Home » News & Analysis » Amphib, Destroyer Pairing Seen In High-End Exercise, Current 6th Fleet Operations


Amphib, Destroyer Pairing Seen In High-End Exercise, Current 6th Fleet Operations

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilber (DDG 54) steams alongside amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) in the Philippine Sea Sept. 15 during a fueling at sea (FAS). US Navy photo.

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilber (DDG-54) steams alongside amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) in the Philippine Sea Sept. 15 during a fueling at sea (FAS). US Navy photo.

As the Navy and Marine Corps work through a high-end warfighting exercise in the Pacific, which features a traditional three-ship amphibious ready group (ARG) operating with a guided-missile destroyer as a peek into future operations, a similar ship pairing is performing real-world missions in the Mediterranean today.

Valiant Shield, a U.S.-only field training exercise in Guam and the Mariana Islands Range Complex, focuses on complex high-end missions such as anti-submarine warfare, amphibious assaults, defensive counter-air operations and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), compared to many multinational exercises that spend more time on disaster relief and personnel evacuation missions.

As part of the exercise, the Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG 7) conducts traditional amphibious missions while “guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG-54) will be assigned to the ESG to increase the strike group’s capabilities to conduct a range of surface, subsurface and air defense missions, to include naval gunfire support,” according to a Navy news release on the exercise.
“With increased capabilities beyond a traditional amphibious ready group, ESG 7 can rapidly integrate cruiser-destroyer assets in order to quickly and effectively react to any contingency that may occur, including responses to natural disaster or crises in the region.”

This departure from normal ship groupings – amphibious ships together in an ARG and surface combatants supporting the aircraft carrier in a carrier strike group – doesn’t just hint at how the Navy would handle combat operations in the future. It is also playing out in the Mediterranean today.

The amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD-1) has not sailed with the rest of its ARG since late July. Instead, it has been paired with destroyer USS Carney (DDG-64) to conduct strikes on Islamic State targets in Sirte, Libya, as part of Operation Odyssey Lightning.

USS Carney (DDG-64) commanding officer Cmdr. Ken Pickard watches the approach to the Military Sealift Command fleet replenishment oiler USNS Big Horn (T-AO-198) and USS Wasp (LHD 1) during a replenishment-at-sea in the Mediterranean Sea on Aug. 6, 2016. US Navy photo.

USS Carney (DDG-64) commanding officer Cmdr. Ken Pickard watches the approach to the Military Sealift Command fleet replenishment oiler USNS Big Horn (T-AO-198) and USS Wasp (LHD 1) during a replenishment-at-sea in the Mediterranean Sea on Aug. 6, 2016. US Navy photo.

U.S. Africa Command spokeswoman Robyn Mack told USNI News that “the USS Wasp with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit embarked, and the USS Carney, which replaced the USS The Sullivans, have been supporting U.S. precision airstrikes at the request of [Libya’s Government of National Accord] since Aug. 1. As such, Harriers and Cobras assigned to the USS Wasp have been used to conduct strikes, with the USS Carney providing over watch support.”

A Navy official told USNI News that while AV-8B Harriers from 22nd MEU aboard Wasp have dropped ordnance on these Libyan targets, Carney shot illumination rounds in what is called “disturbance of routine operations.” These shots are fired from the destroyer’s MK 45 5-inch lightweight gun and could not be shot from the amphibious transport dock (LPD) or dock landing ship (LSD) that would typically accompany the big-deck amphib.

Though Mack could not elaborate on the Wasp/Carney pairing due to operational security concerns, Navy photos and news releases show that having Carney support Wasp in U.S. 6th Fleet for these past two months has freed up the rest of the ARG – USS San Antonio (LPD-17) and USS Whidbey Island (LSD-41) – to conduct missions throughout the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations.

USS Carney (DDG 64) fires its MK 45 5-inch lightweight gun during a live fire exercise while on patrol in the Mediterranean Sea on Aug. 7, 2016. US Navy photo.

USS Carney (DDG 64) fires its MK 45 5-inch lightweight gun during a live fire exercise while on patrol in the Mediterranean Sea on Aug. 7, 2016. US Navy photo.

In previous deployments, the LPD might split off into another part of a numbered fleet for split ARG operations or even into another numbered fleet for disaggregated ARG operations. The LSD would be bound to the big-deck, though, to provide support and security for the high-value asset.

In this case, the destroyer brings more firepower than the LSD does, allowing the DDG to not only protect the LHD but also support the strike mission from the sea in a way that another amphibious ship could not.

This pairing freed up Whidbey Island to join San Antonio for patrols of the Gulf of Aden.

  • Ed L

    Why separate the ARG? I strongly feel the ARG should operator with 2 DDG’s. We use to do that in the 70’s until the DDG squadron based out of Greece had to move. Or maybe they should have not decommissioned those frigates so early. look at what the ARG has to protect itself with RAM,CWIS, machine guns. well at least with the Marine Airwing on board there are attack helicopters available. in the 70’s and 80’s in certain areas of the Med there would be Stingers, Recoilless Rifles. TOW and Heavy machine guns up on deck either mounted on Mule/Jeeps/Humvees or on mounts sand bag down to provide additional protection

  • Dan Passaro

    At first this didn’t seem to be entirely newsworthy until I read further and discovered that it DOESN’T already happen this way.

    Though I can just see various Navy bigwigs being perfectly happy to not see this being broadcast to the world, especially to Congress “See, you don’t need such large carrier battle groups.”
    Yes, we do. But some congresscritters with the slice and dice bug up their bum may try to do something with this.

    Personally I’d like to see the LPD and LPH designs go away and be replaced with more LHA/LHD types, even if 3/4 size of the current design and double the buy amount for these Arleigh Burkes.

    • publius_maximus_III

      More destroyers, more destroyers, more Arleigh Burke DDG-51 Flight III guided missile destroyers.

      • Ed L

        Yes many more destroyers another 60 at least

  • John B. Morgen

    I would have use three DDGs, and not just one DDG.