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U.S. Tenth Fleet: From Anti-Submarine Warfare to Cyber Operations

By Captain James H. Mills, Chief of Staff, U.S. Fleet Cyber Command / U.S TENTH Fleet

From the beginning of World War II, the Germans waged an incessant U-Boat war in the Atlantic against Allied merchant vessels, and once the U.S. joined the war in December 1941, an even greater wealth of targets was available to Germany’s U-boat fleet. It was not until the establishment of the original U.S. Tenth Fleet that the Allies were able to turn the tides.

Coordinated Anti-Submarine Warfare began in the U.S. on Feb. 6, 1942, with the formation of a small group dedicated solely to ASW. Soon after, Fleet Admiral Ernest King sent a memo to the Joint Chiefs of Staff defining the operational characteristics of a central organization with access to all intelligence about German U-Boats and the authority to direct Navy ships to prosecute them. One month later, on May 2, 1943, U.S. Tenth Fleet was formally established.

ADM Ernest J. King

Tenth Fleet became a clearing house for everything involving ASW and had unrestricted access to the Admiralty’s U-Boat tracking room and its various ASW research and intelligence agencies. This was the first time that intelligence and operations were fully unified in one command.

While not the only organization in the war combating the U-Boat, the efforts of Tenth Fleet helped bring about the end of the U-Boat threat. Prior to Tenth Fleet’s establishment, the Allies averaged barely more than four U-Boats sunk per month. During the month Tenth Fleet was established, the Allies sank 41, and averaged more than 23 per month thereafter. Oberleutnant zur See Herbert A. Werner, a former U-Boat commander and one of the few to survive the war, described it succinctly when he said, “The Allied counter-offensive permanently reversed the tide of battle. Almost overnight, the hunters had become the hunted, and through the rest of the war our boats were slaughtered at a fearful rate.”

In the same fashion that the historic U.S. Tenth Fleet enabled the prosecution of the U-Boat threat and ensured access to the shipping lanes, U.S. Fleet Cyber Command and the modern U.S. Tenth Fleet once again combines intelligence and operations to anticipate and prosecute cyberspace threats and ensure our Navy networks supporting our most critical missions are protected and accessible.

Over the past four years, as the Chief of Staff for U.S. Fleet Cyber Command and U.S. Tenth Fleet and as the former Commanding Officer of Navy Information Operations Command (NIOC) Hawaii, I have observed first-hand how the United States is threatened by cyber-attacks every day; the threat to the U.S. Navy is certainly no different. Our ability to command and control our forces relies upon cyberspace. Virtually every operation aboard a Navy ship – navigation, engineering, communications and weapons employment – rests on the secure and reliable transfer of and confidence in our data. Operating in the maritime environment does not shield us from the threats inside of the cyberspace domain. U.S. Fleet Cyber Command was commissioned and U.S. Tenth Fleet was re-established on January 29, 2010, to achieve the integration and innovation necessary for warfighting superiority across the full spectrum of military operations in the maritime, cyberspace and information domains.

FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. (Dec. 14, 2017) Sailors stand watch in the Fleet Operations Center at the headquarters of U.S. Fleet Cyber Command/U.S. 10th Fleet. U.S. Fleet Cyber Command serves as the Navy component command to U.S. Strategic Command and U.S. Cyber Command. U.S. 10th Fleet is the operational arm of Fleet Cyber Command and executes its mission through a task force structure. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Samuel Souvannason/Released)

Since then, the commands have grown into an operational force composed of more than 16,000 Active and Reserve Sailors and civilians organized into 27 active commands, 40 Cyber Mission Force units, and 27 reserve commands around the globe. U.S. Fleet Cyber Command reports directly to the Chief of Naval Operations as an Echelon II command and is responsible for Navy information network operations, offensive and defensive cyberspace operations, space operations and signals intelligence. As such, U.S. Fleet Cyber Command serves as the Navy component command to U.S. Cyber Command, the Navy space component to U.S. Strategic Command, and the Navy’s Service Cryptologic Component Commander under the National Security Agency/Central Security Service. U.S. Tenth Fleet is the operational arm of Fleet Cyber Command and executes its mission through a task force structure similar to other warfare commanders. In this role, Tenth Fleet provides operational direction through the command’s Maritime Operations Center located at Fort George Meade, Maryland.

Our current technological advantages are not preordained. We are in an unprecedented age of exponentially accelerating technology and a convergence of technologies that brings dynamic and innovative capabilities. The technological race is on for Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Quantum Computing as the world’s most powerful militaries strive to become the leader in these areas. Maintaining our role as a global superpower requires us to develop and evolve our cyber capabilities quickly to dominate in this technologically advanced environment.