The Sixth Fleet is the United States Navy's operational unit and staff of United States Naval Forces Europe, and once had its own headquarters in Gaeta, Italy commanded by a vice admiral. Beginning in 2004, the Sixth Fleet staff was combined with United States Naval Forces Europe staff, up to that time headquartered in London. Since then the staff has operated as a single entity with a four star commander, COMNAVEUR, and a three star Deputy Commander/Chief of Staff who also carries the title COMSIXTHFLT. The staff as a whole is known as COMNAVEUR-COMSIXTHFLT (or CNE-C6F) and works from its facilities at Naval Support Activity Naples at the Capodichino site in Naples, Italy. is the Sixth Fleet flagship with its homeport Gaeta, Italy and operating in the Mediterranean Sea.
U.S. Naval forces entering the Mediterranean Sea are assigned ("chopped") to Sixth Fleet. Sixth Fleet has consisted of up to 40 ships, 175 aircraft and 21,000 people, such as in early 2003, when two carrier battlegroups operated in the Mediterranean in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. However, since the submarine tender , based in La Maddelena in Sardinia, changed homeports to Bremerton, WA, the fleet has just one permanently assigned ship, the Mount Whitney. The fleet typically has a number of frigates and destroyers assigned, as well as those vessels transiting between the East Coast and the Suez. Additionally, since 2005, Sixth Fleet ships have increasingly been operating around Africa, particularly in the Gulf of Guinea.
The current commander of the Sixth Fleet is Vice Admiral Bruce W. Clingan.
The United States has maintained a naval presence in the Mediterranean since the early 19th century, when U.S. Naval forces first engaged the Barbary Pirates to prevent them from interfering with commercial shipping. The earliest squadron was known as the Mediterranean Squadron.
In 1946, President Truman dispatched the battleship to the Eastern Mediterranean to counter Soviet threats to Turkey and Iran. The small fleet maintained in the Mediterranean by U.S. Naval Forces, Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean was known as Naval Forces Mediterranean and had as its flagship, a destroyer tender, anchored at Naples, Italy. The cruiser relieved the tender as flagship and began operating with the fleet. The title of Naval Forces Mediterranean was changed to Commander Sixth Task Fleet and then, in 1950, Commander, Sixth Fleet. Sixth Fleet operated in support of American forces during Operation Blue Bat in Lebanon in 1958.
The Sixth Fleet provided military, logistical and humanitarian assistance to support NATO operations in Kosovo from the beginning of Operation Allied Force. It also participated in Operation Shining Hope and Operation Joint Guardian.
Both the Commander, Naval Forces Europe and the Commander Sixth Fleet also have NATO responsibilities, with COMNAVEUR serving as Commander Allied Joint Force Command Naples and COMSIXTHFLT wearing two NATO hats, Commander Allied Joint Command Lisbon and as Commander Striking and Support Forces NATO (STRIKEFORNATO). VADM Clignan actually spends the bulk of his time in Lisbon seeing to his NATO duties.
Task Force 60 is Sixth Fleet's Battle Force. When a Carrier Strike Group "inchops" into the Mediterranean it is usually designated TF 60 and the battle group commander, a one or two-star flag officer, assumes duties as COM TF 60 from COMDESRON 60. The Task Force can be composed of one or more aircraft carriers, each with an accompanying complement of approximately six cruisers and destroyers. On board the aircraft carrier is an air wing of 65–85 aircraft. The air wing is the primary striking arm of the Strike Group, and includes attack, fighter, anti-submarine, and reconnaissance aircraft. Ships accompanying the carrier serve as defensive and offensive platforms with duties involving anti-air, surface and submarine warfare. In addition to its major role of controlling the seas, the Strike Group can also project its power over land.
Task Group 60.4 has most recently been holding the Africa Partnership Station role, and Task Group 60.5 seems now to be permanently assigned as the Southeast Africa Task Group.
TF 64 is now a Special Operation force, previously headquartered by the now-disbanded Naval Special Warfare Unit 10 at Rota, Spain. NSWU 10 disbanded in 2005, and it is now unclear whether CTF 64 is operating currently. During the initial stages of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, Task Force 64 became the administrative command structure created to interface with all non-UK/US special forces and smaller ground combat forces provided by various national governments and under American operational control. This may have been because NSWU 10 elements deployed to Afghanistan to form part of the HQ.
Task Force organisation 1999:
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