The U.S. Navy’s Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group (BHR ESG) and two guided missile destroyers held a series of interoperability drills on October 3-4 in the South China Sea, according to a U.S. Pacific Command press release.
The Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Spruance and USS Decatur—part of the U.S. Navy’s so-called Pacific Surface Action Group (PAC SAG)–practiced defense in depth of the BHR ESG. The drill included anti-submarine and anti-air warfare scenarios and live-fire practices.
The U.S. Navy expects to hold similar interoperability exercises in the future involving the F-35B-Lightning II—the F-35 variant capable of vertical or short takeoffs and vertical landings without requiring a catapult launcher. Combining an expeditionary strike group with elements of an surface action group adds tremendous extra fire power to the unit.
“As I said in April when the PAC SAG deployed, this type of training with the BHR ESG will pave the way for the inaugural deployment of an ESG embarked with joint strike fighters (F-35B Lightning II) and escorted by a SAG like this one, which I call an up-gunned ESG,” said Admiral Scott H. Swift, the U.S. Pacific Fleet commander. “Being able to concentrate and disperse all of that capability based on the situation will provide commanders with tremendous operational flexibility,” he added.
“Integrating with the ships of the BHR ESG and associated staffs has been a great experience for us as we wind up the PAC SAG’s deployment in the Western Pacific,” said Captain Charles Johnson, the sea combat commander overseeing the drill. “As we operate in the South China Sea, building on the work the ESG and SAG have accomplished, it demonstrates the flexibility of our Navy to operate forward and bring the right capability to the arena.”
BHR ESG units include the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard, the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock USS Green Bay , and the Whidbey Island-class dock landing ship USS Germantown . The USS Bonhomme Richard and USS Green Bay were in Hong Kong for a port visit in late September and departed to the South China Sea naval drill from there (See: “2 US Warships Make Port Call in Hong Kong”).
As I explained elsewhere:
The Hong Kong port call follows the participation of both vessels in this year’s Valiant Shield 2016 naval exercise, held from September 12-23 off the coast of Guam and around the Marianas Island Range Complex in the western Pacific Ocean (See: “US Navy to Hold Massive Naval Drill in Western Pacific”).
The naval exercise involved 18,000 military personnel, over 180 U.S. aircraft, and the nuclear-powered Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, based in Yokosuka Naval Base in Japan’s Kanagawa Prefecture and currently the U.S. Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier in the Asia-Pacific region.