“Third Fleet HQ deploys to Hawaii for Navy’s unprecedented five fleet global combat exercises” – TTG

A view of the U.S. 3rd Fleet crew on the battle watch floor of the expeditionary maritime operations center that has been deployed at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL /CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii — For the remainder of August, the San Diego-based 3rd Fleet will be headquartered in a scrum of tents in Hawaii while its command takes part in unprecedented, worldwide Navy drills. Large Scale Exercise 2021 kicked off last week, with synchronized training taking place among five numbered fleets within U.S. Fleet Forces Command, U.S. Pacific Fleet and U.S. Naval Forces Europe. “The training is based on a progression of fleet battle problems and scenarios that will assess and refine modern warfare concepts, including distributed maritime operations, expeditionary advanced base operations, and littoral operations in a contested environment,” the Navy said in a news release last week.

The worldwide exercise is a subset of the even more extensive Large Scale Global Exercise 21, according to a separate news release last week by U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, whose job it is to make the joint force, multinational exercise a reality. Large Scale Global Exercise 21 incorporates the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps for training with military forces from the United Kingdom, Australia and Japan through Aug. 27. Roughly a dozen dark-green tents were pitched a week ago at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam to serve as 3rd Fleet’s temporary home.

“I’ve brought the entire headquarters function here, inside this expeditionary mock capability,” fleet commander Vice Adm. Steve Koehler told reporters while standing near the tents. “So, I’m command-and-controlling all of 3rd Fleet — both within the exercise and real world – from here,” he said. The fleet includes 100 ships, 400 aircraft and roughly 68,000 personnel, he said. (Stars and Stripes)

Comment: At least one article about this exercise mentions last year’s October exercise in which US forces got their collective asses handed to them by the red team simulating the Chinese. In that exercise US forces used the same outdated tactics and strategies from decades in the past. I now believe one of the purposes, if not the main purpose, of that exercise was to publicly discredit those old tactics and strategies, as well as the military brass still clinging to those ideas, and to pave the way for the adoption of the doctrine of multi-domain operations (MDO) throughout all commands and services. When I first wrote about MDO, it looked like only the Army was fully buying into the concept. Apparently, it’s well beyond an Army thought experiment.

This Navy is only one player, albeit the major player, in this exercise. It also involves Army, Air Force and Space Force units and HQs based throughout the world and across 17 time zones. I’m pretty sure at least one of the Army’s new MDTFs has a role. The overall command for the exercise is the US Indo-Pacific Command. When did that name change happen? None of this should come as a surprise. We’ve been talking about pivoting to Asia for a decade now. As I said before, the doctrinal shift is long overdue. Russia and China have already shifted in this direction. We’re playing catch up.

This change must be painful to the fighter pilot mafia in the Air Force and Navy. Long range air defense, surface and anti-ship missiles both hypersonic and subsonic are changing the game. So are unmanned drones of all types. Yes our mach 5 hypersonic AGM-183A missile has yet to pass a test, but it’s not scheduled to be operational until 2030. There doesn’t seem to be any panic in spite of Moscow’s demonstrated operational success with long range and hypersonic missiles. 

We are not without some pretty good missiles of our own. Among our stable is the Standard Missile 6 (SM-6) or RIM-174 Standard ERAM which is deployed on over 60 Navy ships. It’s capable of mach 3.5 and can be used for air defense, ballistic missile defense and anti-ship missions. It’s also being looked at in a surface attack mode with GPS capability. It’s over the horizon targeting capability can be cued from on-board guidance systems, the launching ship or other ships and aircraft. This fits right into the MDO doctrine. The Army has decided to equip its MDTF medium missile artillery units with the SM-6 and Tomahawks, which are also undergoing major enhancements.

What this MDO doctrine is not suited for is nation building or R2P missions. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a damned good thing. It doesn’t mean we’ve foresworn our penchant for military adventurism, but it’s nice to see a return to the talk of deterrence. International harmony is a pipe dream, but mutual deterrence is a realizable alternative. And it’s far preferable to seeking full spectrum dominance.



