Noble Fusion, a joint and combined naval expeditionary exercise combining multiple elements of the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force alongside the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF), kicked off in the Philippine Sea in vicinity of the Luzon Strait and the Miyako Strait Feb. 3, 2022. For the first time since 2018, two Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU)/Amphibious Ready Groups (ARG) are operating together in the Indo-Pacific as part of Exercise Noble Fusion, this time along-side a Carrier Strike Group (CSG). The exercise demonstrates that joint and allied naval expeditionary forces can rapidly aggregate as combat force to conduct lethal sea-denial operations, seize key maritime terrain, guarantee freedom of movement, and create advantage for US, partner and allied forces.
On February 3rd, to kick off the exercise, the 11th MEU/USS Essex (LHD 2) ARG and CSG 3 conducted an amphibious maneuver highlighting the ability to seize key terrain with varying types of aircraft flying in the Philippine Sea. AV-8B Harriers and MV-22B Ospreys of the 11th MEU flew from Essex and rehearsed integrated air operations with a Navy E-2D Advanced Hawkeye flying from USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) all within the Luzon Strait. Simultaneously, 11th MEU Marines and Sailors aboard the Essex conducted operational checks on the Stalker unmanned aerial system and loaded Polaris MRZR light tactical all-terrain vehicle with other equipment into MV-22 Ospreys.
“This exercise is a great opportunity to showcase the hard work and expertise of the Sailors, Marines, Airman and Japan Maritime Self Defense Force as they integrated with each other across the littoral areas of the First Island Chain,” said Cmdr. Jeremy Carlson, Operations Officer, Task Force 76. “While this is a training exercise, and we regularly rehearse combined operations, this event took it to a new level of cooperation and clearly showcases our ability to quickly aggregate and seize key terrain at the time and place of our choosing.”
Then the following day, the 31st MEU/USS America (LHA-6) ARG conducted two live fire air-to-ground strikes along with one simulated strike at a training range in the First Island Chain with F-35B Lightning Fighters. Additionally, F-35B’s of Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 12 out of Iwakuni, Japan, as well as F-15C Eagles with the U.S. Air Force’s 18th Wing out of Kadena Air Base, teamed up with a P-8 Poseidon from Task Force 72, to conduct a maritime strike.
The strike at sea was coordinated with and supported by USS Dewey (DDG 105) and the JS Kongo (DDG 173) in order to provide command and control as well as maneuvering elements on the surface for realistic training. In order to support the aircraft at distance, and increase time on station, the USAF 18th Wing supported with KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft and MAG-12 provided KC-130J Hercules aircraft for air-to-air refueling. In the evening, FA-18E Super Hornets and an E-2D Advanced Hawkeye flew from Lincoln to conduct simulated strikes against live surface targets in the First Island Chain.
Noble Fusion is led by the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade and Combined Task Force 76. During the exercise, 3rd MEB became the Combined Task Force (CTF) 79. Together, CTF-76 and CTF-79 commanded and controlled the integrated naval expeditionary forces of the 11th and 31st Marine Expeditionary Units and Amphibious Squadrons 1 and 11, embarked aboard the USS Essex and USS America, respectively. Taking operational control of two MEUs while underway exemplifies the ability to conduct distributed command and control at sea.