ABOARD THE USS GEORGE WASHINGTON — In a scene reminiscent of Tom Cruise’s “Top Gun,” a combat jet pulled up to the aircraft carrier’s catapult. Hand salutes were exchanged between the pilot and ground crew and, moments later, the plane screamed down the short runway, hitting 140 mph in just three seconds.
Minutes later, the scene repeated itself as the fight-deck crews — wearing different-colored shirts to signify their different duties — sent more jets roaring off on more air missions.
This year’s ANNUALEX was in full gear Friday. Ships and aircraft from the U.S. Navy and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force filled the ocean and skies off the coast of Okinawa for the annual naval maneuvers, which started last Tuesday and will conclude Wednesday. With 8,500 U.S. sailors participating, ANNUALEX is the biggest yearly exercise between the two nations, officials said.
Capt. Ross Myers, the commander of Carrier Air Wing 5, embarked aboard the George Washington, said the annual exercise is key to the two countries’ warfighting skills.
“We learn valuable lessons working with each other, which allows us to operate at our full potential during a time of conflict,” Myers was quoted as saying in a Navy news release. “Having JASDF pilots on board helps us gain a greater understanding of each other’s capabilities.”
American ships and units participating in the exercise include USS Essex, USS Defender, USS Cowpens, USS Tortuga, USS City of Corpus Christi, USS Key West, USS Crommelin, USS Curtis Wilbur, USS Denver, USNS Alan Shepard, USS Lassen, USS Mustin, USS O’Kane, USS Shiloh, USNS Rappahannock and USNS Victorious, CTF-70, Destroyer Squadron 15 and the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.