The United States has the world’s most capable navy, with a force projection power no other country has. This includes seven capable fleets, each with its own area of operations.
Arguably the most important fleets right now are the Sixth and Seventh fleet, with the former becoming increasingly detrimental to stability and force projection. With arising conflicts in the Sixth Fleet regional patrol, the US Navy will continue to be tested in an unpredictable world.
What is the Sixth Fleet?
Headquartered in Naples, Italy, the Sixth Fleet currently has 40 naval ships and 175 aircraft in its arsenal. The fleet incorporates Carrier Strike Group 1, which includes the USS George HW Bush.
There are eight task forces within the fleet, with Task Force 62 composed of 1800 Marines for the Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) with a Battalion Landing Team (BLT) as a subcomponent. With growing relations with Greece, the fleet has a growing presence in the strategically important naval facility in Souda Bay, Crete, Greece, which has become an ‘unsinkable aircraft carrier.’
Sixth Fleet Area of Operations
The Sixth Fleet overlooks the Mediterranean, Adriatic, and Libyan Seas. Being a base of operations for US forces across Europe, North Africa, and the Levant, the fleet and Carrier Strike Group represent a major logistical hub for stability and support for allied nations.
The United States has maintained a naval presence in the wider Mediterranean since the Barbary Wars, with a much larger and permanent deployment post WWII to disrupt Soviet attempts at spreading its ideology in the Cold War. The Sixth Fleet now represents a major deterrence towards Moscow’s renewed imperial ambitions. It has become even more important after Russia annexed Crimea when the peninsula is used purely for military purposes to project Russia’s navy into the Mediterranean.
The backdrop of the Yugoslav Wars brought an end to the wide-scale massacres in the Balkans, but the conflicts still remained with tensions rising over the past several years. Bosnia faces a continued uneasy and turbulent power-sharing agreement from the Dayton Accords, which have been slowly deteriorating.
Milorad Dodik, the current president of Republika Srpska, has increasingly threatened to unilaterally declare his entity as a separate state within the country, which could bring another Bosnian War. With the Russian government egging him on and the Serbian government being cavalier to both the European Union and Kremlin, the fleet will be in a state of readiness if the Dayton Accords were to falter.
In the Mediterranean Sea, regarding Greece and Turkey’s geopolitical dispute over Athens’ sovereignty on the Aegean isles, the Sixth Fleet will be used to deter a potential war between NATO members. Improving partnerships with the Hellenic Navy in Souda Bay, the fleet has given the Pentagon an alternative in the event of a potential collapse in the ongoing deteriorating relations between Washington and Ankara.
The joint base in Souda Bay also represents a potential replacement to house the 50-plus nuclear weapons the United States has held in Incirlik Airbase since the Cold War. Utilizing the navy as a boundary between diplomatic hostilities between Greece and Turkey, the Sixth Fleet will continue to be an important deterrence in stopping a wider Mediterranean conflict.
Russian Invasion of Ukraine
During the height of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there were fears of the potential use of WMDs by Russian Forces in Ukraine—in particular nuclear weapons. When Russian media and government personnel amplified messages that they would use nukes, the USS George HW Bush was put on standby in case the Kremlin became desperate. With the collapsing relations between NATO and Russia, the Sixth Fleet would be one of the first frontline defenses in case of future war.
Deteriorating Situations in the Middle East
In lieu of the spike of attacks by militias commanded directly by the IRGC in Syria and Lebanon, the USS George HW Bush was given an extension of orders. These orders alone are rare as Carrier Strike Group’s deployment that pushes past eight months has to be approved by the Secretary of Defense—showing the potential risk of escalation in the Middle East.
Over the past several weeks, political turbulence in Iran, Lebanon, and Israel have put the region and fleet on high alert. Hamas’ leadership has coordinated with Hezbollah’s chief in Lebanon to establish a front at the behest of Iran against Israel while their government has been in crisis. Likewise, the Iranian backed militias have stepped up rocket attacks against troops in Syria, killing one American contractor and wounding several troops.
Israel’s government has disseminated warnings of escalation with the United States and with negotiations collapsing with Iran’s nuclear program, the Pentagon has prepared for all scenarios. The USS George HW Bush will supply much needed close air support for coalition forces and allies in the region if the situation continues to become a powder keg as it was ordered towards the coast of Syria and Lebanon.
The United States Sixth Fleet will continue to be one of the world’s top force projectors and a much-needed deterrence on various conflicts that could arise in its area of operations. With uneasy situations in the Balkans, Mediterranean, Middle East, and the Black Sea, the fleet will continue to be battle tested and vital as a rapid response force for any scenario that could lead to war.