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Valiant Shield 2020: Joint force training to protect the Indo-Pacific

From left, USNS Charles Drew (T-AKE 10), USS Comstock (LSD 45), USS Shiloh (CG 67), USS New Orleans (LPD 18), USS Chicago (SSN 721), USS America (LHA 6), USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), USNS John Ericsson (T-AO 194), USS Antietam (CG 54), USS Germantown (LSD 42), and USNS Sacagawea (T-AKE 2) steam in formation while E/A-18G Growlers and FA-18E Super Hornets from Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 5, a P-8 Poseidon from Commander Task Force 72, and U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors and a B-1B Bomber fly over the formation in support of Valiant Shield 2020. Valiant Shield is a U.S. only, biennial field training exercise (FTX) with a focus on integration of joint training in a blue-water environment among U.S. forces. This training enables real-world proficiency in sustaining joint forces through detecting, locating, tracking and engaging units at sea, in the air, on land and in cyberspace in response to a range of mission areas. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Codie Soule)

From left, USNS Charles Drew (T-AKE 10), USS Comstock (LSD 45), USS Shiloh (CG 67), USS New Orleans (LPD 18), USS Chicago (SSN 721), USS America (LHA 6), USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), USNS John Ericsson (T-AO 194), USS Antietam (CG 54), USS Germantown (LSD 42), and USNS Sacagawea (T-AKE 2) steam in formation while E/A-18G Growlers and FA-18E Super Hornets from Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 5, a P-8 Poseidon from Commander Task Force 72, and U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors and a B-1B Bomber fly over the formation in support of Valiant Shield 2020. Valiant Shield is a U.S. only, biennial field training exercise (FTX) with a focus on integration of joint training in a blue-water environment among U.S. forces. This training enables real-world proficiency in sustaining joint forces through detecting, locating, tracking and engaging units at sea, in the air, on land and in cyberspace in response to a range of mission areas. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Codie Soule)

The Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam (CG 54) launches a Harpoon surface-to-surface missile as part of a joint force sinking exercise (SINKEX) targeting the decommissioned frigate USS Curts (FFG 38) as part of Valiant Shield 2020. Valiant Shield is a U.S. only, biennial field training exercise (FTX) with a focus on integration of joint training in a blue-water environment among U.S. forces. This training enables real-world proficiency in sustaining joint forces through detecting, locating, tracking and engaging units at sea, in the air, on land and in cyberspace in response to a range of mission areas. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class James Hong)

The Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam (CG 54) launches a Harpoon surface-to-surface missile as part of a joint force sinking exercise (SINKEX) targeting the decommissioned frigate USS Curts (FFG 38) as part of Valiant Shield 2020. Valiant Shield is a U.S. only, biennial field training exercise (FTX) with a focus on integration of joint training in a blue-water environment among U.S. forces. This training enables real-world proficiency in sustaining joint forces through detecting, locating, tracking and engaging units at sea, in the air, on land and in cyberspace in response to a range of mission areas. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class James Hong)

USS Chicago (SSN 721) conducts a battle damage assessment of the decommissioned frigate USS Curts (FFG 38) during a sinking exercise (SINKEX) as part of Valiant Shield 2020. Valiant Shield is a U.S. only, biennial field training exercise (FTX) with a focus on integration of joint training in a blue-water environment among U.S. forces. This training enables real-world proficiency in sustaining joint forces through detecting, locating, tracking, and engaging units at sea, in the air, on land, and in cyberspace in response to a range of mission areas. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of USS Chicago)

USS Chicago (SSN 721) conducts a battle damage assessment of the decommissioned frigate USS Curts (FFG 38) during a sinking exercise (SINKEX) as part of Valiant Shield 2020. Valiant Shield is a U.S. only, biennial field training exercise (FTX) with a focus on integration of joint training in a blue-water environment among U.S. forces. This training enables real-world proficiency in sustaining joint forces through detecting, locating, tracking, and engaging units at sea, in the air, on land, and in cyberspace in response to a range of mission areas. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of USS Chicago)

A B-1B Lancer assigned to the 28th Bomb Wing, Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., undergoes pre-flight maintenance. B-1 bombers participated in exercise Valiant Shield which is a biennial, U.S.,-only, joint field training exercise with a focus on integration between U.S. Forces in relation to current operational plans. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Nicolas Z. Erwin)

A B-1B Lancer assigned to the 28th Bomb Wing, Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., undergoes pre-flight maintenance. B-1 bombers participated in exercise Valiant Shield which is a biennial, U.S.,-only, joint field training exercise with a focus on integration between U.S. Forces in relation to current operational plans. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Nicolas Z. Erwin)

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii --

The eighth iteration of Valiant Shield concluded Sept. 25 following 12 days of joint operations at sea, in the air, on land, and in cyberspace.

During the exercise, more than 11,000 Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, and Airmen synchronized to train in a real-world environment to demonstrate their readiness to respond to any contingency at a moment’s notice.

