Two U.S. Aircraft Carriers Drill with Japanese Big Deck in Western Pacific Exercise

January 31, 2024 1:59 PM
From left to right, Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Daniel K. Inouye (DDG-118), Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70), Hyuga-class helicopter destroyer JS Ise (DDH-182) and Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) sail in formation during Multi-Large Deck Event (MLDE), Jan. 31, 2024. US Navy Photo

Two American aircraft carrier strike groups are drilling with a Japanese big-deck warship in the Philippine Sea, the services announced.

Carriers USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) and USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) drilled with Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force helicopter destroyer JS Ise (DDH-182) in the Philippine Sea in a multi-day event. A JMSDF release stated that the drills began on Monday and will conclude on Thursday.

“The purpose of this training is to improve the tactical skill and interoperability with the U.S. Navy,” Rear Adm. Hitoshi Shimuzu, commander of Escort Flotilla 2, said in a JMSDF release. “Our relationship is committed to regional peace and stability.”

The exercise included, “air defense drills, sea surveillance, cross-deck exercises and tactical maneuvers to advance unique high-end warfighting capability,” reads the statement from U.S. 7th Fleet.

Vinson is embarked with Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 2, cruiser USS Princeton (CG-59) and destroyers USS Sterett (DDG-104), USS Dewey (DDG-105), USS Rafael Peralta (DDG-115) and USS John Finn (DDG-113) of Destroyer Squadron 1. Theodore Roosevelt is embarked with CVW 11, cruiser USS Lake Erie (CG-70) and destroyers USS William P. Lawrence (DDG-110), USS Daniel K. Inouye (DDG 118) and USS Halsey (DDG-97) of DESRON 23.

Vinson deployed from San Diego on Oct.12 with Princeton and DESRON 1 destroyers USS Hopper (DDG-70), USS Kidd (DDG-100), USS Sterett (DDG-104) and William P. Lawrence (DDG-110), according to the USNI News Fleet and Marine Tracker. Imagery released by the Pentagon show Kidd in the Philippine Sea as of Jan. 21 and Hopper in the South China Sea as of Jan. 16, while William P. Lawrence has been assigned to the Theodore Roosevelt CSG. Dewey, Rafael Peralta and John Finn are part of the U.S. forward-deployed Japan DESRON 15 based in Japan. Theodore Roosevelt deployed from San Diego on Jan. 12 with Lake Erie and DESRON 23 destroyers USS John S. McCain (DDG-56), Daniel K. Inouye and Hasley.

The Navy release said that the last exercise of its kind took place in November in the Philippine Sea with the Carl Vinson and Ronald Reagan strike groups.

From left to right, Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70), Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Sterett (DDG-104), Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Princeton (CG-59), Hyuga-class helicopter destroyer JS Ise (DDH-182), Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Rafael Peralta (DDG-115), Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Daniel K. Inouye (DDG-118), Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) along with aircraft assigned to Carrier Air Wing Two sail and fly in formation during Multi-Large Deck Event (MLDE), Jan. 31, 2024. US Navy Photo

“The U.S. and Japan are uniquely capable of rapidly assembling multiple large-deck naval forces in support of mutual security interests in the Indo Pacific,” Rear Adm. Carlos Sardiello, commander, of CSG-1 said in a statement. “Our ability to rapidly aggregate and work collectively alongside the JMSDF and the Theodore Roosevelt strike group is positive proof. Events like these are not new. The Vinson strike group has conducted similar operations since 2001, and most recently in November 2023 along with the Ronald Reagan CSG and the JMSDF in the Philippine Sea.”

The Navy and JMSDF are expected to conduct further large deck exercises this year that will incorporate multi-national participation. Both Italy and France are deploying carrier strike groups to the Indo-Pacific this year. Italy will deploy carrier ITS Cavour (550), which operates F-35B fighters in its embarked air wing with a multinational force of escorts, and France will deploy carrier FS Charles De Gaulle (R91), which operates Rafale M fighters in its air wing, along with an escort and support group.

The JMSDF has previously said the service intends to strengthen cooperation with the Italian Navy, particularly in regard to F-35B operations. Japan has been keen on learning from the carrier operations experiences of European F-35B operators Italy and the United Kingdom along with the United States, as it prepares for its own operations with the F-35Bs. A delegation of JMSDF and Japan Air Self-Defense Force officers observed trials on U.K. carrier HMS Prince of Wales (RO9) off the U.S. East Coast in November, with Japan planning to send an Izumo-class destroyer carrier later this year.

The JMSDF ship that will head to the U.S. will likely be JS Kaga (DDH-184), which is in the midst of wrapping up sea trials following the first phase of the ship’s conversion to operate F-35Bs. That modification includes structural conversion of the bow flight deck portion of the ship from a trapezoid shape to a square shape.

Sister ship JS Izumo (DDH-183) is scheduled to go into the dock later this year for similar work, with both ships also slated to undergo a second and final conversion, which Japan hopes to finish by Fiscal Year 2027. The JMSDF does not have a naval aviation fighter component and Japan’s F-35Bs will be operated by a JASDF squadron. Japan plans to receive six F-35Bs in FY 2024 from a total order of 42 aircraft and will establish a provisional F35B squadron the same fiscal year. It’s unclear how Lockheed Martin’s announcement of delivering a lower number of F-35s this year due to delays in the Technology Refresh 3 software upgrade will affect Japanese deliveries.

Dzirhan Mahadzir

Dzirhan Mahadzir

Dzirhan Mahadzir is a freelance defense journalist and analyst based in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. Among the publications he has written for and currently writes for since 1998 includes Defence Review Asia, Jane’s Defence Weekly, Navy International, International Defence Review, Asian Defence Journal, Defence Helicopter, Asian Military Review and the Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter.

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