About a dozen U.S. and Japanese ships are gathered off the coast of Okinawa this week to practice the art of hunting submarines.

The Ship Antisubmarine Readiness and Evaluation Measurement exercise — SHAREM — allows ships, aircraft and submarines from both countries to orchestrate maneuvers in searching for foreign submarines, said the lead U.S. official for the exercise, Commodore Robert P. Girrier, commander of Destroyer Squadron 15.

“It’s designed to assess our technical and operational capacities and look for improvements,” Girrier said by telephone from the exercise.

The training brings components together to share and process information, using new detection and display equipment.

“A lot of it is ‘team-warfare’ and that requires a lot of practice,” Girrier said.

Antisubmarine warfare is the top priority for the U.S. Pacific fleet and a key priority for Japan’s maritime forces, leaders of both nations say.

During the training, which runs through Saturday, research ships also will participate to test the environment and success of operations.

“They help us bring more science to the analysis,” Girrier said.

Personnel from both sides will also work aboard each other’s ships to improve bilateral cooperation.

The training is held once or twice a year. It’s been held 109 times since 1957, according to a JMSDF staff office spokeswoman.

With Girrier, the exercise is coordinated by JMSDF Escort Division 3 commander Capt. Kazuki Yamashita.

Participants include six U.S. and six Japanese ships; SH-60 Seahawks and P-3c Orions; and a Japanese submarine.

Japan-based U.S. ships participating in the exercise are the USS Curtis Wilbur, USS John S. McCain, USS Fitzgerald, USS Stethem, USS Lassen and USS Gary.

Other U.S participants include the ocean surveillance ship USNS Loyal; oceanographic survey ship USNS Mary Sears; Helicopter Anti-Submarine and Helicopter Anti-Submarine (light) crews from Naval Air Facility Atsugi; and P-3cs from Naval Air Facility Misawa.

Hana Kusumoto contributed to this story.

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