By Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Sara B. Sexton, Commander, Task Force 70 Public Affairs
WATERS SOUTH OF JAPAN – Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) Rear Adm. Hidetoshi Iwasaki, commander, Escort Flotilla 2, assumed the role as Sea Combat Commander (SCC) on board the U.S. Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) during Annual Exercise (AE) 16, Nov. 16-22.
During strike group operations and AE16, the SCC is responsible for defending the aircraft carrier from surface and sub-surface opposed units as well as planning and executing offensive strikes.
“It is an honor to be on board Ronald Reagan,” said Iwasaki. “We had the opportunity to work with [Destroyer Squadron] 15 to perform better than last year in this high-end exercise to accomplish the operational and tactical goals.”
More than 40 members from JMSDF embarked Ronald Reagan to work closely with Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 15, normally embarked on Ronald Reagan, and the rest of the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group.
“With Admiral Iwasaki assuming Sea Combat Commander duties and responsibilities, U.S. Navy and JMSDF now have increased flexibility in defending the carrier or high value unit,” said Capt. Christopher Sweeney, commander, DESRON 15, embarked on Ronald Reagan.
Representatives from Commander, Escort Division (CCD) 2 and Commander, Escort Division (CCD) 6 embarked Ronald Reagan including operation officers, communication officers, communication specialists, operations specialists, SONAR technicians and others, to understand SCC operations firsthand before AE16 started.
“Our JMSDF counterparts seamlessly folded into their prospective roles over the course of the exercise,” said Sweeney.
AE 16 involved many complex tactical scenarios, such as anti-submarine warfare exercises, air-to-air combat exercises and long-range maritime strike exercises, aimed to foster interoperability and teamwork between the two nations.
“We learned a lot about the capabilities of our communications systems, bilateral command structure, and our ability to defend the high value unit through offensive strike with ships, submarines, and aircraft,” said Sweeney.
AE16 was planned and conducted on board Ronald Reagan in spaces provided so the JMSDF members could work alongside U.S. Sailors. JMSDF officers and Sailors stood watch with DESRON 15 officers and Sailors to execute SCC operations.
According to Iwasaki, the last time the exercise was completed in 2014 he was on board the Izumo-class helicopter destroyer JS Hyuga (DDH 181). Normally, JMSDF staffs remain embarked on JMSDF ships during exercises. Iwasaki mentioned it was challenging to grasp the whole picture of how the exercise was supposed to be conducted while separated from the center of decision making. However, now that he has participated as the SCC on board Ronald Reagan, he and his team are able to see how each participant plays a role in the interoperability between the U.S. and JMSDF.
AE16 is a bilateral training exercise between the Navy and JMSDF conducted in the waters south of Japan to practice and evaluate the coordination, procedures, and interoperability elements required to effectively and cohesively respond to the defense of Japan or to a regional contingency in the Indo-Asia-Pacific.