US Navy Holds World-Spanning ‘Large Scale Exercise,’ Biggest War Games in Decades
© REUTERS / U.S. NavyAn F/A-18E Super Hornet lands on the flight deck of the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson as the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain (L) and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer transit the western Pacific Ocean May 3, 2017.
© REUTERS / U.S. Navy
The US Navy has begun its largest war games in decades in the globe-spanning Large-Scale Exercise, running for the next two weeks and involving multiple US fleets, in a return to the massive Cold War-era drills intended to showcase the Pentagon’s ability to fight a war on multiple fronts.
According to a news release by US Fleet Forces Command on Tuesday, the massive drills are “based on a progression of fleet battle problems and scenarios” intended to “refine how we synchronize maritime operations across multiple fleets in support of the joint force.”
“We have shifted focus from the individual Carrier Strike Group to a larger fleet-centric approach, challenging fleet commanders' abilities to make decisions at a speed and accuracy that outpaces the adversaries,” Adm. Christopher W. Grady, commander, US Fleet Forces Command, said in the release. “LSE is more than just training; it is leveraging the integrated fighting power of multiple naval forces to share sensors, weapons, and platforms across all domains in contested environments, globally.”
The drills will last until August 16 and take place across 17 different time zones, according to the Navy, ranging from the Black Sea and Mediterranean Sea to the South China and East China Seas. The regions are perhaps the most likely to see protracted naval operations in the event of a future conflict with Russia or China, which the US has identified as its “near-peer” competitors and shifted its global strategy toward outpacing and containing.
James R. Holmes, the J.C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the US Naval War College, told US military publication Stars and Stripes on Monday that the Navy was “reverting to our World War II approach” by de-emphasizing its large fleet carriers and trying to create a more flexible force that wouldn’t be crippled by the loss of a few key warships.
“If we show our adversaries this approach works, we bolster our ability to deter them from assailing ourselves or our allies.,” Holmes said.
However, the core of US naval power projection remains its 11 massive Nimitz-class and Ford-class aircraft carriers, the largest warships afloat at roughly 100,000 each. In addition, nine smaller amphibious assault ships used by the Marine Corps, which can carry helicopters and F-35s in addition to Marine expeditionary units and their beachhead assault equipment, effectively function as another type of aircraft carrier.
About 36 ships and more than 50 virtual units, in addition to military, civilian and contract personnel, will participate in the exercise. Six naval and Marine Corps component commands, five U.S. fleets and three Marine Expeditionary Forces will be involved.
However, the drills themselves will only involve a small fraction of the total US fleet: just 36 ships, in addition to more than 50 virtual units. Still, those come from six US Navy and Marine Corps component commands, five US fleets and three Marine Expeditionary Forces, according to Stars and Stripes.
Last year, USMC planners began rethinking the force’s composition amid changing strategic goals and moved to shift away from ground combat and toward a greater naval role. They have drawn up plans for ditching most of the Corps’ artillery, tanks and several infantry battalions, while looking instead toward rocket artillery and light amphibious warships and docking vessels.
The drills come in the wake of other large drills in the regions where US warships will participate in the LSE, including the Sea Breeze NATO drills in the Black Sea and secretive war games between Japan and the US reportedly rehearsing a future war with China over Taiwan, which Beijing claims is a rebellious province of China and whose separatist ambitions they have accused Washington of encouraging.
The Pentagon has also been looking at further expanding its naval operations in the Arctic, which will become both increasingly navigable and conflict-prone as climate change leads to melted polar ice caps and makes possible exploitation of fisheries and mineral resources in the region. The Navy has announced plans for “freedom of navigation” types of operations in the Arctic like those it stages in the South China Sea and Black Sea, among other places, to challenge what Washington considers the “excessive maritime claims” of nations like Russia, China and Vietnam.