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Sailing side by side the JMSDF–Strengthening Interoperability with a key Ally!

By Rear Adm. Karl Thomas, Commander, Task Force 70

“Launch the alert 15, side 203, initial vector 240” crackles over the 1MC (the ship’s loudspeaker system) early in the morning.  An unknown air contact has been detected and is closing the force. Sailors from the U.S. Navy and Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) spring into action across the strike group. U.S. Navy pilots and aircrew scramble to their jets, U.S. Navy and JMSDF leadership discuss the threat on the watch floor onboard USS Ronald Reagan, and radars from U.S. and Japanese ships probe the sky for the contact. In this case the unknown air contact was just one of many training scenarios the Ronald Reagan Strike Group conducted with the JMSDF this past week demonstrating some very real interoperability. JMSDF Commander, Escort Division (CCD) 6 and JS Kirishima joined our Battle Force alongside USS Antietam, USS Benfold, USS Milius and USS Curtis Wilbur and fulfilled air, surface and subsurface responsibilities, increasing the overall strength of our aggregated force.

As an E-2 Hawkeye aviator, I spent much of my career managing aircraft across warfare areas and building situational awareness for the Strike Group Commander.  I enjoyed having that responsibility to manage the big picture.  Now, it doesn’t get any bigger than having a team of experts that control the forces operating in the Western Pacific waterways that directly impact the world’s global economy, stability and prosperity. Providing security in a free and open Indo-Pacific for all mariners requires a team effort.

It was absolutely exhilarating to watch the teamwork as all the pieces come together this past week. JS Kirishima participated in air defense and communications exercises with strike group ships.  Her air controllers provided control for Air Wing aircraft, and along with USS Antietam and USS Milius, she supported USS Ronald Reagan with flight operations.  Additionally, a U.S. Navy SH-60S Sea Hawk from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron Twelve (HSC-12) demonstrated how seamlessly our ships and aircraft can work together when it landed and refueled on JS Kirishima.  Sharing experiences and lessons while exercising with our partners and allies is our surest way to strengthen naval power at and from the sea.

My staff and I had the opportunity to work directly with the JMSDF CCD6 staff and I witnessed first-hand how exchanging liaison officers accelerates our learning.  The exchanges included JMSDF CCD 6 liaison officers working alongside Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 15 in Sea Combat onboard Ronald Reagan integrating our cruisers and destroyers.  CCD6 officers also embarked USS Antietam to increase air defense interoperability throughout the strike group.  The deep interoperability we have built over the years through exercises and bilateral training was clearly evident in CCD6 and JS Kirishima’s seamless integration into our strike group operations this past week.

This is the sixth carrier I’ve served on and it is extremely gratifying each day at sea to watch our crews operate with precision and professionalism.  Seamlessly coordinating with our allies in today’s highly technical information driven environment is even more rewarding.  Every time we work with our Japanese allies we each learn from one another, which in turn makes our alliance stronger.  I look forward to the next opportunity to host the JMSDF, or Kaijo Jieitai as they are known in Japan, onboard Ronald Reagan and to train alongside their highly professional ships and Sailors.


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