The ships of the U.S. Navy’s Wasp Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) arrived in Okinawa, Japan on April 21, capping nearly two months of operations in the Indo-Pacific with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (31st MEU).
The patrol was a first-of-its kind deployment as an “Up-Gunned ESG,” combining two San Diego-based destroyers and the MEU’s F-35B Lighting II stealth fighter jet, which underwent its first operational employment from a U.S. Navy ship.
“The ARG/MEU team composited with destroyers from COMTHIRDFLT to execute operations as an Up-Gunned ESG throughout this deployment. While remaining true to our core competency of ARG/MEU integration we expanded our mission sets to support a broader spectrum of operations,” said Capt. Ed Thompson, Commodore, Amphibious Squadron 11, who lead the Wasp ESG. “Our partners in the 31st MEU alongside the entire ARG, plus the destroyers, created a highly capable, flexible force ready for the spectrum of operations at sea.”
Over the course of the patrol, The ESG-MEU team conducted operations in core expeditionary mission sets—such as disaster relief and crisis response—as well as flexed the multi-mission capabilities that are inclusive to an Up-Gunned ESG.
Up-Gunned ESG maneuvers included air defense exercises with U.S. Air Force F-35A and Navy F-18s, tracking and detecting of undersea assets, simulated Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM) missile strikes, and several live-fire tests.
The MEU’s certification exercise (CERTEX), an intensive evaluation period across all MEU mission sets, culminated the patrol. For CERTEX, Sailors and Marines worked together to complete training that replicated potential real-world events. The combined team proved it could conduct beach raids with both small boats and Amphibious Assault Vehicles (AAVs), evacuate non-combatants in a conflict, respond to a mass casualty, provide disaster relief, and seize an illicit cargo vessel, among an assortment of other training scenarios.
The Okinawa-based MEU, a 2,300-person contingent comprised of air, ground, and logistics elements, will now disembark the amphibious ships of the Wasp but remain fully certified and ready to respond to contingency.
“It’s always good to return home to Okinawa,” said Wallace. “While we’re home we are going to quickly reset the force and then give the Marines a few days off to be with their families. We will remain vigilant as a crisis response force, ready to get back on ship and deploy wherever we’re needed at a moment’s notice.”
The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Dewey (DDG 105) and USS Sterett (DDG 104) served as the destroyers attached to the Wasp ESG. Both ships will return to San Diego for upkeep, maintenance, and continued training.
The rest of the Wasp ESG consists of amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD1), amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland (LSD 48), and amphibious transport dock USS Green Bay (LPD 20).
The Wasp ESG serves under the Amphibious Force 7th Fleet based in Okinawa, Japan, which is 7th Fleet’s task force for expeditionary operations. The task force oversees forces from Guam to Sasebo to Yokosuka to provide the region with a response capability in the event of a contingency.