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AT SEA -- Guided-missile destroyer USS Winston S. Churchill (DDG 81) and other U.S. Navy assets participated in a counter-piracy exercise with elements of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (Navy) PLA(N) near the Horn of Africa, Sept. 17.
The exercise, the first bilateral counter-piracy exercise ever conducted between the U.S. and China, paired Winston S. Churchill with PLA(N) frigate Yi Yang (FF 548) to conduct a combined visit, board, search, and seizure (VBSS) boarding.
The focus was on bilateral interoperability in detecting, boarding and searching suspected vessels as well as the ability of both Chinese and American naval assets to respond to pirated vessels.
"Piracy is a threat to the freedom of the seas, economic security, and the safety of mariners from all nations. Bilateral exercises such as this demonstrate the cooperative will of the international community and increases proficiency of multinational forces in confronting the threat," said Cmdr. Chris D. Stone, Winston S. Churchill's commanding officer. "We have common regional and global security challenges, and we are able to jointly address those by training together."
VBSS teams from both ships performed the boarding on Winston S. Churchill, which was simulating a pirated vessel. Executing the boarding side-by-side as a combined U.S.-Chinese team, the team successfully searched the vessel and provided assistance to the role-playing mariners.
Participants felt that the training was meaningful, providing a unique opportunity to operate alongside one another.
"It was exciting to interact with the Chinese Sailors and cooperate in a critical environment," said Lt. j.g. Edward R. Kellum, boarding officer for Winston S. Churchill's VBSS team. "Anytime we work with a foreign military, it adds a different perspective to how we operate. However, to collaborate with the Chinese in an anti-piracy framework is a rare opportunity and a real achievement for maritime security."
Following the exercise, leaders from both navies discussed the elements of the boarding in order to learn how to better operate together in the future.
U.S and Chinese leaders expressed how important and beneficial the training was, both in terms of building cooperative ties and development of techniques to counter piracy.
"We're appreciative of the opportunity to train with other nations to establish ties that will allow us to work together to face the piracy threat," said Stone. "As fellow mariners we have great admiration for our Chinese counterparts who are sailing alongside us and other coalition partners to keep the sea lanes safe."
Winston S. Churchill is currently deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility conducting maritime security operations, theater security cooperation efforts, and support missions for Operation Enduring Freedom.