ABOARD USS ENTERPRISE, At Sea (NNS) -- The USS Enterprise ("Big E")(CVN 65) Carrier Strike Group (CSG) completed Exercise Neo Tapon, a combined exercise involving North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members and hosted by Spain, June 14.
The exercise tested NATO surface warfare, air warfare and strike mission capabilities, as well as the strike group's ability to implement plans quickly.
USS George Washington (CVN 73) was originally slated to participate in the exercise, but when Enterprise departed June 3rd for Summer Pulse 04, Big E had the opportunity to get involved. The Enterprise CSG, which includes USS Gettysburg (CG 64) and the guided-missile destroyer USS Ramage (DDG 61), joined forces from France, Italy, Portugal, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Morocco, as well as ships from Standing Naval Forces Atlantic and Mediterranean for the exercise.
"Exercises between countries' militaries are an awesome opportunity for countries to work together, because it's an opportunity for cooperative effort under a structured, safe environment," said Capt. (Sel.) Chuck Nygaard, Enterprise Carrier Strike Group surface operations officer. "With this kind of structured event, you develop a certain kind of camaraderie and cooperation. It's very much a political-military statement, as far as what we do."
For the purpose of the exercise, the participating forces were divided into two teams - the friendly forces and the opposition. With relatively short notice, Enterprise CSG integrated with the friendly NATO force, according to Lt. Cmdr. Kumar Atarthi, Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 1 assistant operations officer and liaison to the Spanish for Neo Tapon. "It was basically our way of showing NATO, our allies, that we can, at a moment's notice, be flexible enough to plan and execute missions."
During the exercise, the forces tested their tactical naval warfare capabilities. At one point, Enterprise took steps to appear as a merchant ship to hide from an opposition force frigate.
"We had a kind of surface tattletale, a frigate that had been following us through the night, as well as a P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft," said Nygaard. "We used innovative tactics to blend in with merchant shipping, making it harder for the opposition to find the aircraft carrier."
According to Nygaard, this was the strike group's first opportunity to participate in a large-scale naval warfare exercise since the ship's Composite Unit Training Exercise prior to the 2003-2004 deployment in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
"We went into the Arabian Gulf and represented the United States as an implement of foreign policy, sent aircraft up into Iraq and conducted strike warfare, but we didn't really conduct actual naval warfare engagements," said Nygaard. "This was our first naval exercise this trip, and it is a great first start for us."
From the naval aviation point of view, the exercise was just as valuable, even on such short notice.
"We already had some previous information, but we needed the actual nuts and bolts, what aircraft they need and for what kind of missions," said Atarthi, "and that was part of my job as liaison."
The aviators aboard Enterprise also benefited from the exercise, according to Atarthi. The Close Air Support missions with the Italians in particular went very smoothly, he said.
"It was some really good training for the air wing and the ship, because it covered all gambits of combat, air, surface and strike warfare."
Enterprise will continue to be heavily involved in multi-national exercises in the North Atlantic during Summer Pulse 04, with the Joint Maritime Course scheduled to take place June 21 through July 1, and other regional exercises slated for mid-July.
For related news, visit the USS Enterprise (CVN 65) Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/cvn65.