Navy Destroyer Stethem Heads Back to West Coast After 14 Years in Asia-Pacific

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem (DDG 63) transits the Sea of Japan during an exercise. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kurtis A. Hatcher)
The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem (DDG 63) transits the Sea of Japan during an exercise. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kurtis A. Hatcher)

The guided-missile destroyer Stethem is headed toward its new homeport in San Diego where it will undergo modernization efforts following more than a decade of missions in the Asia-Pacific region.

Stethem made its way back into the U.S. 3rd Fleet's area of operations earlier this week, Navy officials announced. The Arleigh Burke-class destroyer will be shifting its homeport from Sasebo, Japan, during its midlife modernization.

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Cmdr. John Rummel, the ship's commanding officer, called being a part of the Forward Deployed Naval Forces - Japan community since 2005 an honor and a privilege.

"The opportunity to serve alongside incredible waterfront shipmates and operate with our [Japanese] allies, flexing every mission area in the most challenging operational environment is truly unmatched," Rummel said in a release.

Stethem participated in several important operations and exercises while operating out of Japan. In 2011, the destroyer supported relief efforts following a deadly earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The ship also participated in iterations of Exercise Cobra Gold and Cooperative Afloat Readiness and Training, during which sailors and Marines with partner nations.

It also made port calls in China, Indonesia and Australia over the years.

The Stethem move is part of a bigger Navy plan that will send two new ships to Japan as some of its older vessels undergo maintenance and modernization.

The Navy will outfit its Arleigh Burke-class destroyers with new high-tech radar systems that will allow the ships to fight well into the future. The Raytheon SPY-6 radar system will replace the destroyers' SPY-1D system, which will enable the crews to spot threats at significantly greater distances as adversaries attempt to develop new anti-ship missiles can go undetected.

The amphibious assault ship America and landing platform dock New Orleans will join the 7th Fleet forward-deployed naval forces, officials announced earlier this year. In addition to the Stethem leaving Japan, the amphibious assault ship Wasp will also leave the region to return to Norfolk, Virginia, by the fall for scheduled maintenance.

"The security environment in the Indo-Pacific requires that the U.S. Navy station the most capable ships forward," a Navy statement about the shifts reads. "This posture allows the most rapid response times possible for maritime and joint forces, and brings our most capable ships with the greatest amount of striking power and operational capability to bear in the timeliest manner."

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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