MODEL OF COOPERATION
U.S. FIFTH FLEET, INTERNATIONAL PARTNERS DEMONSTRATE
EFFECTIVENESS OF COALITIONS IN PROTECTING THE MARITIME DOMAIN
BY RICHARD R. BURGESS, MANAGING EDITOR
The U.S. Fifth Fleet, forward deployed to
Southwest Asia as the naval component
of U.S. Central Command, showcases the
role of naval power in the modern world.
Combined with its broad array of inter-
national allies and partners, it also is a
demonstration of the effectiveness and
benefits of coalitions in providing for the
security of maritime highways.
Operating in a region of four ongoing conflicts
while maintaining maritime superiority, the fleet’s
level of activity in real-world crises is a far cry from
four decades ago, when it was known as the Middle
East Force, a small flotilla established in 1949 that
showed the flag quietly with a command ship and a
few destroyers and frigates.
That changed in 1979 with the Iranian Revolution’s
seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Iran-Iraq War. Carrier
battle groups began regular deployments to the North
During the 1980s, the frigate USS Stark was hit by
an Iraqi cruise missile and the frigate USS Samuel B.
Roberts nearly sank from an Iranian naval mine. U.S.
ships escorted tankers in the Persian Gulf to ensure
safe passage, and Navy ships and aircraft sank Iranian
ships in Operation Praying Mantis. And, of course, the
large naval build-up for Operation Desert Storm in
1991 marked a gathering of six aircraft carrier battle
groups for the Gulf War and of several naval units from
a coalition of allies and partners.
In 1995, U.S. Fifth Fleet was established to command the numerous U.S. naval forces in the region,
and has remained at a high operations tempo accented
more recently by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,
and now Syria and Yemen, and by counterpiracy oper-
ations. In 2002, Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) was
established to coordinate the coalition of navies parti-
cipating in maritime security operations.
Vice Adm. Kevin Donegan is the current commander
of U.S. Fifth Fleet, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command
and the CMF. Royal Navy Commodore Will Warrender,
the U.K. maritime component commander, serves as
deputy commander of the CMF.
In an interview with Seapower, Donegan outlined
the threats, and potential threats, that Fifth Fleet and
the CMF face in the region.
“First, one of the clear and present dangers we
have is the threat from ISIS [Islamic State of Iraq
and Syria] and al-Qaida,” Donegan said, noting that
the fleet’s carrier strike groups and amphibious
ready groups with embarked Marine Expeditionary
Units [MEUs] are involved in supporting Operation
Inherent Resolve in Iraq and Syria with air strikes
and in other roles. The operations also are supported
on occasion by strikes launched from carriers in the
eastern Mediterranean. The French Navy aircraft
carrier Charles de Gaulle also has been integrated into
Donegan lists as second the threat related to Iran.
“I don’t want to make that bigger than it is, but
I look at it in two ways,” he said. “One of the things
that I face every day is the threat of a potential mis-
calculation or escalation because of what I call an
unprofessional or unsafe behavior that we sometimes
see out of their forces, particularly IRGCN [Iranian
Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy] forces.”
The IRGCN has fired rockets in the vicinity of ships
in transit though the Strait of Hormuz and swarmed
small boats in high-speed charges at U.S. ships. Done-
gan believes that an international agreement, like the
Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea accord in the
South China Sea, could help defuse these incidents.
The second Iranian threat relates to its support of
insurgencies in the region, particularly Yemen.