The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) moored in Singapore’s Changi Naval Base, April 2, 2018.
The former Navy secretary's call to reactivate a numbered fleet in the Pacific to counter China's growing maritime power is still under consideration, a top military leader said this week.
Adm. John Aquilino, commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, is studying the pros and cons of bringing back U.S. First Fleet, Adm. Phil Davidson, the head of Indo-Pacific Command, said Wednesday. The possible resurrection of the fleet, which was last active in the 1970s, was announced in November by then-Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite.
Braithwaite said the goal was to base the future First Fleet between the Indian and Pacific oceans. Aquilino has been asked by Navy leadership to "look at some options for what First Fleet might do," Davidson told members of the House Armed Services Committee.
"He's still in the process of developing what the concepts might be, what the impacts ... are and how it'll affect Seventh Fleet -- and some of our relationships out there as well," Davidson said.
Seventh Fleet, which is based in Japan, is the Navy's largest forward-deployed fleet and the only one in the Asia-Pacific region. It covers a huge area stretching from India down to Antarctica and up past Japan to the Kuril Islands.
The fleet has anywhere from 50 to 70 ships and submarines assigned to it throughout the year, but Davidson said demand for naval forces in the Asia-Pacific region is only likely to increase as China flexes its power in the region. The presence of an aircraft carrier in the Pacific is especially important, he said.
"There is no capability that we have that can substitute for an aircraft carrier, in my view," Davidson said.
The Navy used the command that would eventually become First Fleet from 1943 to 1973. If it comes back, experts told Stars and Stripes that Singapore or Australia could make good basing options.
Braithwaite said last year that a fleet for the Indo and South Asian region will reassure allies while making sure potential adversaries know the U.S. is committed to global presence to ensure freedom of the seas.
And this wouldn't be the only organizational change for the Navy as it faces new threats at sea. The service also changed the name of Fleet Forces Command to U.S. Atlantic Fleet, to better address the threat that Russia poses there.
"We will refocus our naval forces in this important region on their original mission -- controlling the maritime approaches to the United States and to those of our allies," Braithwaite said of that change.
Navy Grappling with Bedbug Infestation of Nuclear Submarine USS Connecticut
The Seawolf-class attack submarine USS Connecticut (SSN 22) arrives at Fleet Activities Yokosuka during its deployment to the western Pacific Region, Mar. 9, 2012. (Lara Bollinger/U.S. Navy)
12 Mar 2021
Seattle Times | By Hal Bernton
SEATTLE — Clothes got laundered, mattresses replaced and pesticides sprayed as the Navy waged war against a stubborn infestation of bedbugs that found their way onto a nuclear-powered submarine at its home port in the Bremerton area.
Navy entomologists now certify that "all feasible measures have been taken" to control the infestation and have recommended "repopulation of berthing," according to a statement from Cmdr. Cindy Fields, a public affairs officer for the Naval Submarine Forces Pacific.
This campaign aboard the USS Connecticut has included laying down diatomaceous dust to draw insects out of hiding and into contact with this "deadly" countermeasure, according to the statement.
But the Navy's efforts have not quelled concerns from crew members, some of whom have been sleeping on cots in a pier-side shelter erected as temporary quarters to avoid getting bitten in the submarine "racks" where people sleep.
"They are really frustrated and feel like they have been let down by the Navy," said Jeffery Rachall, who previously served aboard the submarine and — since leaving military service in 2018 — has remained in close contact with other crew. "They are complaining about a lack of sleep. They itch, and the bugs are crawling all over."
Bedbugs are oval-shaped insects, about one-quarter inch long when fully grown, that feed on blood from humans and some animals. They can be transported into hotels, homes and boats on people's clothing, luggage or other personal belongings. They often take up residence in beds, where they may leave small spots that mark their presence. Though bites swell and become itchy, it may take two days or more for them to show up.
It is unclear how the infestation started on the USS Connecticut, but it's possible it was during a port stop, according to Rachall.
The USS Connecticut is a nuclear-powered, fast-attack submarine launched in 1997 that was transferred to a Washington home port in 2011. It can be used to conduct reconnaissance and protect Navy fleets.
The infestation on the USS Connecticut was spotlighted in a recent article in the Navy Times. It included an interview with an unnamed petty officer who said that the bedbug infestation first became an issue during a deployment in the Arctic Ocean in March 2020, and that the fatigue from bedbugs' presence has become a safety issue.
"If someone's sleep-deprived because they're in the rack getting eaten alive by bedbugs, he could fall asleep (at the controls) and runs us into an underwater mountain," the petty officer told the Navy Times.
The Navy Times also reported that some petty officers allege that the command is forcing sailors to return to sleeping in the racks this week during training, when the entire sub crew will be on board.
The Navy public affairs officer said that the first reports of bedbugs were not made until December of last year. Initial inspections that month did not detect them. Then, around Feb. 19, the "physical presence of bed bugs" was established, a requirement for the treatment. Daily inspections have occurred since then, with the two Navy entomologists arriving March 4 "to direct hands on efforts," said the statement from Fields.
"The Navy takes the safety and health of Sailors very seriously," Fields wrote.