US Navy to expand Bahrain Fifth Fleet naval base

(Photo for illustrative purpose only)

(Photo for illustrative purpose only)

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.

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