Friday 18 Aug 2017 | 05:37 | SYDNEY
What's happening on


The United States (US) Navy is one of the four uniformed armed services of the United States of America. It is one of the largest navies in the world with over 320,000 people on active duty and a further 100,000 in reserve. Additionally, a further 201,000 civilians are employed in various roles supporting naval operations. In terms of vessels, the US Navy has 288 commissioned warships in service and also operates over 3,700 aircraft. The operations and responsibilities of the US Navy are global, represented by the organisation and forward deployment of US naval forces throughout the world. The US Navy has an array of functions and responsibilities within the United States Armed Forces which include sea control, force projection, nuclear deterrence and humanitarian relief and assistance. Reinforcing the US Navy is also one of the central pillars of the US rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region.

US Navy in History

The history of the US Navy stretches back to the American War of Independence, with the creation of the Continental Navy in 1775. Since then, the US Navy has contributed, to some degree, to every major conflict that has involved the United States. It has also played a significant role in conducting naval diplomacy for the United States throughout its history, characterised by the world wide tour of the Great White Fleet from 1907 to 1909. The US Navy also played prominent roles in World War Two and the Cold War. During World War Two, the US Navy made significant contributions to the campaign in the Pacific against Japan, employing a strategy based primarily around carrier operations characterised by the largest carrier battle in history, the Battle of the Philippine Sea, and supporting amphibious warfare operations. During the Cold War, the US Navy was active across a range of areas, notably in conducting nuclear deterrence patrols with nuclear ballistic missile submarines and in enforcing the blockade of Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Throughout the post-Cold War period the US Navy has also been involved in a number of conflicts and operations, such as supporting operations in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, launching land-attack cruise missiles against the Gaddafi regime in 2011 and conducting anti-piracy operations near the Horn of Africa.

Fleet Structure and Organisation

The US Navy is a global naval warfare force, with security commitments throughout the world and regular deployments away from the territorial United States. The US Navy operates under a numbered fleet structure, with each fleet responsible for a specified geographical area and the regional unified combatant command. Generally, the Sixth Fleet based in Naples, Italy, is responsible for US naval forces in Europe while the Fifth Fleet with its headquarters in Bahrain is responsible for the Middle East and North Africa region. South America is designated at the US Fourth Fleets area of responsibility, answering to the US Southern Command. There are also naval commands assigned to cyber operations, transport and special operations warfare. Lastly, the Pacific Fleet is made up of the US Third and Seventh Fleets, based in San Diego and Yokosuka, Japan, respectively. The US Seventh Fleet is the largest forward deployed naval force in the world. This Fleet consists of the primary naval combat units of the US Pacific Command, with responsibility throughout most of the Indo-Pacific-Asia region. US naval forces operate from several facilities in the region, including installations in Guam, South Korea and Japan.

Next Steps for the US Navy

The US Navy, while one of the world’s largest, also possesses some of the most technologically advanced vessels and aircraft in the world. The US Navy is centred on the carrier strike group, which consists of an aircraft carrier, a cruiser, several escorting destroyers and an accompanying carrier air wing of around 70 aircraft. The United States currently operates 10 carrier strike groups that allow the US military to conduct power projection and area control operations throughout the world. The current class of US aircraft carriers, the Nimitz-class, are scheduled to be replaced by the Gerald R. Ford-class over the next several decades, with the first set to be commissioned in 2016. Other new classes of ships are also being introduced into the US Navy, with the new destroyer USS Zumwalt undergoing commissioning in 2015 and several Littoral Combat Ships already in service. US naval aviation is also undergoing a transformation. The US Navy currently operates several versions of the F/A-18, with the F-35C set to begin replacing it in the strike fighter role in several years. In addition, US naval aviation has begun to support US Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey operations off of air craft carriers and amphibious assault ships.

What the Lowy Institute does

The Lowy Institute has a strong record of analysis, publication and research on the strategic context in which the US Navy operates as well as the implications of the American rebalance to the Asia-Pacific. Research has been primarily conducted by the International Security and East Asia programs, with contributions from Program Director Rory Medcalf, Military Fellow James Brown and Editor of The Interpreter Sam Roggeveen. Several Lowy Institute Nonresident Fellows, such as Distinguished International Fellow Dr Kurt Campbell and Nonresident Fellows James Goldrick and Dr C. Raja Mohan, have also conducted research on the US pivot to Asia and US strategic naval power projection, particularly concerning joint-force capability with Australia and other regional partners. The Lowy Institute has also hosted roundtables for Vice Admiral Robert L. Thomas Jr., Commander of the US Seventh Fleet on several occasions.

Additionally, the Lowy Institute has published two major research publications, Power and Choice: Asian Security Futures and Crisis and Confidence: Major Powers and Maritime Security in the Indo-Pacific Asia. Both of these deal with maritime security issues in the Indo-Pacific, a region in which the US Navy plays a major security role. Following on from this research, the International Security and East Asia Programs have embarked upon an extensive research, publication and outreach project focusing on Maritime Security in Indo-Pacific Asia, also supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

South China Sea patrols: Does the Trump team get it?

On 10 August, a US Navy warship challenged China’s implied claim to a territorial sea around Mischief Reef in the South China Sea. By lingering for six hours within 12 nautical miles of the massive island China has constructed on the reef, the USS John McCain affirmed the principle, clearly

US-China at sea incidents are likely the new normal

There has been yet another spate of US-China incidents involving US intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) probes in and over China’s bordering seas. In February, there was a close encounter between a US Navy P-3 Orion aircraft and a Chinese surveillance aircraft 

US FONOPs: Game on again in the South China Sea

According to this Reuters report, which was soon followed by others citing a Pentagon spokesman, a US Navy warship, the destroyer USS Dewey, has recently sailed within 12 nautical miles of the Chinese-occupied Mischief Reef in the South China Sea. This was the first such challenge to Beijing by the