The US Navy is planning to expand its Fifth Fleet
naval base in Bahrain, with a senior official reiterating the importance of the Gulf
island state and dismissing speculation it was looking at potential alternative
Gulf sites for the base as a result of the country’s ongoing political unrest.
In an interview with Stars and Stripes, the
official newspaper of the US armed forces, Admiral Jonathan Greenert, chief of
naval operations, emphasised the importance of the Navy’s Middle East presence and
said Bahrain remains the best option for operating out of the region.
“Bahrain is going to suddenly emerge” in the eyes
of the public and the Defence Department, Greenert was quoted as saying, telling
personnel the base would continue to be its “centrepiece.”
Greenert also confirmed aims to expand the base,
with a plan to bring two more coastal patrol ships to the island nation early
next year, along with a long-term proposal to port littoral combat ships, which
could replace the current fleet of minesweepers that operate here.
The littoral combat ships are expected to arrive in
Bahrain in 2018 and are touted as a fast and agile platform that can operate in
near-shore environments, the report said.
Besides new equipment, crew levels will be
expanded, with construction underway to build more infrastructure and capacity
to support the additional units on the base.
“We have to get hot on some things... Bahrain has a
plan, it has a cost, it’s in our budget,” he said.
Earlier this year, US Navy Commander Richard
McDaniel, author of "No Plan B: US Strategic Access in the Middle East and the
Question of Bahrain” said “in view of the ongoing political unrest, the
possibility of losing strategic basing rights in Bahrain is something that
should be carefully considered.”
However, Greenert dismissed the speculation and confirmed
there is “no really good plan B … compared to what we have.”
“We don’t have that kind of deep relationship with
any other country that we have with Bahrain,” he added.
In a visit to Bahrain last week, Greenert also met
with Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, the report said.