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In a sea swap of a different kind, the U.S. and British navies next year will exchange destroyers, each sending a warship on planned six-month deployments with the other’s carrier strike groups, officials from both militaries said.

World events have U.S. and British navies working more jointly than ever, and therefore it makes sense to have the two allies work closer together, said Cmdr. Mark Durkin, a spokesman with Britain’s Ministry of Defence.

So, during the latter part of 2007, the guided-missile destroyer USS Barry will sail from its home port of Norfolk, Va., to join the HMS Illustrious Strike Group, led by the British aircraft carrier of the same name, Durkin said. Conversely, the air defense destroyer HMS Manchester will join the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group, also led by a carrier of the same name, he said.

While the coupling isn’t unprecedented, it is rare to have navies swap out ships for entire deployments, U.S. Navy officials said.

The U.S. Navy marked a first in June 2005 when the Spanish frigate Alvaro de Bazan sailed for several months as part of the USS Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group. Though a frigate, the Bazan mirrored a U.S. destroyer in providing capabilities such as air defense.

While U.S. and allied warships for years have worked together and have been integrated into one another’s carrier and battle groups, U.S. ships at sea routinely maintain a chain-of-command that ends with U.S. ship leaders reporting to a U.S. fleet commander.

Earlier this year, the roughly 300-member crew from the Barry made a positive impression during the ship’s participation during the Neptune Warrior exercise in the north Atlantic, prompting the British to ask for the vessel by name, Navy Capt. John Nowell Jr., commander of Destroyer Squadron 60, said Wednesday at a change-of-command ceremony aboard the Barry.

The Illustrious deployment will include patrols east of the Suez Canal, participation in various exercises and possible missions as part of Operation Active Endeavor’s efforts against terrorism, human trafficking, and drug and weapons smuggling.

Launched after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the operation involves NATO ships patrolling and escorting vessels through the Straits of Gibraltar and the Suez Canal. In 2004, the operation expanded to patrols of the entire Mediterranean, particularly near the Middle East.

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