09/19/2014: Grey-hulled ships steam silently in formation against an angry grey sky, their wakes churning the deep blue Pacific waters into white foam.
Overhead clouds move in and out as though anticipating something will break the stillness. All is silent as the seven warships gently rock on the calm seas.
The silence is deceiving, for inside each ship’s combat information center, Sailors bathed in blue and red light stare attentively at dozens of brightly-lit screens, calmly but anxiously passing communications over headsets.
The range is clear.
Suddenly the silence topside is broken by the low-pitched scream of a missile as it launches from the deck of the first ship in the formation. Almost immediately a second follows; two matching contrails hang in the air and disappear at the cloud cover, connecting ship to sky. Within a few hours, five ships will fire multiple standard missile (SM) 2s as part of Valiant Shield 2014’s opening missile exercise (MISSILEX).
Cruisers and destroyers from Commander, Task Forces (CTF) 70 and a supply vessel from CTF 73, participating in exercise Valiant Shield 2014, conducted the missile exercise Sept. 16, to hone their ability to successfully engage airborne threats simulated by unmanned target drones.
“The MISSILEX has two functions – to test tactics, techniques and procedures for standard missile launches, and to allow ships to validate their operational fire chain while demonstrating the capability to successfully engage a remotely piloted drone,” said Rear Adm. Mark Montgomery, commander, Task Force 70. “We’re testing both the fire chain of that system and specific tactics, techniques and procedures that allow us to employ that system to its maximum efficiency.”
Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Dewey (DDG 105), USS Mustin (DDG 89), USS Stethem (DDG 63), USS Sterett (DDG 104), and USS Gridley (DDG 101), and Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruisers USS Antietam (CG 54) and USS Bunker Hill (CG 52) participated in the exercise. Dry cargo ammunition ship USNS Cesar Chavez (T-AKE 14) of Military Sealift Command launched the drones the ships targeted with the SM-2 missiles. “It went really well,” said Lt. j. g. Nick Moskevich, Antietam’s fire control officer, from Peabody, Mass. “It was a great integration of assets from two separate strike groups, conducting live-fire exercises to help exercise our skills.”
Antietam coordinated the exercise, and despite the challenges of integrating so many different units, the crews of each ship worked together to ensure the exercise went off safely and smoothly. “The coordination was challenging,” said Moskevich. “Two strike group staffs, two air wings, two DESRONs (Destroyer Squadrons) and eight ships. We are incredibly thankful to CTF 70 for allowing us the opportunity.”
Back in the blue and red lights of the combat information center, members of each ship’s crew were excited and happy about their accomplishments.
“We started preparing four days ahead,” said Fire Controlman 3rd Class Eduardo Martinez-Cerrada, from Ocala, Fla. “In the moments before I fired I was anxious, but all the training we do really prepared us all for the exercise. We had to coordinate with the other ships as well. It was exhausting, but worth it.”
It was this teamwork and training that allowed such a large and varied group of units to complete the exercise.
“Our crew and the entire force demonstrated exceptional professionalism,” said Capt. Michael McCartney, Antietam’s commanding officer. “They negated some weather issues to execute a highly complex missile exercise.”
Credit Video:III Marine Expeditionary Force / Marine Corps Installations Pacific:9/17/14