Naval Striking and Support Forces, Southern Europe (STRIKFORSOUTH)
When considering American naval engagement in Europe, one is bound to consider the Mediterranean Sea as the major theater of operations, for it is by far the biggest inland sea in Europe and a major geographical factor for strategic and political planning. No less than three continents with thirteen nations plus a later dismembered Yugoslavia border the sea since the end of World War II. The access to the Black Sea through the Bosporus, the Adriatic Sea separating Italy from the Balkans, and the Suez Canal are further geostrategic points of significance. Before the accession of Greece and Turkey into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1952, the Mediterranean was the continent's 'soft underbelly' - the weakest flank for Europe and the Western Alliance. Thus, American naval presence in the Mediterranean will briefly be considered at this point. After all, a strong American containment policy in order to deter Soviet expansion and a possible attack on Central Europe and West Germany depended on a comprehensive forward defense strategy from Cyprus to the North Cape.
The Commander, Sixth Fleet, under CINCUSNAVEUR, plans for and conducts offensive or defensive naval combat operations when directed by CINCUSNAVEUR or other competent authority in order to establish and maintain control of the waters of, and air space over, the Mediterranean Sea, approaches thereto, adjacent inland areas, and the Black Sea. The Commander, Sixth Fleet plans and conducts contingency operations including evacuation of U.S. citizens; protects U.S. interests when directed by higher authority; provides a U.S. Navy presence in the Mediterranean area in support of U.S. Navy overseas diplomacy objectives and U.S. foreign policy; and carries out training operations to maintain fleet readiness to carry out wartime, contingency, and peacetime responsibilities.
Commander, Sixth Fleet has both U.S. national and NATO responsibilities. He reports to the Commander-In-Chief, U.S. Naval Forces, Europe (CinCUSNavEur) in the U.S. chain of command and to CinCSouth when the Sixth Fleet operates as part of NATO as StrikForSouth. The principal striking power of the Sixth Fleet resides in its aircraft carriers and the modern jet aircraft, its submarines, and its reinforced battalion of U.S. Marines on board amphibious ships deployed in the Mediterranean. Altogether, approximately 40 ships, 175 aircraft and 21,000 people make up the Sixth Fleet.
Regional Headquarters, AFSOUTH exercises direct command and control of Naval Striking and Support Forces, Southern Europe (STRIKFORSOUTH), which constitutes NATO's sole maritime permanent Regional Reaction Force Headquarters. STRIKFORSOUTH is commanded by a U.S. Navy three-star admiral who also commands the U.S. Sixth Fleet. The STRIKFORSOUTH staff, comprised of 93 allied officers and enlisted personnel (provided by Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Turkey, UK and USA), is located at RHQs AFSOUTH in Naples, Italy.
STRIKFORSOUTH's primary mission is to execute maritime power projection operations during peace or crisis in support of NATO objectives. It does this principally through the assets resident in Carrier Battle Groups, amphibious forces, and finally through its many cruise missile capable platforms.
STRIKFORSOUTH is the only Headquarters in the Southern Region which may be assigned the triad of air, naval, and land forces, all of which are capable of responding immediately to the entire risk spectrum facing NATO. Subordinate commands include Task Force 502 (Carrier Forces), Task Force 503 (Amphibious Forces), Task Force 504 (Landing Forces), Task Force 505 (Logistics Forces), and Task Force 506 (Special Operations Forces).
Aircraft Carriers are one of the major building blocks of NATO's Southern Region power projection strategy. Several nations contribute their carrier assets to STRIKFORSOUTH for operational exercises or real world contingencies. Flying from these carriers are some of the world's most sophisticated fighter-attack, electronic warfare, and reconnaissance aircraft. Surface and subsurface naval forces, contributed by NATO nations, are also a key element of the power projection triad. Some of these ships have the capability of delivering sophisticated land attack cruise missiles in defense strategy.
STRIKFORSOUTH has developed and refined the Multinational Amphibious Task Force (MNATF) concept for the Southern Region. These MNATFs are high readiness, multi-purpose forces, task organized by mission, and supported by many NATO nations. They include Special Operations and Reconnaissance Specialists and are able to respond to the full spectrum of possible missions, from supporting humanitarian relief efforts to full-scale combat operations.
The peacetime mission of STRIKFORSOUTH is to assure the readiness of NATO's maritime power projection forces in the Mediterranean and to contribute to regional stability through dialogue and cooperation, including active participation in NATO's Partnership for Peace program.
The United States' naval experience in the Mediterranean began as early as 1801. Commodore Richard Dale was placed in command of four ships with orders to patrol the Mediterranean and prevent the navies and pirates of the Barbary Coast from interfering with and seizing American merchant shipping. Dale and subsequent commanders of American fleets in the Mediterranean quickly found out what it took to assemble a fleet and fight so far from American shores.
Today's 6th Fleet carries on American naval presence in the Mediterranean - to maintain peace and stability in this vital area of the world. The U.S. presence in the Mediterranean Sea is now a fundamental element of U.S. and NATO defense strategies. The Cold War occupied much of the fleet's attention until the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. The Sailors and Marines of the 6th Fleet, along with other U.S. air and land forces, worked with America's NATO allies to counter a substantial Soviet threat to the stability of the Mediterranean region.
The end of the Cold War didn't bring an end to the 6th Fleet's mission. The threat from the Soviet Union was replaced by threats from civil and ethnic wars in the Balkans, Middle East and on the African continent. According to 6th Fleet officials, 80 percent of the contingencies the United States responded to since the breakup of the Soviet Union have taken place in the 6th Fleet's area of responsibility. Furthermore, the 6th Fleet carries out more than 80 joint and combined exercises each year, plans more than 1,000 port visits a year and provides officer exchanges with Mediterranean and Black Sea area nations.
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