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American Warships Mass Off China
by James Dunnigan
June 21, 2012

The U.S. announced that it will have 60 percent of its 270 warships in the Pacific by the end of the decade. Actually, this is just a continuation of a process that began when the Cold War ended in 1991. But these changes move slowly. Largely this is the result of political problems that arise when you try to transfer the home ports (where the ships are when not at sea and where the families of the crews live and spend their money) from one coast to another. The politicians representing states on the east coast raise a major stink when the navy tries to move the home ports. It's taken the navy a decade to muster the political clout to make the changes happen. Meanwhile, more and more ships based in east coast ports were serving temporarily in the Pacific or Middle East. Now the big shift has been taking place officially. There have been other indicators that this was happening.

For example, six years ago the U.S. Navy eliminated the Atlantic Fleet, after a century of existence. First established in 1906, the Atlantic Fleet was the first, world class, high seas, naval force from the Americas. At the time there was fear that Germany's ambitious warship building program might someday endanger the United States. The Atlantic Fleet did go to war with the Germans in 1917, and again in 1941.

After 1945, the Atlantic Fleet remained a mighty force, in preparation for a potential battle with the growing naval power of the Soviet Union. But when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, their fleet wasted away within a decade. So the American Atlantic Fleet no longer had a major opponent. Meanwhile, China, North Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran provided plenty of work for the Pacific Fleet (which normally supplied ships for Middle East and South Asian emergencies).

The Pacific Fleet still had a full plate after 1991, so the Pacific Fleet remained. The Atlantic Fleet was actually renamed, and reorganized, into the U.S. Fleet Forces Command, which will be responsible for the training, maintenance, and operation of naval forces (ships, aircraft, and land installations) on both coasts. The Pacific Fleet will still stand ready to deal with potential problems in Asia.

Actually, the Atlantic Fleet did have its name changed once before, in 1922, to "Commander Scouting Force." It was changed back to Atlantic Fleet in 1941, just in time to fight the Germans once more. But the Russians are not expected to be a threat again, at least not any time soon.

For most of the past century, the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets were basically the two major parts of the U.S. Navy and each developed unique customs. Sailors would often spend their entire careers in one fleet or the other. But when one was transferred, it was immediately apparent, once the transferred sailor arrived at the new location, that the two fleets were quite different. From now on, however, there will be the Pacific Fleet and "the rest of the navy."

 


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