2016 a year of firsts for the US 7th Fleet

Aircraft carriers USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) and USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) conduct dual aircraft carrier strike group operations in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations in June 2016. Photo: US Navy

As the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet looks back at 2016, it looks back at a year of innovations, new partnerships and upgraded ships.

Ships and personnel teamed up with allies and partner nations in more than 110 exercises to exchange information, enhance capabilities and train together throughout 2016.

Major exercises included Keen Sword, Ulchi Freedom Guardian, Ssang Yong, and nine different Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) series exercises.

The 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge kicked off her patrol in February, traveling 13,000 nautical miles across the Indo-Asia Pacific to strengthen partnerships and promote peace and stability in the region.
The ship visited 10 ports in 7 countries conducting various engagements such as staff talks, sports activities, receptions onboard the ship, community relations events, and much more.

During the patrol, various distinguished visitors came onboard including the Sri Lankan President, Maithripala Sirisena, Indian Minister of Defence, Manohar Parrikar, and Secretary of Defense Ash Carter.

Of note, Blue Ridge was the first U.S. ship to visit Sri Lanka in five years and for the 46-year-old ship, it visited India for the first time in 17 years.

After the patrol, the Blue Ridge entered dry dock at Naval Ship Repair Facility and Japan Regional Maintenance Center (SRF JRMC) to begin its scheduled extended dry-docking selected restricted availability (EDSRA). The ship will receive not only maintenance, but equipment upgrades to enable the ship to carry out its mission in 7th Fleet for many years to come.

In February, 7th Fleet welcomed the USS John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group (JCSCSG), also hailed as the Great Green Fleet for its use of alternative fuels. From February to June, the fleet, comprised of approximately 7,000 sailors, completed routine operations in the South China Sea and made port visits across the Indo-Asia Pacific, highlighting the Navy’s efforts to transform its energy use to increase operational capability.

In March, JCSSG and other U.S. military forces worked alongside the Republic of Korea armed forces during exercise Foal Eagle. During its four months in 7th Fleet, the JCSSG also conducted passing exercises with the French navy and Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) and in June, participated in Malabar 2016, a trilateral maritime exercise with the Indian navy, JMSDF, and U.S. Navy.

In that month the JCSCSG also conducted dual carrier operations with the Ronald Reagan Strike Group in the Philippine Sea. The ships and aircraft assigned to both strike groups conducted coordinated operations in international waters demonstrating the unique capability to operate multiple carrier strike groups in close proximity.

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Barry (DDG 52) joined 7th Fleet March 3 as a Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD)-capable destroyer, bringing the newest Aegis combat system, Baseline 9.C, to 7th Fleet and the capability to fire all Vertical Launch System (VLS) ordnance, including the newest missiles, RIM-161 Standard Missile 3 (SM-3) and RIM-161 Standard Missile 6 (SM-6).

Exercise Keen Sword (KS) is the largest joint, bilateral field training exercise between the U.S. military and the Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF). Approximately, 11,000 U.S. military personnel participated in KS 2017 from October to November, including those assigned to U.S. Forces Japan Headquarters, 5th Air Force, U.S. Naval Forces Japan, U.S. Army Japan, III Marine Expeditionary Force and 7th Fleet.

The forces conducted training with JSDF counterparts at military installations throughout mainland Japan, Okinawa and in the air and waters surrounding Japan, Guam and Tinian, to increase combat readiness and interoperability within the framework of the U.S.-Japan alliance.

The 11th annual Pacific Partnership mission moved through 7th Fleet from May to September, working alongside one another in six countries to improve disaster response preparedness and enhance relationships in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

Multinational humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR), medical, and civil-engineering teams partnered with their counterparts in each country to conduct live search and rescue field training exercises, subject matter expert exchanges, cooperative health engagements and community relations events.

In addition to training for HADR incidents, assets operating in the 7th Fleet AOO were able to respond to real world incidents in the region.

In the aftermath of several devastating earthquakes in Kumamoto, VMM-265 attached to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, arrived at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni April 17-18 with approximately eight Ospreys to provide airlift support at the request of the Government of Japan. Sailors, soldiers, airmen and Marines were able to deliver more than 230,000 pounds of relief supplies to Japanese forces operating in remote areas of the quake zone.

In November, the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Sampson (DDG 102), operating forward in 7th Fleet under the command of 3rd Fleet, made a historic visit to New Zealand when she participated in the Royal New Zealand Navy’s International Naval Review commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Royal New Zealand Navy, making her the first U.S. Navy ship to visit New Zealand in 30 years.

Sampson’s presence in the Western Pacific allowed the ship to join a U.S. Navy P-3C Orion aircraft supporting New Zealand Kaikoura earthquake recovery efforts, at the request of the New Zealand government.

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