Guam Military Exercises to Draw 18,000 US Forces

The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) transits through the Pacific Ocean in 2011. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Adam Randolph

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii — American forces are converging on Guam, a strategically important U.S. territory 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometers) south of Tokyo, this month for a week of sophisticated military exercises involving two aircraft carriers.

Servicemen and women will practice searching for submarines, stopping suspect vessels at sea and using a new missile defense system recently set up on Guam. They'll work through issues like how Navy F-18 pilots might talk to Air Force F-16 or F-15 pilots.

Only U.S. forces will participate, unlike many other large-scale exercises that involve multiple partners and allies. This will provide the different services a rare opportunity to work on high-end tactics with each other and smooth out any issues.

"We want to have worked out those pieces early on. We don't want to be working those pieces out in front of our partners, to say, kind of showing dirty laundry," Cmdr. Mike Huff, the U.S. Pacific Fleet's lead planner for the exercise, said in an interview.

Altogether 19 ships, more than 200 aircraft and about 18,000 personnel will participate in the drills that start Monday and are scheduled to last a week.

Most personnel will be from the Navy and the Air Force. Marines and Army soldiers will also join the drills, which are called Valiant Shield.

The Army will use its new missile defense system — which has a truck-mounted launcher, tracking radar, interceptor missiles and an integrated fire control system — in the exercises for the first time.

The Pentagon sent the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, which is designed to intercept missiles during their final stage of flight, to Guam last year as North Korea was vowing to increase production of nuclear weapons materials and threatening a pre-emptive strike against the U.S.

Valiant Shield was first held in 2006. That year, three aircraft carriers participated. The past two times, in 2010 and 2012, only one aircraft carrier participated.

Huff said it's gotten harder to do this kind of training because the services have fewer ships, submarines and aircraft. The ones they do have are also often on deployments or are preparing for deployment.

Budget cuts forced the military to cancel a major exercise in Alaska called Northern Edge last year, making this month's drills in Guam all the more important.

Valiant Shield provides realistic training that helps the services plan and communicate, U.S. Pacific Air Forces spokeswoman Capt. Susan Harrington said.

"High-level, joint training among U.S. military forces ensures the U.S. military remains the pre-eminent military power in the region, capable of honoring its security commitments to allies, partners, and friends," she said in a statement.

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