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Commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic

Ford Carrier Strike Group Accelerates Integrated Training At-Sea

by USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) Public Affiars
29 April 2021 The Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group (GRFCSG) conducted their second iteration of integrated operations in the Atlantic Ocean, accelerating their watchstanders’ proficiency in the midst of Ford completing the final stages of post-delivery test and trials (PDT&T), April 18-26.

During Ford’s final independent steaming event (ISE 18) of PDT&T, Rear Adm. Craig Clapperton, commander, CSG-12, seized the underway opportunity to execute basic-phase level training, which would typically not occur until a CSG commences work-ups for deployment, with the participation of Ford and all warfare commanders, to include a Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 2 asset recently back from deployment, the guided-missile cruiser USS Winston S. Churchill (DDG 81).

“With the support of the Program Executive Office Aircraft Carriers, Commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic, and waterfront leadership, we make important additions to Ford's PDT&T schedule that enabled us to mature the strike group's operational capability in unison with Ford's system testing," said Clapperton. “I am very appreciative of the support and coordination from all stakeholders and extremely proud of the Ford crew and warfare commanders and their teams whose hard work and expertise improved Ford's readiness with progressively complex training evolutions over the past 18 months.”

DESRON-2, embarked on Ford since March 2021, oversaw multiple exercises during ISE 18 as sea combat commander to include a horizon reference unit (HRU) exercise and a simulated strait transit. During the HRU, Churchill took station aft of the Ford at approximately 4,000 yards during night flight operations, and used her navigation lights to provide a visual horizon reference for landing signal officers on the Ford during Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 8 fixed-wing recovery operations.

“Navigating a destroyer that close behind an aircraft carrier is incredibly tricky,” said Lt. Cmdr. Robert Foster, DESRON-2’s future operations officer. “There has to be constant communication between Ford’s bridge team and Churchill. Thankfully, we were able to practice during the day to get a feel for how the exercise should play out prior to executing the exercise during night flight operations. Every time we execute exercises like this, it makes us that much stronger collectively.”

The simulated strait transit enabled the strike group to test the individual unit’s tactics and procedures during a transit, and served as an opportunity for leadership to observe the staff’s integration with various components of the entire Strike Group.

“There were some very good lessons learned, in regards to communication, between the helicopter pilots and the Ford team,” said Ensign Cedrick Ike, DESRON-2’s Security Officer. “Being able to integrate with the Strike Group and any additional assets we have in a situation like this, it’s imperative to know how our command and control structure is going to function. A more informed force, a more informed Sailor, makes for a more proficient tactical watchstander so we are ready at any given moment.”

GRFCSG’s air and missile defense warfare commander, USS Gettysburg (CG 64), led Ford, CVW-8 and Churchill through a complex air defense exercise to test and flex pre-planned responses to simulated inbound air threats. This was the second iteration of air defense integration for the Gettysburg team while embarked on Ford, and the first opportunity for integration with another air defense unit.

“We’ve been looking forward to applying the lessons learned from ISE 13, as well as adding some complexity by integrating Winston S. Churchill into the air defense exercise,” said Capt. Megan Thomas, Gettysburg’s commanding officer. “Although only the second time to execute this type of exercise since Gettysburg joined CSG-12, it helped us refine the processes and communications paths so we can continue to build on our proficiency and cooperation.”

The air defense exercise provided a rare training opportunity for the Gettysburg team to integrate with the CSG in a challenging setting, according to Lt. Cmdr. Ian Topping, Gettysburg’s Operations Security Officer.

“Any air defense scenario is naturally fast paced and can quickly become a complicated situation due to the various assets involved, from the jets in the air to the ships themselves,” said Topping. “Start integrating those elements together and the scenario gets very complex. This kind of training exercise teaches us how to use our air defense assets efficiently to accomplish the mission.”

Additionally, a long range maritime strike operation was executed, with CVW-8 staff taking the lead. This provided Ford and her air wing assets another crucial opportunity for integration during a simulated defense exercise, said Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Mayer, CVW-8’s Strike Operations Officer.

“We don’t often get the chance for this kind of Strike Group integration at this point in a ship’s life cycle, so an exercise like this where our assets are working together to find a designated target and simulating a defensive strike in defense of the carrier provides us a unique training experience,” said Mayer. “Communication is always going to be a challenge in these types of scenarios, but even with any limitations we faced, the defense exercise was a success, and we’ll only get better the more we do these types of trainings.”

USS Gerald R. Ford is a first-in-class aircraft carrier, and the first new aircraft carrier designed in more than 40 years. The ship is underway in the Atlantic Ocean for ISE-18.

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