Saturday, December 11, 2010

Essex ESG Completes Keen Sword 2011

By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class (SW) Casey H. Kyhl, USS Essex Public Affairs

USS ESSEX, At Sea (NNS) -- The forward-deployed Essex Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) and Marines of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) completed exercise Keen Sword 2011 Dec. 10 off the coast of Okinawa, Japan.

The eight-day exercise was conducted in accordance with agreements between the U.S. and Japan, and was designed to improve interoperability, increase readiness and continue the development of the 50-year alliance between the two nations.

"Japan is a lynchpin to stability and security in the Western Pacific and is one of our most important allies," said Rear Adm. Richard Landolt, commander, Amphibious Force 7th Fleet. "By sharing each other's best practices, we have heightened the level of seamanship and professionalism between us."

Thousands of service members assigned to air, sea, and land units from both countries participated in the exercise.

U.S. and Japan Maritime Self Defense Force sailors demonstrated shipboard aviation interoperability Dec. 7 by conducting deck landing qualifications on ships from both nations. Aircraft included a JMSDF SH-60K Sea Hawk and two U.S. CH-46E Sea Knight helicopters.

The forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) also embarked two JMSDF landing craft, air cushion (LCAC) vehicles from the tank landing ship JS Kunisaki (LST 4003).

"These cross-decking evolutions prove that we can work through procedural differences and conduct successful asset exchanges," said Capt. Mark E. Weber, commander, Amphibious Task Group 76.4. "I have been truly impressed with the amount of cooperation and collaboration that has taken place during this exercise."

At the beginning of the exercise, Essex embarked 13 JMSDF officers and enlisted sailors of Command Escort Squadron Two and integrated them into the ship's watch organization. Those sailors worked side-by-side with Essex Sailors to complete Keen Sword and learn from each other along the way.

"My time on board Essex has been very exciting," said JMSDF Lt. Naoki Shirasaka, a Command Escort Division Two liaison officer embarked aboard Essex. "The coordination between our services has made for a great exercise, and our good communication has helped improve our alliance."

A live-fire exercise involving U.S. and JMSDF ships, as well as fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft from the Essex ESG and George Washington Carrier Strike Group (CSG) was conducted Dec. 8-9. JMSDF and U.S. Navy Sailors working side-by-side in the supporting arms coordination center (SACC) aboard Essex organized and controlled the evolution.

"I have no doubt in our ability to integrate rapidly to take any mission with the JMSDF," said Weber. "We have again proven that we have a very strong working relationship and a healthy alliance. This exercise has been a resounding success."

The Essex ESG is composed of Amphibious Squadron 11, USS Essex (LHD 2), the amphibious transport dock USS Denver (LPD 9) and the dock landing ship USS Tortuga (LSD 46). Elements of the 31st MEU are embarked.