A Keen Eye on Keen Sword

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By Rear. Adm. Karl Thomas
Commander, Task Force 70

This week, we wrapped up Keen Sword 2019, the biennial exercise with the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force, (JMSDF) or Kaijo Jieitai as they are known in Japan. This exercise is designed to strengthen and demonstrate our commitment to the U.S. – Japan alliance and ultimately increase the interoperability of our forces.

As we prepared for the final maritime strike, I had the opportunity to assist in the targeting of the enemy forces in the exercise from the back end of a VAW-125 Tigertail E-2D Advanced Hawkeye. With nearly 3,000 hours in the back of an E-2C, this was my first opportunity to experience the impressive capability of an E-2D. Hawkeyes have always been the fleet’s eye in the sky, but with the advancements in the new E-2D that eye is much more focused. I watched this radar develop throughout my career from its beginnings on a mountain-top in Hawaii, through a transition to the back of a C-130 test platform, and finally as it became reality in the fleet. It is simply a game changer.

PHILIPPINE SEA (Nov. 7, 2018) Rear Adm. Karl Thomas, commander, Task Force 70, departs an E-2D Hawkeye on the flight deck of the Navy's forward deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) during Keen Sword 2019. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class MacAdam Kane Weissman/Released)
PHILIPPINE SEA (Nov. 7, 2018) Rear Adm. Karl Thomas, commander, Task Force 70, departs an E-2D Hawkeye on the flight deck of the Navy’s forward deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) during Keen Sword 2019. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class MacAdam Kane Weissman/Released)
PHILIPPINE SEA (Nov. 7, 2018) An E-2D Hawkeye launches off the flight deck of the Navy's forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) during Keen Sword 2019. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kyleigh Williams/Released)
PHILIPPINE SEA (Nov. 7, 2018) An E-2D Hawkeye launches off the flight deck of the Navy’s forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) during Keen Sword 2019. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kyleigh Williams/Released)

As we walked to the aircraft in preparation for our flight, it dawned on me that I had more years of service than all four young Tigertail aviators combined. To fly with this next generation of warfighters who have the same drive and energy I possessed at their age is exactly why I continue to serve. It seemed like just yesterday I was the young aviator walking to the plane, showing the old guy how the system worked. The young Tigertail aviators manipulated the numerous systems in the back of the aircraft with ease as they fired up one system after another. A talented young E-2D naval flight officer, Lt. Cmdr. Mike “Hansel” Boyle, walked me through the radar functionality, explaining the differences of the APY-9 radar and how it transmits, receives and processes energy. I was like a kid in a candy store as I witnessed on my radar scope what I had only seen in simulators. This system is already making a huge impact on Keen Sword 19 and I couldn’t help but think of the capability and capacity that the recently acquired Japanese E-2Ds would add to future Keen Sword exercises. It all comes down to interoperability; the U.S. Navy and Kaijo Jieitai are an extremely effective team because of the common tactics, procedures and equipment we employ.

PHILIPPINE SEA (Nov. 8, 2018) The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), left, and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force helicopter destroyer JS Hyuga (DDH 181), right, are underway in formation with 16 other ships from the U.S. Navy and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) as aircraft from the U.S. Air Force and Japan Air Self-Defense Force fly overhead in formation during Keen Sword 2019. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Erwin Jacob V. Miciano/Released)
PHILIPPINE SEA (Nov. 8, 2018) The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), left, and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force helicopter destroyer JS Hyuga (DDH 181), right, are underway in formation with 16 other ships from the U.S. Navy and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) as aircraft from the U.S. Air Force and Japan Air Self-Defense Force fly overhead in formation during Keen Sword 2019. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Erwin Jacob V. Miciano/Released)

Throughout this exercise, ships and aircraft from both of our countries have focused on sailing, operating, flying together and building interoperability so that we can respond as one team if ever needed. Day after day, I watched U.S and numerous Kaijo Jieitai ships protect USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) from attacking exercise submarines, while the striking power of Air Wing Five launched from the deck several times a day to fight side-by-side with the Japanese Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) and U.S. Air Force. This ability to fight with our allies across service lines is simply awe-inspiring. The relationships we build amongst aviators, surface warriors, warfare commanders and senior leaders in exercises such as Keen Sword is the cornerstone of our alliance – an alliance that has ensured regional peace and stability for nearly 60 years.

