by DAVID AXE
Last year the U.S. Navy re-established its 4th Fleet to oversea operations in Latin America. It was part of a broader effort to push naval forces into previously neglected regions, in a bid to build new partnerships and encourage world stability. For its first 18 months, 4th Fleet, headquartered in Florida, sent hospital ships, amphibious ships (pictured) and shallow-water catamarans on humanitarian and training missions. Today 4th Fleet is a proving ground for soft-power and maritime-security operations for the whole Navy.
Warships International Fleet Review sat down with 4th Fleet commander Rear Admiral Joseph Kernan, a Navy SEAL, for a brief chat about missions and resources. “I am well-resourced,” Kernan said, “particularly in view of the many demands on our military.” That said, Kernan is worried about his continued access to the Navy’s two hospital ships and its 10 big-deck amphibs. “I am looking forward to having a number of new assets that our Navy and Department of Defense have procured, particularly the Littoral Combat Ship, the Joint High-Speed Vessel and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets.”
The latter probably means drones, which the Navy has been slow to buy, compared to the Air Force. Notably, when the Navy needed drones to help spot pirates in East African waters, it had to borrow them from the air service.
What does 4th Fleet not need? “I do not have a specific need for an aircraft carrier,” Kernan said. His words are a compelling window into the future of naval forces. As maritime security and humanitarian operations become more urgent and widespread, the argument for aircraft carriers grows weaker, while that for cheaper, more numerous amphibious ships and shallow-water vessels — plus surveillance drones — grows stronger.
(Photo: David Axe)