Marines fire 25mm guns from a Light Armored Vehicle atop the flight deck of USS Wasp (LHD 1), Sept. 27. (U.S. Marine Corps/Gunnery Sgt. E. V. Hagewood)

SOUTH CHINA SEA - The USS Wasp (LHD 1) Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) with embarked 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) conducted an integrated Defense of the Amphibious Task Force (DATF) drill at sea, Sept. 27.

DATF scenarios focus Navy and Marine Corps forces on defending ARG shipping and the drills allowed the ARG-MEU team to improve their proficiency when integrating fires.

“Increasing the lethality of the Navy-Marine Corps team is the priority for us. Sailors and Marines are doing amazing work and we are becoming more lethal every single day,” said Rear Admiral Brad Cooper, commander of Amphibious Force 7th Fleet. “Today, we showed once again why the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps are the premier combat forces in the Western Pacific, reinforcing security and stability in this critical region.”

The DATF drill included firing crew-served weapons attached to Wasp, such as .25 caliber and .50 caliber mounted machine guns. Marines assigned to Battalion Landing Team (BLT), 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines (2/5) expended rounds using Light Armored Vehicles’ M242 Bushmaster 25 mm chain guns and .50 caliber mounted machine guns on Humvees. The drill also allowed Marine snipers to fire M107 semi-automatic sniper rifles, and machine gunners to employ lethal fires with M-240B medium machine guns.

Sailors and Marines fired on an inflatable gunnery target commonly called a “killer tomato” while maneuvering in open seas.

“We demonstrated collective combat effectiveness,” said Capt. Jim McGovern, commander of Amphibious Squadron 11. “The ability of these Sailors and Marines to fully integrate, get weapons systems on deck, helicopters in the air, and rounds down range in such a timely manner shows that we are ready for anything. I’m very proud of what this dedicated team of professionals accomplished.”

In addition to deck–based live fire, SH60S Sea Hawk helicopters assigned to the “Island Knights” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 25 practiced their air defense capabilities, fully integrating air superiority capability with shipboard-fired weapons. The helicopters operated within safe distance of the ship while also observing the firing range from the air to ensure safe operations during the drill.

“The DATF rehearsal demonstrated the full integration of Marine Corps and Navy capabilities showcasing the intensity of joint firepower available to defend Wasp, and our forces, in a wide range of combat situations,” said Col. Robert Brodie, commanding officer of the 31st MEU. “Our ironclad Blue-Green partnership allows us to continuously hone our lethality through training and exercises, in preparation for any operation.”

While at sea, Wasp and amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland (LSD 48) have both conducted live-fire exercises in tandem with the 31st MEU, allowing the ARG-MEU team to enhance their combat effectiveness and maintain proficiency to support contingency operations in the Indo-Pacific region.

Marines fire weapons from a Light Armored Vehicle and Humvee aboard USS Wasp (LHD 1). (U.S. Navy/MC1 Daniel Barker)

USS Wasp (LHD 1) maneuvers in the South China Sea as embarked Marines from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit fire weapons from Light Armored Vehicles and a Humvee on the ship's flight deck. (U.S. Navy/MC1 Daniel Barker)