PHILIPPINE SEA (Nov. 8, 2018) The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) Murasame-class destroyer JS Kirisame (DD 104) and the JMSDF Hatsuyuki-class destroyer JS Asayuki (DD 132) steam in formation with other ships from the U.S. Navy and JMSDF during exercise Keen Sword 19. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Timothy M. Black/Released)
PHILIPPINE SEA (Nov. 8, 2018) The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) Murasame-class destroyer JS Kirisame (DD 104) and the JMSDF Hatsuyuki-class destroyer JS Asayuki (DD 132) steam in formation with other ships from the U.S. Navy and JMSDF during exercise Keen Sword 19. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Timothy M. Black/Released)

As I sat drinking a cup of coffee with Rear Adm. Egawa, commander, Escort Flotilla One, while discussing lessons from our current exercise, we reminisced on our experiences as young naval officers. We talked of the ports we had visited, agreed how we could build upon our already strong relationship, and discussed how this partnership would only grow stronger upon our return to Yokosuka, Japan. At one point, we discussed my flight and what I observed, and it dawned on me how that moment really summed up what made Keen Sword special. From the young Kaijo Jieitai and U.S. Navy officers and Sailors flying and sailing together as one to the two senior officers ending the day together over a cup of coffee; exercises like Keen Sword enable us to practice integration so that it becomes simple, routine and highly effective. We ended our meeting with a keen eye to the future, and pondered whether the young aviators who fly our two nation’s E-2D Advanced Hawkeyes would be the catalyst to take Keen Sword 2021’s interoperability to an entirely new level.

Editor’s note: Rear Adm. Thomas is a career E-2C Hawkeye naval flight officer and the commander of Task Force 70, which is based in Yokosuka, Japan.


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A Keen Eye on Keen Sword

Bull Halsey: Right Navy Leader at Right Time

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By Rear Adm. Brian Fort
Commander, Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific

PEARL HARBOR (Sept. 2, 2017) Rear Adm. Brian Fort, commander, Navy Region Hawaii and commander, Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific delivers remarks at the Battleship Missouri Memorial. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communications Specialist 3rd Class Justin R. Pacheco)
PEARL HARBOR (Sept. 2, 2017) Rear Adm. Brian Fort, commander, Navy Region Hawaii and commander, Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific delivers remarks at the Battleship Missouri Memorial. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communications Specialist 3rd Class Justin R. Pacheco)

On Sept. 2, I had the privilege of attending a ceremony on the battleship Missouri to commemorate the 72nd anniversary of the end of World War II in the Pacific. The theme was “They Stood Tall, They Held the Line and They Set the Course to Peace,” and the focus was on the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands.

Among the reasons last week’s commemoration was special for me personally, I had the chance to meet and speak with World War II veterans and United States Marines – always an honor; I was invited to speak about the history, heritage and legacy associated with Guadalcanal; and did I mention we were aboard the “Mighty Mo,” Battleship Missouri Museum!

Back in 1945, USS Missouri (BB 63) hosted the signing ceremony for the end of the War in the Pacific. At the time, Missouri was flagship of Adm. William “Bull” Halsey.

Adm. Chester Nimitz and Adm. E. J. King handpicked Halsey to serve as the wartime commander of the South Pacific for a reason. They needed someone with his “very particular set of skills,” to quote Liam Neeson. They needed him Halsey to take command in the South Pacific, where, according to the historical record, other Navy leaders were overly cautious and risk averse.

Halsey took charge in the Solomons, where our Marines were in a bitter fight with Imperial Japanese forces. He gathered all available ships, ordered mechanics to work around the clock to repair ships and make them battle-read, maximized use of patrol torpedo boats (to great effect) and changed the maritime strategy from strictly defense to bold offense – willing to take cruisers and destroyers to engage with more powerful Imperial Japanese Navy battleships.

