Home » Budget Industry » ‘3rd Fleet Forward’ One of Several Tools to Deter North Korean Aggression


‘3rd Fleet Forward’ One of Several Tools to Deter North Korean Aggression

Sailors man the rails on the flight deck of USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76), as the ship pulls into Busan, Korea on Oct, 16 2016. US Navy Photo

Sailors man the rails on the flight deck of USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76), as the ship pulls into Busan, Korea on Oct, 16 2016. US Navy Photo

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — Navy forces are preparing for a conflict on the Korean Peninsula – the most likely “fight tonight” scenario they face – by shifting U.S. 3rd Fleet forces as well as the most advanced platforms into the Western Pacific.

Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, commander of U.S. 7th Fleet, said North Korea is the only country in his area of operations which is not seeing an improved relationship with the United States, and “if there’s a fight tonight, it’s probably going to happen on the Korean Peninsula.”

Aucoin, speaking at the WEST 2017 conference, said that “we hope that North Korea abides by the United Nations Security Council resolution to stop development of nuclear weapons, but I’m not holding my breath on that regard.” He then described a three-pronged approach for naval forces dealing with that North Korean threat: “technology, our partnerships, and training.”

“Technology, really with the shift to the Pacific we get the best equipment,” he explained.
“We’ve got E-2Ds out there in Iwakuni (Japan) now, we’ve got F-35Bs with III [Marine Expeditionary Force], we’ve got an all-Super Hornet air wing, and in a couple years we’ll have F-35Cs out there. We have Virginia-class submarines making lots of deployments in the Western Pacific, and we also have high-end upgraded [ballistic missile defense] shooters in our DDGs. And so that, combined with the TPY-2s (radars) we have in Japan, the Patriot (missile defense) batteries, provides a pretty good umbrella as far as ballistic missile defense. As far as partnerships, we’re in our 64th year with the South Koreans and the treaty, our alliance that is the foundation for peace and stability in the peninsula and in the region in Northeast Asia. … We do a lot of exercises, we have two major exercises under [U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Vincent] Brooks, Key Resolve and Ulchi-Freedom Guardian, that we show the North that we’re ready to deter any aggression. With those exercises and those partnerships, I think on a daily basis we show the North that we’re ready to effectively stop them if the need arises.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a test-fire of a strategic submarine underwater ballistic missile in 2015. KCNA Photo

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a test-fire of a strategic submarine underwater ballistic missile in 2015. KCNA Photo

Of course, North Korea isn’t the only threat the Pacific faces. To allow 7th Fleet to focus more resources on a potential North Korean contingency, U.S. 3rd Fleet is building up its ability to operate forces beyond the International Date Line, in areas of the Western Pacific traditionally commanded by 7th Fleet.

This “3rd Fleet Forward” concept was announced by U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Scott Swift in 2015, but 3rd Fleet commander Vice Adm. Nora Tyson said at the conference that the North Korean threat was a main driver behind this effort.

“What we have done in the past really 18 months is we, 3rd Fleet, have worked very closely with 7th Fleet and PACFLT in developing our, 3rd fleet’s, capability to command and control forces forward in the Western Pacific, with the assumption that if something were to happen – and as [Aucoin] said, the number-one probability fight-tonight scenario would be on the Korean Peninsula, would be in the KTO, Korean Theater of Operations,” she said during the same panel discussion.
“If that were the case, the assumption is that [Aucoin] and his team would be pretty busy up there working for Gen. Brooks and managing that problem, and 3rd Fleet would be available to provide that command element to handle whatever else may happen in the Pacific Fleet AOR … be it a major humanitarian disaster requiring that level of [joint task force] three-star commander, be it some scenario, maritime security issue in the South China Sea. So we have been working very closely with 7th Fleet, [Aucoin] and his team, and PACFLT to ensure that we have the connective tissue where if something were to happen that 3rd Fleet could very quickly respond, complement [Aucoin] and his team and handle whatever scenario may come to pass in the Pacific theater.”

