KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Two U.S carriers and two amphibious ships, along with their escorts and 26 F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters drilled with a Japanese large deck warship last week in the Philippine Sea.
The exercises were the largest drills involving aviation-capable ships since the October exercise with the U.S Navy’s Ronald Reagan and Carl Vinson carrier strike groups, the Royal Navy’s Carrier Strike Group 21 (CSG21) and the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) Escort Flotilla 2.
Ships in last week’s drills included:
- USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70);
- USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72);
- USS America (LHA-6);
- USS Essex (LHD- 2);
- USS Mobile Bay (CG-53);
- USS Lake Champlain (CG -57);
- USS Spruance (DDG-111);
- USS Chafee (DDG-90);
- USS Gridley (DDG-101);
- JS Hyuga (DDH-181).
“Nothing reaffirms our commitment to a free and open Indo Pacific like [two] Carrier Strike Groups, [two] Amphibious Ready Groups sailing alongside our close friends from the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force,” said Vice Adm. Karl Thomas, Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet in a Facebook post.
The exercise was the largest assembly of U.S naval F-35s to date with a total of 26 aircraft 10 Navy F-35Cs with the “Argonauts” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 147 from Naval Air Station Lemoore are embarked aboard Vinson, while 10 Marine Corps F-35Cs from the “Black Knights” of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 314 from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., are aboard Lincoln and six Marine F-35B short takeoff and vertical landing variant aircraft operate aboard America.
The exercise in October marked was a major muster of naval F-35s from a variety of nations, with the U.K. and U.S. deploying 18 F-35Bs aboard Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth (R06) and the Vinson’s ten F-35Cs making a total of 28 then. The Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group (CSG) and Essex Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) had earlier completed joint expeditionary strike force training operations in the South China Sea on Jan. 16. A U.S. Navy release stated that the training operations included integrated maritime strike missions, maritime interdiction operations, anti-submarine warfare, replenishment-at-sea and formation maneuvering/navigation operations, “These operations are the latest events in strengthening naval readiness and interoperability in the Indo-Pacific region.”
The Carl Vinson CSG left San Diego in August last year and consists of Carl Vinson with embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 2, cruiser Lake Champlain, destroyers Chafee, USS Dewey (DDG-105), USS O’Kane (DDG-77), USS Michael Murphy (DDG-112), and USS Stockdale (DDG-106). O’Kane and Michael Murphy have been operating with the Essex Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) since early January while Dewey is now operating as part of Commander, Task Force (CTF) 71/DESRON 15 and is currently in the South China Sea.
The Abraham Lincoln CSG departed San Diego, Calif., on Jan. 10 and includes Abraham Lincoln with embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 9, cruiser Mobile Bay, destroyers Gridley, Spruance, USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) and USS Sampson (DDG-102). Fitzgerald is currently at Yokosuka for a port visit, reported Stars and Stripes. Sampson is now on the way to Tonga to assist in disaster relief efforts there following the explosion of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga-Haʻapai volcano.
The Essex ARG was initially comprised of Essex, USS Pearl Harbor (LSD-52) and amphibious transport dock USS Portland (LPD-27) and embarked 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
The America Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) consists of America, USS Green Bay (LPD- 20) and USS Ashland (LSD-48). Elements of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) are embarked. The ESG departed on Jan. 14 from Sasebo, Japan, for a patrol in the Western Pacific.