Sailors signal a fighter jet on the deck of the USS Ronald Reagan on Monday during the Valiant Shield exercise.

Sailors signal a fighter jet on the deck of the USS Ronald Reagan on Monday during the Valiant Shield exercise. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)

ABOARD THE USS RONALD REAGAN, at sea near Guam — Rear Adm. Michael Miller beheld a “massive armada” when the U.S. forces involved in Valiant Shield got together for a photo exercise Sunday, he said.

Three aircraft carrier groups — carrying a combined 20,000 personnel, 28 ships and 290 aircraft — took part, making Valiant Shield the largest carrier exercise since the Vietnam conflict, Miller said Monday, aboard his Strike Group Seven Commander flagship, the USS Ronald Reagan.

The exercise’s size, Miller said, is a function of all of the carrier groups being in the vicinity at the right time. He said mustering the massive Valiant Shield forces — and expanding the former JASEX exercise from two to three carriers — is not being done to show U.S. military might in the Pacific.

Rather, he said, the Navy is reaching out to the region through military “transparency.” For instance, China — called a potential threat in a recent Pentagon report — was invited to attend; on Sunday, Chinese representatives came aboard the Ronald Reagan.

“They wanted to come out here because they are interested in the same things we are — the peace and stability of this region,” Miller said.

“We had some forthright discussion. These are small steps but they are important to building bridges between our two countries.”

The Chinese were “interested in the carrier from the bottom up,” said Ronald Reagan commanding officer Capt. Terry B. Kraft.

“We showed them everything,” Kraft said.

Military representatives from Australia, Singapore, South Korea, India, the Philippines and other nations were aboard carriers Kitty Hawk and the Abraham Lincoln, he said.

Valiant Shield’s main thrust is improving communication among the different branches involved — the Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard and Army.

The forces are working together on maritime interdiction, air defense, anti-submarine warfare, surveillance, reconnaissance, command and control.

The inaugural five-day exercise is to run through Friday; Valiant Shield is to become a biannual event.

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