PEARL HARBOR (Sept. 2, 2017) Service members parade the colors aboard the Battleship Missouri Memorial. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communications Specialist 3rd Class Justin R. Pacheco)
PEARL HARBOR (Sept. 2, 2017) Service members parade the colors aboard the Battleship Missouri Memorial. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communications Specialist 3rd Class Justin R. Pacheco)

No wonder the United States Marine Corps loves him to this day. Marines defended Henderson Field and beat back enemy forces throughout late summer and early fall of 1942. Then, on Friday, Nov. 13, under Halsey’s orders, Adm. Daniel Callaghan led a fierce and deadly fight against the enemy in Sealark Channel off Guadalcanal.

In a close and thunderous gunfight, five American cruisers and eight destroyers went up against two enemy battleships, one cruiser and 14 destroyers. The result: brutal wounds, terrible damage and significant losses on both sides. Callaghan lost four ships and was himself killed, but Imperial Japan lost one battleship and two destroyers – their seeming invincibility was smashed.

Halsey was deeply saddened by the losses of his Sailors and ships. Nevertheless, he and Nimitz considered the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal in the South Pacific one of the key turning points of the war.

The Battle of Guadalcanal would wage on for several more months, but the clear naval victories in November meant that our Marines, Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Coast Guardsmen would continue rising to the challenge to advance up the “ladder” toward Japan. At Guadalcanal, they stood taller, they held the line and they set the course to peace.

PACIFIC OCEAN (Aug. 11, 2017) The guided-missile destroyer USS Halsey (DDG 97) transits the Pacific Ocean during a strait transit show of force exercise. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Paul L. Archer/Released)
PACIFIC OCEAN (Aug. 11, 2017) The guided-missile destroyer USS Halsey (DDG 97) transits the Pacific Ocean during a strait transit show of force exercise. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Paul L. Archer/Released)

Today, we have 10 homeported ships in Pearl Harbor ready to protect freedom, security, stability and prosperity in the Pacific, and one of those ships is namesake to the take-charge admiral who ensured victory at Guadalcanal. The guided-missile destroyer USS Halsey’s motto is a quote from Halsey, “Hit hard, hit fast, hit often.”

Like any of us, Adm. Bull Halsey was far from perfect. But in 1942, he was the right leader at the right place at the right time. If our call comes to “fight tonight” we will need bold leaders like Halsey who can inspire and lead warfighters. Semper Fi. Semper Fortis.

Editor’s note: Rear Adm. Brian Fort assumed command at Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific Aug. 9. He was invited to speak to the community at the End of World War II ceremony aboard the Battleship Missouri Memorial, which makes its home in Pearl Harbor.


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Bull Halsey: Right Navy Leader at Right Time

Battle of Coral Sea leads to Midway: A comeback for U.S. Navy

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By Rear Adm. John Fuller
Commander, Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific

Seventy-five years ago today, May 12, 1942, American submarines inflicted the final major casualties of the Battle of the Coral Sea, a fight that tested the skill of our Navy on, under and above the sea.

The Battle of the Coral Sea etched names in our history and heritage: Rear Adm. Frank Jack Fletcher, Lt. “Jo Jo” Powers, Lt. Milton Ricketts, Dauntlesses Devastators aircraft (VB 2, VB 5, VS 2, VS 5, VT 2, VT 5), USS Hammann (DDG 412), USS Neosho (AO 23), USS Lexington (CV 2) and USS Yorktown (CV 5).

A mushroom cloud rises after a heavy explosion on board USS Lexington (CV 2), May 8, 1942. This is probably the great explosion from the detonation of torpedo warheads stowed in the starboard side of the hangar, aft, that followed an explosion amidships at 5:27 p.m. Note USS Yorktown (CV-5) on the horizon in the left center, and destroyer USS Hammann (DD 412) at the extreme left. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)
A mushroom cloud rises after a heavy explosion on board USS Lexington (CV 2), May 8, 1942. This is probably the great explosion from the detonation of torpedo warheads stowed in the starboard side of the hangar, aft, that followed an explosion amidships at 5:27 p.m. Note USS Yorktown (CV 5) on the horizon in the left center, and destroyer USS Hammann (DD 412) at the extreme left. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

The enemy sank our aircraft carrier USS Lexington and so badly damaged another carrier, USS Yorktown, they thought it too was lost.

