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USNS Tippecanoe Crew Reflects on Keen Sword Lessons Learned

10 November 2020

From Military Sealift Command Far East

After a recent multinational exercise, crew members from the oiler USNS Tippecanoe recently analyzed what went well and what could be improved.

PHILIPPINE SEA - After every military evolution, there’s usually a “hotwash,” also known as an after-action review – basically, a time to determine what worked well, what can be improved, and how lessons learned will impact operations going forward.

That’s exactly what the crew of USNS Tippecanoe (T-AO 199) did following the biennial exercise known as Keen Sword.

Tippecanoe, Military Sealift Command’s Far East’s Henry J. Kaiser-class underway replenishment oiler joined ships from Japan, Canada and the United States during Keen Sword.  The oiler not only conducted 21 underway replenishments, providing essential fuel and dry goods to help keep the international partners going during the 10-day exercise, but they also took an active part in Keen Sword.

“The exercise enhanced our skills in coordination, fleet tactical communications, steaming in formation, and working closely with our colleagues in the Japanese and Canadian fleets,” said Navigator Chris Bosch.

“We have a better appreciation of the hard work that goes into coordinating such a complex event. There are so many moving parts trying to get all of these different ships on the same page of the plan. Despite the different forms of communication, it all worked out.”

That’s exactly what the exercise aims to do.

Keen Sword, conducted since 1986, provides the Japan Self-Defense Force and U.S. military opportunities to train together across a variety of mission areas in realistic scenarios, enhancing readiness, interoperability, and building credible deterrence.

In the Indo-Pacific Theater of operations, interoperability is a must.  The global maritime environment is too large and too complex for any one nation to safeguard, according to exercise planners. International ships may be called on at any time to support one another in a real-world situation.

Japan and the United States have a long history of training together.  Exercises like Keen Sword demonstrate the United States’ and Japan’s strong commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. Including Canada in this bilateral exercise helps participants foster and sustain the cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring security on the world’s oceans.

“Keen Sword proves that the United States can work with the Canadians and Japanese as equals and don't have to solely rely on U.S. assets to get the mission done,” Bosch said.

“Teamwork always enables us to get the job done faster when working with our joint partners.”

Bosch said the insight the Tippecanoe crew gained the last time it participated in Keen Sword, back in 2018, helped inform its approach to this year’s exercise.  Although Tippecanoe isn’t new to Keen Sword, this year did mark the first time they’d participated in the exercise with the Canadians.

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