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Two US amphibious task groups and a carrier seize islands on Philippine Sea drill

Viper attack helicopter during Noble Fusion
An AH-1Z Viper on flight operations with Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) in support of Noble Fusion, Feb. 3, 2022. Photo: US Navy

Assets from the US Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force met up with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) in the Philippine Sea on February 3 for exercise Noble Fusion that will be taking place in the vicinity of Luzon Strait, and the Miyako Strait.

Noble Fusion, a joint and combined naval expeditionary exercise combining multiple elements, has gathered two Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU)/Amphibious Ready Groups (ARG) for the first time since 2018.

What is more, the ARGs led by amphibious assault ships USS Essex and USS America were joined by aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) and its carrier strike group.

On February 3rd, to kick off the exercise, the 11th MEU/USS Essex (LHD 2) ARG and CSG 3 conducted an amphibious maneuver highlighting the ability to seize key terrain with varying types of aircraft flying in the Philippine Sea.

AV-8B Harriers and MV-22B Ospreys of the 11th MEU flew from Essex and rehearsed integrated air operations, with a Navy E-2D flying from USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) within the Luzon Strait.

Simultaneously, 11th MEU Marines and Sailors aboard the Essex conducted operational checks on the Stalker unmanned aerial system and loaded Polaris MRZR light tactical all-terrain vehicle with other equipment into MV-22 Ospreys.

Marines assigned to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) work with Utility Terrain Vehicles on the flight deck of the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) during joint exercise Noble Fusion. Photo: US Navy

“It was an exciting experience,” said Lt. Dante Vivilecchia, from Groveland, Mass., the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye pilot assigned to the “Wallbangers” of airborne early warning squadron (VAW) 117 aboard Lincoln. “There was flawless coordination among the strike group, ARG and MEU. It was a great display of interoperability, reinforcing our ability to operate alongside Marine Harriers and MV-22s.”

Then the following day, the 31st MEU/USS America ARG conducted two live fire air-to-ground strikes along with one simulated strike at a training range in the First Island Chain with F-35B fighters. Additionally, F-35B’s of Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 12 out of Iwakuni, Japan, as well as F-15C Eagles with the US Air Force’s 18th Wing out of Kadena Air Base, teamed up with a P-8 Poseidon from Task Force 72, to conduct a maritime strike.

The strike at sea was coordinated with and supported by USS Dewey (DDG 105) and the Japanese destroyer JS Kongo (DDG 173) in order to provide command and control as well as maneuvering elements on the surface for realistic training. In order to support the aircraft at distance, and increase time on station, the USAF 18th Wing supported with KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft and MAG-12 provided KC-130J Hercules aircraft for air-to-air refueling. In the evening, FA-18E Super Hornets and an E-2D Advanced Hawkeye flew from Lincoln to conduct simulated strikes against live surface targets in the First Island Chain.

“Executing this maritime strike mission set with Navy and Marine Corps assets provides us with an excellent training opportunity. Working together on more advanced problem sets like this in the future only makes us better with time as a joint warfighting organization,” said USAF Capt. Mark “Casper” Mikecin, F-15C Eagle pilot with 44th Fighter Squadron, 18th Wing.

An AV-8B Harrier attached to Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 214, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), takes off from the flight deck of Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) in support of Noble Fusion, Feb. 3, 2022.

“Integrating the elements of the dual-MEU/ARG team with the power of the carrier strike group, joint elements and our Japanese counterparts in a distributed operation demonstrates our ability to command and control lethal forces in contested areas, create strategic advantage and integrated deterrence,” said Col. Michael Brennan, Operations Officer, Combined Task Force 79. “Our sea-denial operations with naval expeditionary integration and littoral allies prepares us to counter potential adversarial aggressive actions in the First Island Chain.”

The navy said the exercise demonstrated that joint and allied naval expeditionary forces can rapidly aggregate as combat force to conduct lethal sea-denial operations, seize key maritime terrain, guarantee freedom of movement, and create advantage for US, partner and allied forces.

“This exercise is a great opportunity to showcase the hard work and expertise of the Sailors, Marines, Airman and Japan Maritime Self Defense Force as they integrated with each other across the littoral areas of the First Island Chain,” said Cmdr. Jeremy Carlson, Operations Officer, Task Force 76. “While this is a training exercise, and we regularly rehearse combined operations, this event took it to a new level of cooperation and clearly showcases our ability to quickly aggregate and seize key terrain at the time and place of our choosing.”

Noble Fusion is led by the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade and Combined Task Force 76. During the exercise, 3rd MEB became the Combined Task Force (CTF) 79. Together, CTF-76 and CTF-79 commanded and controlled the integrated naval expeditionary forces of the 11th and 31st Marine Expeditionary Units and Amphibious Squadrons 1 and 11, embarked aboard the USS Essex and USS America, respectively. Taking operational control of two MEUs while underway exemplifies the ability to conduct distributed command and control at sea.

“The most powerful tool in the US military is a Navy-USMC cohesive, joint team,” said Brennan. “We have no doubt that we will execute like this tomorrow should we need to defend ourselves or be asked to help defend allies or partners in the region.”