“We said to the Japanese three days before this ex photo… and they said yes, which is to say we were all a little ‘wow’. The Japanese said, ‘yes, we can sustain three days at from now on. We will be moving ise in position,” he said.

“Two years ago, five years ago… they would have been very hesitant. But now the forces are more ready to come together,” Boyle continued.

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