But the carrier, captain and crew were tough, resilient and determined. And so was our Navy.

On May 27, Yorktown made it back into the Pearl Harbor channel and eased into drydock at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, met by Adm. Chester Nimitz, who conducted an immediate inspection.

Back then, Sailors and civilians were still in recovery mode after the attacks of Dec. 7, 1941. Shipyard workers were repairing hulls, propellers and pumps on damaged ships.

Simultaneously, ashore at what is now known as Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, preparations were underway for the battle that would turn the tides in America’s favor in the war in the Pacific.

While Imperial Japan felt emboldened and confident after the destruction the Japanese inflicted to our Pacific Fleet battleships, we were quietly getting ready to engage in multiple domains, including cyber, through codebreaking.

At Station Hypo in Building One, Navy code breakers, led by Lt. Cmdr. Edwin Layton and Lt. Cmdr. Joe Rochefort, provided intelligence to Nimitz about the enemy’s plans to attack Midway Atoll. The surprise, combined with luck and courage, would give the Americans the edge despite the armada they faced at Midway.

Meanwhile, at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, workers, who had already been working for months to salvage, recover and repair warships in the harbor, would have to perform a miracle for Yorktown.

View of damage on USS Yorktown’s third and fourth decks, amidships, caused by a 250 kilogram bomb hit received during the Battle of Coral Sea. This view looks forward and to starboard from the ship's centerline at frame 110. The photographer is in compartment C-301-L , shooting down through the third deck into compartment C-402-A. The large hole in the deck was made by the bomb's explosion. Many men were killed or badly injured in C-301-L, a crew's messing space that was the assembly area for the ship's engineering repair party. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)
View of damage on USS Yorktown’s third and fourth decks, amidships, caused by a 250 kilogram bomb hit received during the Battle of Coral Sea. This view looks forward and to starboard from the ship’s centerline at frame 110. The photographer is in compartment C-301-L , shooting down through the third deck into compartment C-402-A. The large hole in the deck was made by the bomb’s explosion. Many men were killed or badly injured in C-301-L, a crew’s messing space that was the assembly area for the ship’s engineering repair party. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

Nimitz ordered the ship to be ready in three days.

According to historian Thomas Cutler, “Civilian yard workers swarmed aboard armed with a different arsenal of war – hammers, acetylene torches and the like – and soon the ship echoed with a cacophony of frantic but purposeful activity. Working around the clock in temperatures sometimes reaching 120 degrees, these workers labored in an eerie world of pulsating light, choking smoke, pungent fumes and a racing clock. Three days later, the resurrection was complete. Yorktown steamed down the channel, headed for sea and ‘rendezvous with destiny,’ civilian workers spilling from her insides into small boats alongside as she went.”

Cutler said the U.S. Navy’s victory at the Battle of Midway is shared by those workers here at Pearl Harbor. “The miracle began when others fought exhaustion and the clock to do the seemingly impossible.”

Japanese facilities burning on Tanambogo Island, east of Tulagi, Aug. 7, 1942 – the Battle of Guadalcanal invasion's first day. This view looks about ESE, with Gavutu Island to the right, connected to Tanambogo by a causeway. Small island to the left is Gaomi. The Florida Islands are in the distance. Photographed from an SBD aircraft based on one of the supporting U.S. aircraft carriers. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)
Japanese facilities burning on Tanambogo Island, east of Tulagi, Aug. 7, 1942 – the Battle of Guadalcanal invasion’s first day. This view looks about ESE, with Gavutu Island to the right, connected to Tanambogo by a causeway. Small island to the left is Gaomi. The Florida Islands are in the distance. Photographed from an SBD aircraft based on one of the supporting U.S. aircraft carriers. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

The war in the Pacific started in Pearl Harbor and so did the comeback.

After Midway, our Sailors and Marines continued to fight across the Pacific and northward from Guadalcanal, eventually defeating Imperial Japan and setting the stage for greater freedom, democracy and prosperity.

Editor’s note: Fuller is finishing up his tour as commander of Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific. He is slated to become commander of Carrier Strike Group 1 this summer.


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Battle of Coral Sea leads to Midway: A comeback for U.S. Navy