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8 Responses to “Third Fleet HQ deploys to Hawaii for Navy’s unprecedented five fleet global combat exercises” – TTG

  1. Leith says:

    The Navy has been claiming that they have been conducting MDO under different names since Halsey was the first Third Fleet Commander back in 1943. But good to see this exercise. How many real ships and units are involved as opposed to simulated ones? Hopefully the inter-service cooperation will grow and prosper and not let budget pissing contests deep six improvements in weapons, tactics and strategy.

    • TTG says:

      Although primarily a CPX, there are 36 USN ships participating live along with Australian warships HMAS Canberra and HMAS Ballarat and Britain’s HMS Queen Elizabeth. A Japanese destroyer is also participating. Some 50 more ships are exercising remotely.

  2. Fred says:


    ” publicly discredit… the military brass still clinging to those ideas, and to pave the way for the adoption of the doctrine … throughout all commands and services.”

    Well they certainly want to discredit the brass not on board with Lloyd Austin’s CRT remake of the military. The Navy is underway, full steam ahead! with Diversity!

    As Vice Adm. Steve Koehler said ” … includes about 36 vessels at sea” That was not meant as a joke, but it sure sounds like one to me. Perhaps it’s meant to provide a cover story for the non-professionals so they don’t ask what the rest of the Pacific Fleet is doing right now, considering that other story in the news.

    The USS Lake Champlain is mentioned specificly in the article you linked too. She’s a 37 year old Ticonderoga class cruiser. Where are all our vaunted ‘state of the art’ next generation LCSs? This is an exercise to train “…littoral operations in a contested environment” says the admiral; So shouldn’t we have our “littoral combat ships” involved? Hint – They are being decommisioned after less than a decade in service be because the are ineffective dogs. That’s a topic for discussion for another day.

    However, I would like to state for the record that I am quite happy the staff of “the entire headquarters function…” got a free trip to Hawaii. I hope they get to take some leave and enjoy the weather. We probably could have saved lots of money not flying a hundred people out there; don’t our communications systems still work? But, c’est la vie.

    • TTG says:

      Jeez, sometimes you’re a bitter man, Fred, a bitter, bitter man. The USS Lake Champlain has 122 vertical launch systems carrying a wide variety of our newest and most capable missiles along with 8 Harpoon launchers. That old lady may be more deadly than an aircraft carrier.

      You’re right about the LCS. They’re dogs. A failed experiment in my opinion. The littoral operations part of the exercise is being addressed by an expeditionary strike group that includes the amphibious assault ship USS America, an LPD, an LSD and others including 2 Australian ships. They have to figure out how the Jarheads fit into MDO.

      Your cynicism about a month’s TDY to Hawaii may have some merit. They could have set up those tents in Guam. But living in tents or most likely the BOQ/BEQ at Pearl Harbor for a month rather than at home in San Diego isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I’m sure the act of deploying a fleet HQ away from its home base is a planned part of the exercise.

      • Fred says:


        I’m simply pointing out that the strategic thinking in the USN has been defective for some time. The Lake Champlain is older than the fast attack I served on. The replacements are where in our pipeline? If you want to read bitterness read the officers commenting over on the cdr salimander blog.

        “fighter pilot mafia” I didn’t comment on this but you are right that they need to change their thinking. All the drone ops we see, especially the ones you pointed out in your post on Azerbaijan, should be making them all take notice and get more creative, especially in what our opponents might do with them.

  3. Leith says:

    The Lake Champlain is over 30 years younger than the Air Force’s B-52’s. At least 76 of those are still in service.

    • Fred says:

      We don’t have 76 cruisers and everything other than the airframe has been replaced multiple times.

      • Leith says:

        Fred –

        “As of July 2013 12 cruisers have completed hull, mechanical, and electrical (HM&E) upgrades and 8 cruisers have had combat systems upgrades. These include an upgrade of the AEGIS computational system with new computers and equipment cabinets, the SPQ-9B radar system upgrade introducing an increased capability over just gunfire control, some optical fiber data communications and software upgrades, and modifications to the vertical launch system allowing two 8 cell modules to fire the RIM-162 ESSM. The most recent upgrade packages will include SM-6 and Naval Integrated Fire Control – Counter Air (NIFC-CA) capability. Another upgrade is improving the SQQ-89A(V)15 sonar with a multi-function towed array. Hull, sonar, radar, electrical, computer, and weapons systems upgrades can cost up to $250 million per ship.”

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