By Lt. Lauren Chatmas
SOUTH CHINA SEA (June 23, 2020) – Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS 10) and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) Kashima class-training vessel JS Kashima (TV-3508) and Shimayuki-class training vessel JS Shimayuki (TV-3513) conducted bilateral exercises while sailing together in the South China Sea, June 23.Gabrielle Giffords, Kashima and Shimayuki met at sea to practice and enhance bilateral interoperability between the two navies and to emphasize the importance of communications and coordination while operating together. In April, Gabrielle Giffords sailed with JMSDF Akizuki-class destroyer JS Teruzuki (DD 116) in the Andaman Sea.Rear Adm. Fred Kacher, commander of Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) 7 underscored the importance of practicing bilateral exercises to effectively maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific.“The opportunity to operate with our friends and allies at sea is incredibly important for our combined readiness and partnership,” said Kacher. “Executing complex maritime skills with our Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force allies allows both of our teams to build on our interoperability and readiness as we maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific.”Some of the events included bilateral communications exercises, division tactics to practice precision maneuvering, and a photo exercise. All the events were designed to enhance interoperability between the two navies and to enable the ships to practice communicating and coordination while operating in close proximity to one another.“This exercise is particularly valuable since we are operating with JMSDF trainees; they are the future maritime professionals that our Sailors will eventually operate with for years to come,” said Cmdr. Dustin T. Lonero, commanding officer, Gabrielle Giffords Blue Crew. “Each event gets easier, while increasing in complexity, showing that both of our navies are sharpening our maritime practices with like-minded professionals in the open ocean.”Kashima, Shimayuki, both attached to JMSDF Training Squadron, are underway in the South China Sea as a part of their Training Cruise 2020, to give the JMSDF trainee officers the opportunity to learn basic knowledge and skills as professional mariners.Rear Adm. YAGI Kouji, commander of JMSDF Training Squadron, said this overseas training cruise is for newly commissioned officers and will operate in the Indo-Pacific region. The cruise’s primary objective is to promote seamanship of the officers through various exercises at sea“The JMSDF newly commissioned officers not only promoted their basic seamanship skill but learned the importance of improving the interoperability between JMSDF and United States Navy,” said Yagi. “I also hope that the newly commissioned officers understand that the bilateral exercises as we did today strengthen partnership with the U.S. Navy and the partnership would form the basis of promoting security and stability in the region. I appreciate the opportunity for this bilateral exercise with Gabrielle Giffords.”Attached to Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 7, Gabrielle Giffords is on a rotational deployment to the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations in support of security and stability in the Indo-Pacific.U.S. 7th Fleet conducts forward-deployed naval operations in support of U.S. national interests in the Indo-Pacific area of operations. As the U.S. Navy’s largest numbered fleet, 7th Fleet interacts with 35 other maritime nations to build partnerships that foster maritime security, promote stability, and prevent conflict.