By the time we entered the Sea of Japan and South China Sea, the teams were thinking as one – operating, exercising, innovating, and expanding the toolbox together.
“Find me a target!” – that was our mentality as we went forward trying to operationalize the Maritime Strike Tomahawk; looking at how an Adaptive Force Package – in our case three destroyers – could gain and maintain sea control in the Western Pacific. We exercised with national, Navy, joint and combined assets to find and identify contacts at long range – considerably out ranging any other surface, subsurface or air-launched conventional weapons in theater. We routinely exercised data links and tactical concepts to push the envelope of what targeting sources could be utilized. Equally important, our Tomahawk Strike Teams were making every ship a shooter and passing fleet ideas to the working groups developing the Navy’s new weapons systems – thus incorporating PACSAG thoughts and experimentation of maritime strike concepts as they were unfolding.
Along with developing Navy weapons and tactics, PACSAG had the opportunity to operate and exercise extensively with our air wing – otherwise known as Pacific Air Forces (PACAF). Stationed on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam and deploying with approximately half the staff, we were able to capitalize on our proximity to the air operations center by building personal relationships before deployment. USAF aircraft flew more than 100 sorties in support of or exercising with PACSAG in the South China and Philippine Seas. Through the course of the deployment, we integrated with bombers (B-52s, B-1s and B-2s), F-15s, Global Hawks, and other intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance platforms, progressing from communications drills to scenarios with maritime strike and air defense. This integration significantly increased the radius of our sea control capabilities, identified nuances between our systems, and facilitated track information sharing for joint dynamic targeting. Our operations with the bombers also increased their situational awareness during missions, as we were able to communicate beyond line of sight to pass pertinent surface and air contact information to the approaching bombers.
PACSAG also had the opportunity to operate with Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS) aircraft and extensively plan scenarios for various mission sets to distribute our offensive capability geographically. The incorporation of fighters with destroyers absolutely expanded today’s toolbox of defensive capabilities. Increasing the units’ abilities to operate in a denied environment and maintain a solid air defense picture, as well as innovate capabilities for maritime surveillance/targeting through long-range, line of sight links, again enhanced available options for the joint commander in both sea and air control.
PACSAG also exercised with USMC assets and fixed-wing aircraft out of Iwakuni, Japan, and the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit’s Aviation Combat Element aircraft off of the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) Expeditionary Strike Group (BHR ESG) ships. One training example was a combined air-to-air exercise and fast-attack craft/fast-inshore attack craft defense exercise. The scenario employed MH-60R helicopters as a maritime air control platform and vectoring AH-1 Cobra helicopters and MH-60S helicopters with an assortment of weapons to destroy a surface balloon, also known as a "killer tomato". We also conducted numerous warfare drills with BHR ESG, flexing ESG command and control with multiple synthetic and simulated exercises. These events included Expendable Mobile Anti-Submarine Training Target prosecutions with maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft and MH-60R helicopters dipping sonar and multi-threat exercises against anti-ship cruise missile-capable submarines. Such exercises quickly built watch team confidence and cohesion across the force. The coordination to plan and execute these events went smoothly – a testament to the crews and staff action officers in both groups.
Later in the deployment, Swift noted the importance of the PACSAG and BHR ESG integration.
"As I said in April when the PACSAG 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 Swift. "Being able to concentrate and disperse all of that capability based on the situation will provide commanders with tremendous operational flexibility."
Everyone who participated came away with a greater understanding of what the future has in store when the up-gunned ESG operates forward.
Lastly, PACSAG ships, as a group and individually, were able to operate with numerous allies and friends. Australia was easy to coordinate, as one Destroyer Squadron 31 staff member is an Australian exchange officer and absolutely integral to the staff. Our initial event in the Western Pacific was a trilateral exercise with South Korea and France off Busan, Republic of Korea (ROK), followed quickly by two bilateral exercises with two separate ROK squadrons. These operations exercised all warfare areas and enhanced proficiency with Link 16 networks. Additionally, PACSAG exercised with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force twice—a SAG versus SAG event and Exercise SHAREM 186. The SAG versus SAG was quickly overtaken by real-world tasking for both groups, however the SHAREM was a huge success. Decatur and JDS Teruzuki (DDG 162) were able to maintain convergence zone contact throughout the exercise and use aircraft to pounce on a submarine. Our embarked National Weather Service (NWS) Operational Advisory Team (NOAT) was absolutely instrumental in assisting the watch teams to tactically exploit the water column, maintaining contact and remaining well clear of submarine torpedoes. The inclusion of NOAT to our mix of resources definitely increased our resilience and allowed PACSAG to stay in the fight. Spruance was also able to participate in Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Indonesia and Singapore, adding a surface combatant to the Indonesian CARAT and enabling increased complexity for the Singapore exercise.
These operations continuously augmented the relationships between the U.S. Navy and our partners in the Western Pacific.
The three-destroyer deployment was originally announced by Vice Adm. Tom Rowden, commander, Naval Surface Forces, back in January 2016, to make the surface fleet more formidable against sophisticated adversaries and test concepts that impose costs to adversaries’ resources.
"We need to deploy the ships and begin to understand the effects we can achieve," Rowden said. "We can then begin to articulate those to the combatant commanders.”
Participating in exercises and performing missions during the deployment, the PACSAG was able to offer greater flexibility to PACOM and PACFLT while also demonstrating the practical benefits and uses of the C3F Forward and DL.
“Our goal is to deceive the enemy, target the enemy, and destroy the enemy,” Rowden said. “If we can execute that, we can change the calculus of our adversaries and our potential adversaries.”
Over the course of our deployment, we showed that the PACSAG could indeed introduce a new variable into our adversaries equations, one that will leave them recalculating their posture for quite a while.
Amphibious warship USS Wasp (LHD 1) will deploy next as part of a six-ship force. The up-gunned ESG to include the traditional three ships of an amphibious ready group (ARG), Marine expeditionary unit, a squadron of Marine F-35Bs, and three guided-missile destroyers. This deployment will build upon what the PACSAG tested and will combine a three-ship ARG with the extended capabilities of the F-35 and a three-ship SAG.