“Valiant Shield is the perfect opportunity for the U.S. military to come together in a high-end training, joint environment to ensure the United States military maintains our competitive advantage,” said U.S. Navy Rear Adm. James Aiken, Valiant Shield 20 director. “More importantly, this exercise assures our allies and partners that we take securing peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region seriously.”

Sinking success

The pinnacle event was the exercise to sink the decommissioned frigate USS Curts (FFG 38), otherwise known as a SINKEX, Sept. 19. The SINKEX included air-launching ordnance from fixed and rotary wing squadrons of Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 5, embarked aboard USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), surface launched missiles from cruisers USS Antietam (CG 54) and Shiloh (CG 67), as well as various supporting Navy and U.S. Air Force aircraft.

Air Force assets included C-130Js, EC-130, E-3s, F-16s, F-22s, KC-10s, and KC-135s.

“The SINKEX provided unique, high-end, tactical training for our air wing aviators,” said U.S. Navy Capt. Michael Rovenolt, Carrier Air Wing 5 commander. “The experience gained by our crews can only be achieved with live fire events like this one and cannot be replicated through simulated engagements.”

For the SINKEX to be a complete success, following environmental and animal protection measures are a must.

Prior to the exercise, a survey verified there were no humans or marine mammals in the area.

The vessel was thoroughly cleaned of polychlorinated biphenyls, transformers, and large capacitors; all small capacitors to the greatest extent practical; trash; floatable materials; mercury or fluorocarbon-containing materials, and readily detachable solid PCB items. Petroleum was also cleaned from tanks, piping, and reservoirs.

The work was then inspected and certified in accordance with Environmental Protection Agency requirements. The SINKEX occurred at least 50 nautical miles from land and sank at least 6,000 feet deep in compliance with regulations.

The Navy routinely conducts SINKEX events to increase readiness by allowing forces to plan and execute tactics and test weapon effectiveness.

All together now

A U.S.-only exercise enhances military training with a high-end Joint All-Domain training environment using Live-Virtual-Constructive training enablers to simulate the live tactical forces with constructive, synthetic opposing forces.

“This was our opportunity to highlight to our allies and partners that we are dedicated to a free and open Indo-Pacific, while also showcasing our warfighting potential to our near-peer adversaries,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Brian Baldwin, 36th Air Expeditionary Wing commander and Valiant Shield Air Component director.

In addition to the SINKEX, the exercise tested operating in different domains. For the first time ever, the Army validated the Multi Domain Task Force during this exercise.

"The ability to rapidly surge combat-ready forces using Army watercraft across the theater is critical to projecting forces at a moment's notice to support regional alliances and reinforce the existing security architecture,” said U.S. Army Col. Theodore White, 8th Theater Sustainment Command deputy commanding officer. “Participating in joint exercises like Valiant Shield allow Army watercraft to integrate with the joint force to meet the Theater Joint Force Land Component Commander's intent."

The Air Force incorporated the Advanced Battle Management System, which integrated existing and future sensors, weapons, and battle management command and control systems. Additionally, the Air Force tested Agile Combat Employment to validate new ways to move assets, during a crisis or conflict.

The Marine 5th Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company provided real-time guidance support for a live-fire sea-based TLAM strike on a ground target. Moreover, the America Amphibious Ready Group-31st Marine Expeditionary Unit is the Marine Corps’ only continuously forward-deployed MEU, operating aboard ships of the America Expeditionary Strike Group in the Indo-Pacific region, providing a flexible and lethal crisis response force.

Real-world training during COVID-19

While Valiant Shield is a training exercise held biennially in a real-world environment, the 2020 exercise was scaled down from previous years due to the global COVD-19 pandemic. “We are determined to uphold our commitments to our allies and partners in order to preserve the security of our nation and the peace and stability of the Indo-Pacific. We cannot do that if we don’t train,” said U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Jeremy Sloane, 36th Wing commander. “We synchronized our medical and public health professionals within the exercise planning to ensure we kept military members, families, and the local communities safe, while still accomplishing those joint training objectives.”

While the exercise is typically held in Guam, this year, a contingent of servicemembers operated from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, to minimize the footprint. Servicemembers were either required to quarantine for 14 days and arrive via military air or arrive via commercial air and quarantine for 14 days. Prior to participating in the exercise, all servicemembers were required to test negative for COVID-19.

All participants were only authorized to travel to work and their hotels to further mitigate the spread of the virus. Furthermore, all participants followed Centers for Disease Control guidance such as wearing face masks, social distancing, frequent hand washing, daily temperature checks and single points of entry, identifying all close contacts, and sanitizing workspaces.

As Valiant Shield 2020 comes to an end, the planning for Valiant Shield 2022 begins with the incorporation of lessons learned from the past two weeks, so the military remains ready to defend the nation.