U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) and U.S. Air Forces Central (AFCENT) conducted a robust joint air operations in support of maritime surface warfare (AOMSW) exercise in the Arabian Gulf Sept. 23-24.
This exercise marks the fourth joint and combined integration operation between U.S. naval and air forces this year. Previous exercises incorporated the Air Force AC-130 gunships in March, Army attack helicopters in April and aircraft from the United Arab Emirates Joint Aviation Command in August.
“These exercises serve to enhance and solidify the capabilities of our profoundly powerful joint force, ensuring they are capable of rapid integration and decisive defense of the maritime domain,” said Vice Adm. Samuel Paparo, commander of NAVCENT, U.S. 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces. “Alongside our fellow component commands and regional and coalition partners, NAVCENT’s capacity to ensure freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce continues unabated.”
The AOMSW exercise included Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs) directing a wide variety of platforms to conduct simulated fires against surface threats attempting to attack a high value unit, played by the Military Sealift Command fleet replenishment oiler USNS Leroy Grumman (T-AO 195).
Participating platforms included Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles from AFCENT’s 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet multi-role fighters, MH-60R Sea Hawk and MH-60S Night Hawk helicopters, Cyclone class patrol coastal ships, the guided-missile destroyer USS Winston Churchill (DDG 81) and Coast Guard patrol boats.
JTACs also practiced directing some participating ships and aircraft in a live fire exercise against simulated targets.
“Joint, full-spectrum operations in defense of the global commons is a complex task,” said Col. Donald Sandberg, 332nd Expeditionary Operations Group commander. “This most recent AOMSW validated the team’s multi-domain integration and agile command and control—two necessary capabilities to defend the region and to support our partners effectively.”
A P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft provided command and control throughout the exercise.
JTACs operated from various platforms including the expeditionary sea base USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB 3), patrol coastal ships USS Tempest (PC 2) and USS Whirlwind (PC 11) and MK VI patrol boats.
Participating commands included the AFCENT Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC), 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, Nimitz Carrier Strike Group with embarked Carrier Air Wing 17 and NAVCENT Task Forces 50, 51/5th, 53, 55, 56 and 57.
“We’ve conducted similar exercises multiple times, but this is by far the largest scale and most complex from a command and control perspective,” said Capt. Christopher Gilbertson, commander of Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 50 and Task Force (TF) 55. “This allowed our ships, aircraft and personnel to practice coordinated defensive tactics and maneuver in a constrained environment, at a much higher level of complexity.”