USS ESSEX, At sea (Dec. 8, 2010) - The Sailors of Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) 11, embarked with the Essex Expeditionary Strike Group (ESX ESG), are participating in exercise Keen Sword 2011 with their counterparts from the Japan Maritime Self Defense Forces (JMSDF).

As members of an embarked command element, PHIBRON 11 staff members are providing tactical command support for the ARG, directing their actions throughout the entire exercise.

“PHIBRON is crucial to the operation,” said Lt. Cmdr. Jimmie Jensen, PHIBRON 11 operations officer. “We set all the timelines and routes for amphibious operations.”

The bilateral exercise is conducted in accordance with agreements made by the United States and Japan and is designed to improve interoperability, increase readiness and develop professional relationships between each nation’s forces.

During the exercise, PHIBRON 11’s staff is working closely with JMSDF officers and enlisted sailors to coordinate operations and share knowledge.

“This week, we have organized and conducted cross-decking exercises with JMSDF landing craft, air cushion vehicles and helicopters,” said Jensen. “We have shared a lot of procedures and information, and that has been helpful in coordinating with the Japanese in preparation for a mock beach landing.”

The movements and actions of the ESX ESG, as well as the JMSDF Escort Division 2, are directed from the ship’s combined command and control space, called flag plot, where a joint team of U.S. and JMSDF Sailors collaborate.

Jensen said situational awareness is required at all times to keep the ESG on route and on time, and that requires constant observation and analysis of flag plot’s computer systems.

“We watch the global command and control systems and monitor air defense radar to keep the battle watch officer aware of ships and their positions,” said Operations Specialist 1st Class (SW/AW) Chauncey Patterson. “We then work with the JMSDF liaisons on board to coordinate formations and transit times for the ARG and escorts.”

Scheduled to run until Dec. 10, Keen Sword is a regularly-scheduled exercise focusing on the interoperability of JMSDF service members and U.S. military personnel. The purpose of the exercise is to conduct bilateral training between the two military forces to maintain readiness, improve interoperability and sustain the long-term security cooperation relationship shared between Japan and the United States.