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Fifth Fleet emblem
|Active||26 April 1944–January 1947
1 July 1995 – present
|Country||United States of America|
|Branch||United States Navy|
|Part of||U.S. Naval Forces Central Command
U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM)
|Garrison/HQ||Naval Support Activity Bahrain|
|Vice Admiral John W. Miller|
|Admiral Raymond A. Spruance|
The Fifth Fleet of the United States Navy is responsible for naval forces in the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, Arabian Sea, and parts of the Indian Ocean. It shares a commander and headquarters with U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT).
The Fifth Fleet was initially established on 26 April 1944 from Central Pacific Force under the command of Admiral Raymond Spruance. The ships of the Fifth Fleet also formed the basis of the Third Fleet, which was the designation of the "Big Blue Fleet" when under the command of Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr..[N 1] Spruance and Halsey would alternate command of the fleet for major operations, allowing the other admiral and his staff time to prepare for the subsequent one. A secondary benefit was confusing the Japanese into thinking that they were actually two separate fleets as the fleet designation flipped back and forth. Following the end of World War II, the 5th Fleet was deactivated.
Prior to the first Gulf War in 1990-1991, U.S. naval operations in the Persian Gulf region were directed by the Commander, Middle Eastern Force (COMMIDEASTFOR). Since this organization was considered insufficient to manage large scale combat operations during the Gulf War, the United States Seventh Fleet — primarily responsible for the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean and normally based in Japan — was given the temporary task of managing the force during the period. However, no numbered fleet existed permanently within the USCENTCOM area of responsibility. By July 1995, a new numbered fleet was deemed necessary. After a 48-year hiatus, the U.S. 5th Fleet was reactivated, replacing COMMIDEASTFOR, and it now directs operations in the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, and Arabian Sea. Its headquarters are at NSA Bahrain located in Manama, Bahrain.
For the early years of its existence, its forces normally consisted of an Aircraft Carrier Battle Group (CVBG), an Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), surface combatants, submarines, maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft, and logistics ships. However, with the War on Terrorism, the naval strategy of the U.S. has changed. The regular deployments of the Cold War are now a thing of the past. Consequently, the policy of always maintaining a certain number of ships in various parts of the world is also over. However, its usual configuration now includes a Carrier Strike Group, Amphibious Ready Group or Expeditionary Strike Group, and other ships and aircraft with almost 15,000 people serving afloat and 1,000 support personnel ashore.
Carrier Group Three formed the core of the naval power during the initial phase of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001. Commander, Carrier Group Three (Rear Admiral Thomas E. Zelibor) arrived in the Arabian Sea on 12 September 2001 and was subsequently designated Commander Task Force 50 (CTF 50), commanding multiple carrier strike groups and coalition forces. The Task Force conducted strikes against Al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in Afghanistan. Task Force 50 comprised over 59 ships from six nations including six aircraft carriers, stretching over 800 nautical miles.
Fifth Fleet forces peaked in early 2003, when five USN aircraft carriers (CV and CVNs), six USN amphibious assault ships (LHAs and LHDs) and their embarked USMC air ground combat elements, their escorting and supply vessels, and over 30 Royal Navy vessels were under its command.
In the Persian Gulf, United States Coast Guard surface ships attached to the Fifth Fleet were under Commander Destroyer Squadron 50 (CDS-50) commanded by Captain Peterson of the Navy. Boutwell, Walnut, and the four patrol boats were part of this group. The shore detachments, MCSD and PATFOR SWA also operated under the command of CDS-50. For actual operations, the Coast Guard forces were part of two different task forces. The surface units were part of Task Force 55 (CTF-55). Command of CTF-55 actually shifted during OIF. Initially, Rear Admiral Costello, Commander of the Constellation Battle Group, commanded CTF-55. The surface forces were designated Task Group 55.1 (TG-55.1) with Commander Destroyer Squadron 50 (CDS-50) as the task group commander. In mid-April, the Constellation Battle Group left the NAG and the Destroyer Squadron 50 staff commanded TF-55 for the remainder of OIF major combat operations. In the aftermath of the fall of Baghdad in April 2003, the very large force of ships was quickly drawn down.
On 3 January 2012, following the end of the ten-day Velayat 90 naval maneuvers by the Iranian Navy in the Strait of Hormuz, the Iranian Army chief of staff, General Ataollah Salehi, was quoted by the state news agency IRNA as warning the United States to not deploy the Stennis back to the Persian Gulf. On 4 January 2011, Fars News Agency reported that a bill was being prepared for the Iranian Parliament to bar foreign naval vessels from entering the Persian Gulf unless they receive permission from the Iranian navy, with Iranian lawmaker Nader Qazipour noting: "If the military vessels and warships of any country want to pass via the Strait of Hormuz without coordination and permission of Iran’s navy forces, they should be stopped by the Iranian armed forces." Also, Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi reiterated that "transnational forces" have no place in the Persian Gulf region. On 6 January 2012, armed Iranian speedboats reportedly harassed two U.S. naval vessels, the amphibious transport dock New Orleans and the Coast Guard cutter Adak, as they transited the Strait of Hormuz into the Persian Gulf.
On 9 January 2012, Carrier Strike Group One, led by the carrier Carl Vinson, joined Carrier Strike Group Three in the North Arabian Sea, with Carrier Strike Group Nine, led by the carrier Abraham Lincoln, en route to the Arabian Sea amid rising tension between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran over U.S. naval access to the Strait of Hormuz. On 19 January 2012, Carrier Strike Group Nine entered the U.S. Fifth Fleet's area of responsibility and relieved Carrier Strike Group Three. That same day during an interview on the Charlie Rose program, Mohammad Khazaee, Iran's ambassador to the United Nations, stated that Iran would consider closing the Strait of Hormuz if Iran’s security was endangered.
For December 2012 and January 2013, Carrier Strike Group Three was the only carrier strike group operating with the U.S. Fifth Fleet until relieved by the Carrier Strike Group Ten. This is because of the temporary two-month rotation of the Carrier Strike Group Eight back to the United States in order to resurface the flight deck of that group's flagship, the carrier Eisenhower. Eisenhower, Carrier Air Wing Seven, and the guided-missile cruiser Hue City returned to base on 19 December 2012, and the guided missile destroyers Jason Dunham, Farragut, and Winston S. Churchill were slated to return to base in March 2013.
Together with Naval Forces Central Command, Fifth Fleet oversees five naval task forces monitoring maritime activity: