Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Stennis, Reagan Strike Groups Join Forces, Make Carrier Task Force

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class (SW/AW) Chris Fowler, USS John C. Stennis Public Affairs

CARRIER TASK FORCE 150, At Sea (NNS) -- The USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) Carrier Strike Group (JCSSG) combined forces with the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) Carrier Strike Group for its Joint Task Force Exercise (JTFEX) off the coast of Southern California to form Carrier Task Force (CTF) 150, Nov. 12-16.

According to Rear Adm. Kevin Quinn, commander, Carrier Strike Group 3, the purpose of training as a CTF during JTFEX is to provide warfare commanders with the greatest capability and staying power for fighting the global war on terrorism with a dual-carrier, combat-ready, maritime force.

JTFEX is the final phase before JCSSG is certified by Commander, U.S. 3rd Fleet as “deployment ready.” It uses a free-flowing battle problem that employs multiple scenarios to enable JCSSG to demonstrate that it is capable of integrating into a CTF.

As the commander of CTF 150, Quinn has operational control of both carrier strike groups (CSG). Merging strike groups into a CTF increases the assets available to the commander in theater. The mission of the task force is similar to that of a carrier strike group, but much larger in scale and scope: to deter and dissuade aggression, keep sea-lanes open for commerce, and conduct maritime security operations.

“With a carrier task force, we are training like we fight,” said Quinn. “As the Navy looks at different hot spots overseas, the best response to many scenarios requires a multi-carrier task force.”

CTF 150 spent one week conducting a wide range of maritime security operations across many different warfare disciplines. As elements of the CTF, Stennis Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 9 and Reagan's CVW-14 effectively became a single team.

“We are now integrating two CSG air wings who, combined, are providing the strike warfare arm of CTF 150,” said Capt. Sterling Gilliam, commander, CVW-9. “The combination provides greater flexibility, striking power, and persistence than one carrier air wing could provide alone.”

For the JTFEX, air power “persistence” is essential. During normal cyclic flight operations, a pilot spends a significant amount of time transiting to and from target areas. With the enhanced capabilities CTF 150 provides, by alternating air plan flight cycles, CTF 150 is able to maintain a nearly constant air presence over the targeted areas.

According to Gilliam, it is difficult for one CVW to conduct flight operations for much more than about 12 hours before having to stop. However, with the combined striking power of two CVWs, CTF 150 is able to conduct air operations over a continuous 24-hour cycle.

“During the early days of Operation Enduring Freedom, I was aboard USS Enterprise (CVN 65) operating with USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) off the coast of Afghanistan,” said Gilliam. “When the order to launch air strikes arrived, together, both CVWs flew 24-hours a day.”

“At any one time,” said Gilliam, “We are able to provide focused air power to overwhelm any adversary we could potentially face.”

While CTF 150 conducted air warfare exercises, the surface components operate across the full spectrum of surface warfare. Led by Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 21, CTF 150’s Sea Combat Commander (SCC) conducted sustained operations in four general disciplines: maritime interdiction operations (MIO), anti-submarine warfare (ASW), anti-surface warfare (ASUW), and mine warfare (MW).

According to Lt. Cmdr. Kitja Horpayak, DESRON 21 tactical action officer, CTF 150 will also conduct exercises in expanded maritime interdiction, vessel boarding, and oil-platform defense.
“This exercise is designed to ensure we have the right assets on station and subject matter experts available, so we can seamlessly shift from planning a mission to executing it,” said Horpayak. “We are also shifting command and control of the various disciplines [MIO, ASW, ASUW, MW] between the Carrier Strike Force to practice shifting authorities, so we can ensure we have the right combination of command and control where and when they are most needed.”
Of the four disciplines, ASW is a top war fighting priority and continues to increase in importance.

“Our ability to track, identify, and if neccessary target submarines is of the utmost importance. Exercises, such as JTFEX 07-1, allow carrier strike groups to hone their warfighting skills and ensure we are proficent and effective during our upcoming deployment in support of global war on terror,” said Horpayak.

“The exercises are very dynamic and challenging,” said Quinn. “No matter what scenario we might face, my number one priority is to provide a combat ready carrier strike group. That way, we are ready for any missions that we could face on deployment.”