Ships of the Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group and Boxer Amphibious Ready Group, along with Republic of Korea Flotilla 5, sail in formation to kick off exercise Ssang Yong 2016. (U.S. Navy/Capt. Ed Thompson)

WATERS OFF THE KOREAN PENINSULA - Sailors and Marines of the Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group and Boxer Amphibious Ready Group commenced exercise Ssang Yong 16 in the Republic of Korea, March 9.

Ssang Yong, which means “Twin Dragons,” is a biennial combined exercise conducted by Navy and Marine Corps forces with the ROK to strengthen interoperability and working relationships across the range of military operations from disaster relief to complex, expeditionary operations.

This year, U.S. Marines and Sailors are participating in exercise Ssang Yong 16 with the 7th ROK Marine Corps Regimental Landing Team 7 (ROKMC RLT-7), Australian Army and New Zealand Army forces.

"Ssang Yong offers the U.S. and ROK the opportunity to test their ability to operate together as an integrated combined naval force," said Rear Adm. John Nowell, commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 7. "Its significance in assuring interoperability between the U.S. and ROK forces is inestimable."

During Ssang Yong, approximately 9,200 U.S. Marines and 3,100 U.S. Navy personnel will work alongside 4,500 ROK Marine Corps, 3,000 ROK Navy, 100 Australian Army and 60 New Zealand Army forces.

“The sheer number of personnel involved is extremely impressive,” said Capt. Ed Thompson, commander, Amphibious Squadron 11. “There are a lot of moving parts and things that need to align for a successful exercise. When they do, it is truly amazing to see how we operate together.”

During Ssang Yong, U.S. and ROK combined forces will conduct beach landings, flight operations, and personnel exchange and cross platform exercises which ensure that various components of ROK and U.S. Naval and Marine forces are able to respond to contingencies on the peninsula and across the Asia-Pacific region.

“We look forward to an efficient and successful exercise with one of our closest and oldest allies in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region,” said Nowell.

The Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group with embarked Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) 11 and 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) consists of amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6), and amphibious dock landing ships USS Ashland (LSD 48) and USS Germantown (LSD 42), and the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Shiloh (CG 67).

Tthe Boxer Amphibious Ready Group (BOXARG) consists of the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4), the amphibious transport dock ship USS New Orleans (LPD 18), the amphibious dock landing ship USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49), PHIBRON 1, and the 13th MEU 4th Marines, Combat Logistics Regiment 35, 1st Tank Battalion and I MEF Crisis Response Force Company. All units fall under the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade during the exercise.

The exercise "...will provide the full capacity of our air combat element, our battalion landing team, and the logistics element, said Capt. Keith Moore, commander of Amphibious Squadron 1. "The ships will provide landing craft and amphibious assault vehicles to hit the beach and execute the missions we've trained for during work-ups."

Commander, Flotilla (COMFLOT) 5 consisting of amphibious assault ship ROKS Dokdo (LPH-6111), amphibious landing ship class ROKS Cheon Wang Bong (LST 686), Chungmugong Yi Sun-sin-class destroyer ROKS Munmu the Great (DDH 976) is amongst the ROK assets participating in the exercise.

USS Boxer (LHD 4) is one of seven U.S. Navy warships taking part in exercise Ssang Yong. (U.S. Navy/MCSN Craig Z. Rodarte)