USS Dewey (DDG-105), USS Wayne E. Meyer (DDG-108), USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70), USS OÕKane (DDG-77) and USS Sterett (DDG-104) participate in a show of force transit training exercise on Nov. 4, 2016. US Navy Photo

USS Dewey (DDG-105), USS Wayne E. Meyer (DDG-108), USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70), USS OÕKane (DDG-77) and USS Sterett (DDG-104) participate in a show of force transit training exercise on Nov. 4, 2016. US Navy Photo

As part of 3rd Fleet Forward, Tyson deployed a three-destroyer surface action group last year and maintained operational control of the ships throughout the deployment. The Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group that left San Diego on Jan. 5 and arrived in the South China Sea last week will remain under 3rd Fleet control as well, and Tyson said that CSG had an added training event during its transit from San Diego to Hawaii so the sailors would arrive in theater as well-trained for high-end warfighting as possible.

“We recently deployed the Carl Vinson strike group and we did something new with the Carl Vinson strike group: after she was trained and certified … we did something … called the Fight to Hawaii,” Tyson explained.
“And what we did was, post-certification of that strike group, we gave them some extra instruction, if you will, some extra training as they transited to Hawaii. And the air wing did more flying, they operated [emissions control], we then put them through the undersea warfare exercise once they got out (to Hawaii). So once they got in theater, and they entered the South China Sea on Friday, they were as prepared as they possibly could be.”

  • Marcd30319

    I still don’t get this Third Fleet Forward malarkey. If you need more forces in the Far East, deploy more forces to the Seventh Fleet. Unity of command is important — recall having two fleets at Leyte Gulf reporting to to different chains of command? How did that work out!

    • Michael Vaughan

      I offered that same thought three months ago and got shushed. Third Fleet can handle it. From Coronado. ……..Sure….

      • Marcd30319

        I think it may be a “diversity decoy” to allow certain classes of flag officers who lack the combat prerequisites the opportunity to check off “overseas command” on their resumes in order to get their fourth star and a shot at the high command billets. You can read into this observation what you want.

  • PolicyWonk

    “We do a lot of exercises, we have two major exercises under [U.S. Forces
    Korea commander Gen. Vincent] Brooks, Key Resolve and Ulchi-Freedom
    Guardian, that we show the North that we’re ready to deter any
    aggression.”
    ========================================
    This presumes you’re dealing with N. Korean leadership that gives a fecal pile. And, even if we were to start a fight on the Korean peninsula, you don’t think China’s going to take it sitting down do you? They don’t want:

    1. Millions of N. Korean refugees mobbing their border
    2. S. Korea (or the USA) sitting on their border

    And –

    3. The cost of cleaning up the mess in the aftermath would be staggering, to say the least. The estimates were in trillions of dollars.

    • muzzleloader

      You wonder if N.korea is a red herring. The situation with China and the SCS could possibly go hot at some point. If that were to happen, it will take more than 3d fleet assets to be at the fore.

      • tteng

        Actually, NK is not a red herring for the following reasons,

        1. US/China/Japan/ASEAN are all sane parties with rational geopolitical aims, notwithstanding each’s respective interest and conflicting as they may be. If there is crisis, both sides will see it coming and deal accordingly (be it diffusion, crisis manage, or escalation).

        2. NK (or its leader), however, is in a league of its own. He had no qualm about killing his kin (i.e. bro, uncle and aunt) to clear the competition, not to mention his cruelty to cowed his generals (until one of them decides to preempt first, one of the scenario of ‘fight tonite’).

        3. Beijing does not really have a control of that guy. Kim3 already decided ‘nuke/long range dug in artillery’ will be his best protection: self strapped IED with a dead man switch, with 60% of SK’s economy and its capital Seoul within that blast radius.

        I wonder if the US/SK and China ever talked about containing the fallout of ‘fight tonite’ scenario- in case Kim3 died unexpectedly.

