USS ESSEX, At Sea - The forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) conducted flight deck landing qualifications (DLQs) with the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) off the coast of Okinawa, Japan Dec. 7 as part of exercise Keen Sword 2011.

“The shipboard deck landing qualification period successfully demonstrated shipboard aviation interoperability between U.S. Naval Forces and Japan Maritime Self Defense Forces,” said Cmdr. Neil Lipscomb, Essex’ Air Boss.

Two JMSDF SH-60K Sea Hawk helicopters from JS Shirane and JS Inazuma conducted DLQs on Essex while two CH-46E helicopters from Essex conducted DLQs on JS Shirane and JS Kunisaki.

Lt. Cmdr. Kenji Sakaguchi, an SH-60K pilot with the JMSDF, observed flight operations from the Essex flight control tower. He said the deck landing qualifications were successful despite some small differences in communication.

“The flight decks and helicopters are very similar,” Sakaguchi said. “The control zones are more important to the U.S. Navy and regulations, such as identifying the pilot, are a little different, but the briefing was very beneficial.”

According to Sakaguchi, the U.S. pilots had more of a challenge because the Kunisaki is a smaller ship and doesn’t normally have helicopters aboard.

“We have to continue our relationship to ensure aircraft safety,” said Sakaguchi.

The deck landing qualifications were one of several evolutions to involve Essex throughout Keen Sword 2011.

Keen Sword is a biennial exercise designed to allow the United States and Japan to practice and evaluate the procedures and interoperability elements required to effectively and mutually respond to the defense of Japan or to a regional crisis in the Asia-Pacific region.

Essex is the lead ship of the Essex Expeditionary Strike Group and is operating with the George Washington Carrier Strike Group throughout the exercise, which runs until Dec. 10.