ABOARD JUNEAU, At Sea (NNS) -- Following a port visit to Zhanjiang, People's Republic of China, USS Juneau (LPD 10) participated in a bilateral search and rescue exercise (SAREX) with the city's naval namesake, Zhanjiang (DD 165) Nov. 19 that displayed the progress in interoperability and cooperation among the two navies and nations.
Joined by USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) and using air assets of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), embarked aboard Juneau, as well as fixed wing aircraft from both the U.S. and China, the three-ship SAREX task force was able to effectively find the simulated distressed vessel and proceed to embark rescue and assistance teams on it.
The SAREX, the second phase in a two-phased approach as agreed upon by both countries in the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement (MMCA), was highly praised as a success by senior officers of both Zhanjiang and Juneau, at the debrief following the conclusion of the exercise.
"Our collaborative search and rescue exercise has been an incredibly successful event executed by our two navies," said Juneau's Commanding Officer, Capt. John D. Alexander. "Through this exercise, we have built a stronger foundation upon which to conduct future exercises and operations together. This has been an invaluable opportunity for our ships and personnel to plan and execute in tandem."
Those from Zhanjiang were similarly pleased with the outcome.
"There were many good points to this exercise," said Cmdr. Changping Gong, Zhanjiang executive officer, who was aboard Juneau during the exercise as a liaison officer observing the exercise from the U.S. viewpoint. "We see this as a stepping stone to future cooperation. We feel it is important to work together with the U.S. Navy to help make this region a safer place."
The exercise commenced just after sunrise when a simulated distress signal was sent to Zhanjiang from Chinese replenishment ship Dongtinghu (AOE 883). Zhanjiang then requested the help of Juneau to complete the search and rescue, and execution of a joint mission was put in motion.
Two fixed-wing aircraft, a Y-7 Coke of the People's Liberation Army (Navy) (PLA(N)) and a P-3 Orion from the U.S. Navy, provided the major search capabilities while the ships steamed in formation in a given search area. Once detected by the P-3, CH-46E Sea Knight helicopters provided visual confirmation and acted as the on-scene commander, keeping a line of sight on the distressed vessel while the ships moved in a staging position for rescue.
Using international symbols and call signs, the aerial assets were able to safely navigate the international air space and achieve the mission. Marine pilots felt happy to assist the process.
"Having a visual view of the distressed vessel is a key element to the search and rescue process," said Marine Maj. Michael Kaminski, one of the CH-46E Sea Knight pilots. "For our involvement, working with the Chinese was a good learning experience and I feel this will open the door to future training."
After ships arrived in the vicinity of the distress vessel, each ship's rescue and assistance team, comprised of damage controlmen, repair specialists and medical personnel, was deployed to the distressed vessel. Aboard the distressed vessel, the American and Chinese teams exchanged damage control training techniques and displayed their equipment.
"The PLA(N) sailors were eager to learn about our equipment and equally eager to show their capabilities to us," said Hull Technician 1st Class (SW) Gavin C. Springstead, one of the members of the Juneau rescue and assistance team.
Several elements were built into the exercise to further enhance interoperability between the navies. While in the search phase, the SAREX task force conducted a total of four maneuvers, in formation, with Zhanjiang having operational control of two of those and Juneau controlling the other two. Another element was a flashing lights communication drill done the night prior to the exercise.
Those involved in the planning stages felt that mutual agreements to terms of the exercise were crucial to the successful execution to the exercise.
"It says a lot that we were able to work through cultural differences and settle on a workable plan, whose execution was both effective and educational," said Lt. Ken P. Ward, Juneau's air boss and lead planner for the United States. "I think as U.S. Sailors, we came to respect our Chinese counterparts because of their professionalism and commitment to excellence."
All involved look forward to working with each other again.
"The more we train together, the more we will understand each other," said Alexander. "I think we are eager to not only build a better relationship, but also build skills based on the results of bilateral training."
"We want to have better cooperation on an international level," Gong agreed, "so that way we can be prepared for real world operations."
Juneau, commanded by Alexander, is part of the Sasebo, Japan-based USS Essex (LHD 2) Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), which serves under Commander, Expeditionary Strike Group 7/Task Force 76. ESG 7/Task Force 76 is the Navy's only forward-deployed amphibious force and is headquartered at White Beach Naval Facility, Okinawa, Japan, with an operating detachment in Sasebo, Japan.
For more information on CTF 76, visit www.ctf76.navy.mil.
For related news, visit the Commander, Amphibious Force, U.S. 7th Fleet Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/ctf76/.