        • muzzleloader

          Good points you make. While I would consider China “sane”, one cannot deny that it would seem the Chinese want to make one of the planets busiest waterways sovereign property. The Trump administration is sending CBG’s to show that the SCS is still an International sea lane. I consider it sane if Bejing decides it is it not worth a war.
          In regards to NK, there are reports thier military is falling apart, thier soldiers plundering farm plots to augment the paltry diets they are fed. The nuke scenario you describe makes sense, although you would think that Kim Jong Un’s inner circle would have the sense of self preservation to stop that from happening.
          If the gloves ever really come off with NK, what would Bejing do? I am sure those in that pay grade have those scenarios thought through.

          • tteng

            I read on the Chinese mil.web site, rumor has it that there are about 3-10 armor divisions, or its equivalent, within couple hundred kilometers of the border. If chaos breaks out in NK, I suspect the armors will roll across Yalu and go south couple hundreds kilometers until it reaches some natural barrier, stop, and hold the area as safe zone to stay put the refugees, disarm milling NK soldiers, and allows remaining PyongYang officialdom a sanctuary to retreat and arrange ceasefire call. I don’t think PLA will interfere with US/SK decapitation and nuke-grab efforts (however, I suspect some kind of coordination should be pre-arranged should US/SK and PLA cross paths.) PLA’s biggest worry will be several million leaderless and hungry NK soldiers/vagabonds with AKs.

            Once shooting ceased, and being that NK is still a sovereign, and with China/Russia’s role in UN, some kind of ‘temporary NK government within the PLA sanctuary zone’ will emerge. Of course the US/SK will object..and this is where the bargaining will occur: who is going to stay/pay to nation-build NK back together. I think eventually China will allow SK to unify the peninsula with stipulation of drastically reduced US mil.presence in Korea.

            As for ‘Trump and China’, there are two factions fighting each other in the WH: anti-China hawk vs. Ivanka/hubby/Money. If China plays it right, like blowing $soft kisses$ and give proper ‘sound & fury but not substances in deed’ to make Trump look tough and maybe even help Trump a little on his infrastructure pledge, Trump will remain focused primarily on those who actually piss him off- the other half of America, and secondarily the ISIS, then the Mexicans and Europeans..and very last the Chinese.

        • Curtis Conway

          “…sane parties with rational geopolitical aims…”? I’m with muzzelloader. If China was a sane party in this equation, they would do everything to quell tension, not exacerbate that tension. Being a Signatory of UNCLOS and violating not only the principle letter, but also the spirit of the Convention, is not a way to support and win the hearts of their neighbors while encroaching on their EEZs, avoiding International Arbitration, and then not abiding by that arbitration when the verdict is announced. China did not even attend the proceedings to plead their case before the court because they knew they had none, other than their own selfish will. Now China is buying everything and everyone of influence to slow the damage.

          • tteng

            ” Now China is buying everything and everyone of influence to slow the damage.”

            Money as ‘ammunition’ is sometime quite effective as geopolitical tool, from Duterte to Ivanka; unlike the intermediary, guns and bullets.

          • Curtis Conway

            Thank you for making my point so clearly!

    • Duane

      We aren’t going to attack North Korea unless it is in response to a first attack by the NORKs. In which case, they will be easily defeated primarily by South Korea and Japan, as augmented by the US Navy, Air Force, and Marines in a multi-domain war (air, land, and sea). If the NORKs attack the Chinese will probably also move up their forces to the border to prevent a refugee crisis, and they may even attack the regime itself as a matter of their own national defense.

      This is entirely possible, but obviously China is desperate to prevent such a scenario which would cost them dearly. It will not be the cause of a world war between China and literally everybody else in the Western Pacific – a war which the Chinese would quickly lose, probably within days, if not hours. The Chinese do NOT want a war. They want to do business and protect their interests and the prestige of their regime. Losing a war in West Pac would cause the immediate downfall of the regime.

  • ibcalif

    Sounds like the Seventh needs more assets. I don’t see the failure of Third to chop into Seventh likely to get Kim’s attention.

  • Gen. Buck Turgidson

    “Busan” Korea?

    • Ed L

      We spelled it Pusan it is really Busan.

  • old guy

    Just stick an advanced Israeli/American Iron Dome and Arrow system in the area, Wait for another shot, shoot it down over international waters, and send Un a thank you note for the target.