The Navy's ninth Pacific Partnership humanitarian mission beginning in late May will include an enhanced role for Japan, and simultaneous seaborne and airborne phases, U.S. Pacific Fleet said.
A Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force ship will serve as this year's primary mission platform — instead of a U.S. Navy vessel — marking the first time Pacific Partnership will be led from a partner nation's ship, officials said.
The San Diego-based USS Pearl Harbor, a dock landing ship, was used for the mission last year, and in years past, the hospital ship USNS Mercy also was utilized.
A simultaneous airborne phase — also a first for the annual humanitarian and disaster response-focused mission — will fly assistance into Indonesia and Timor-Leste.
"As we saw last November when our Philippine allies were devastated by a typhoon, being able to provide effective humanitarian assistance and disaster relief is critical to stabilize a crisis," said U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr.
"Because United States naval forces are forward-deployed, where it matters, when it matters, we were able to quickly respond with ships, aircraft and personnel during Operation Damayan.
"But we were not alone, as many partner nation militaries, civilian agencies and non-governmental organizations also provided assistance to the Philippines," Harris also noted. "That's why multilateral missions like Pacific Partnership are so valuable, because it prepares us in calm so we can effectively respond together in crisis."
Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Timor-Leste and Vietnam will receive assistance this year.
Harris called Japan's contribution of the primary command ship "an historic moment in the progress of this vital mission." The name of the ship is being withheld at the moment by Japan, an official said.
U.S. Navy leaders from Destroyer Squadron 21 will serve as mission commander and be on the Japanese command ship. Simultaneously, Seabees from the U.S. Navy's 30th Naval Construction Regiment in Port Hueneme, Calif., will deploy via air from Point Mugu, Calif., to lead the mission in Indonesia and Timor-Leste.
The two-month mission will include a multinational command structure to include a deputy mission commander from Japan and a mission chief of staff from the Australian Defense Force.
Pacific Partnership was born out of the devastation by a 2004 tsunami that swept through parts of Southeast Asia and began as a military-led humanitarian response to one of the world's most catastrophic natural disasters.
The missions to date have provided medical care to approximately 250,000 patients, veterinary services to more than 37,000 animals, accomplished more than 170 engineering projects and enabled critical infrastructure development, the Navy said.