The Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group steams in formation with Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force ships during Annual Exercise. (U.S. Navy/MC3 Nathan Burke)

WATERS SOUTH OF JAPAN - The Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group (RRNCSG) and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) completed Annual Exercise (AE) 16, Nov. 25.

AE16 is the largest training exercise that allows U.S. and Japan forces to practice and evaluate the coordination and cooperation required to effectively and mutually respond to the defense of Japan or to a regional crisis in the Indo-Asia-Pacific, while building bilateral relationships.

“AnnualEx is the premiere exercise for the United States Navy and the [Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force],” said Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, commander, 7th Fleet. “It allows us to practice necessary war-fighting skills. Whether it’s air, surface, sub-surface, electronic or cyber warfare, it allows us to practice all the skill sets we need to ensure we can respond to the defense of Japan or any regional crisis at any time.”

RRNCSG and JMSDF conducted anti-submarine warfare exercises, air-to-air combat exercises and long-range maritime strikes during AE16, which allowed both U.S. Navy and JMSDF personnel to embark various ships throughout the exercise to gain firsthand multi-platform training experience.

“I am confident that JMSDF and 7th Fleet form the core that improves the joint-response ability to maintain and increase reliability of security in the area,” said Vice Adm. Yasuhiro Shigeoka, commander in chief, Self-Defense Fleet. “The climate surrounding our country has been increasingly severe and the Japan-U.S. relationship is essential for the defense of Japan and the Asia-Pacific region as a whole. I hope that the Japan and U.S. relationship will continue to grow and I will make the best effort to contribute to the peace and stability with Vice Adm. Aucoin in the Asia-Pacific region.”

AE16 included participation from the U.S. Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), its embarked air wing, Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 5, Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 15, the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Benfold (DDG 65) and USS Mustin (DDG 89), and the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruisers USS Antietam (CG 54) and USS Chancellorsville (CG 62), maritime patrol, reconnaissance patrol and a U.S. submarine.

“I truly believe that the relationship between the United States and Japan is better than it has ever been,” said Aucoin. “The U.S.-Japan relationship is vital in keeping peace to maintain peace, prosperity, security and stability. This was a terrific event for us. I look forward to doing it again in the future.”

U.S. joint forces in Japan provide a credible deterrent and the ability to conduct military operations, including non-combatant evacuation operations, protection of shipping lanes, movement of forces and material and ballistic missile defense. For 70 years, the United States and Japan have forged a relationship built on a shared vision of peace, prosperity, democracy and regional stability.