USS Blue Ridge back at naval base in Japan after first patrol in 4 years
Stars and Stripes August 18, 2023
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The Navy’s oldest operational warship, the flagship of the U.S. 7th Fleet, steamed into its homeport last week after completing its first full patrol of the Indo-Pacific since 2019.
The amphibious command ship USS Blue Ridge returned Thursday to Yokosuka Naval Base, where it departed July 8 to little notice. In the interim, it spent 40 days at sea, sailed 8,840 nautical miles through the Philippine and South China seas and made port calls in Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines, according to a 7th Fleet news release Thursday.
Patrols such as these are a “critical part” of the vessel’s overall mission, and its crew was excited about getting back to one of its “core missions,” after several years, 7th Fleet spokeswoman Cmdr. Megan Greene told Stars and Stripes by phone Friday.
“The mission that the ship has here in this region is actually really unique,” she said. “This is a very vast region with countries spread far apart; to be able to go to those countries and be able to have the amount of interactions we had is very special. I think that’s one of the reasons this patrol was so important.”
The Blue Ridge is a peacetime emissary and platform for humanitarian efforts in the region, but it also serves as 7th Fleet’s command-and-control ship during fleet operations.
In Jakarta, Indonesia, 7th Fleet commander Vice Adm. Karl Thomas met with U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia Sung Y. Kim and high-ranking members of the Indonesian navy, while 7th Fleet staff members met with their Indonesian counterparts, according to the release.
Thomas and his staff later met with several other key dignitaries in Brunei and the Philippines, according to the release.
The ship last completed a full patrol more than four years ago, when it spent 114 days at sea and visited 11 ports in nine countries between Feb. 4 and May 29, 2019.
The Blue Ridge in January 2020 made stops in Japan, South Korea and Thailand before the COVID-19 pandemic curtailed the Navy’s port calls.
In March 2021, it paired with Japan’s guided-missile destroyer JS Kongo for a communication and maneuvering exercise. During that same trip, the Blue Ridge stopped in Busan, South Korea, its last port call until this year, Greene told Stars and Stripes in a Friday email.
In the meantime, it was docked at Yokosuka for repairs and upgrades, a “selected restricted availability” that focused “on all areas to include the engineering plant, the flight deck, navigation, information systems, communications, radars and habitability spaces,” 7th Fleet spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Andrew DeGarmo told Stars and Stripes by email Feb. 27.
The Blue Ridge left its pier several times for “regularly scheduled training, testing and evaluation of systems aboard the ship,” DeGarmo said.
On April 26, the Blue Ridge departed for “routine operations,” 7th Fleet spokesman Lt. j.g. Luka Bakic told Stars and Stripes by email at the time, although he did not further elaborate.
Commissioned in 1970, the Blue Ridge is the Navy’s oldest operational warship actively used in military activities. The 223-year-old frigate USS Constitution is the Navy’s oldest commissioned warship, but its mission is education and outreach in Boston Harbor.
The Blue Ridge spent two years in drydock between 2016 and 2018 for more than $60 million in repairs and upgrades and 135,000 hours of labor, 7th Fleet said in April 2018.
The ship is scheduled to stay in active service until 2039.