Sailors aboard the USS Essex return salutes to the guided-missile destroyer USS Milius last summer off the coast of Southern California.

Sailors aboard the USS Essex return salutes to the guided-missile destroyer USS Milius last summer off the coast of Southern California. (Jacob Owen/U.S. Navy photo)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The USS Milius crossed into 7th Fleet waters Monday as it continued its journey from San Diego to its new homeport in Yokosuka, Japan.

The guided-missile destroyer, which was updated this past year with the Aegis Baseline 9 combat system, is bringing enhanced missile-defense abilities to the region. The changes “upgrad[ed] its air defense, ballistic missile defense, surface warfare and undersea warfare capabilities,” according to a Navy statement.

“I could not be prouder of this crew and their hard work and dedication leading up to this deployment,” Cmdr. Jennifer Pontius, the ship’s commanding officer, said in the statement. “The crew has trained extremely hard to get the ship fully certified and ready for tasking, and we are excited to operate forward and bring new capabilities to the [forward-deployed naval forces] team.”

The Aegis Ballistic-Missile Defense platform enables the Milius to intercept short-range ballistic missiles within the atmosphere, and short- to intermediate-range missiles above the atmosphere. The ship was supposed to arrive in Yokosuka last year, but the Navy postponed its move so it could be outfitted with the system.

“I am very excited that Milius is coming to DESRON 15,” Capt. Jonathan Duffy, Destroyer Squadron 15 commander, said in the statement. “The ship’s advanced capabilities will be vital in support of our missions in the Indo-Pacific region.”

The Milius is also equipped with offensive tools, including a vertical launching system, Tomahawk cruise missiles, torpedoes, guns and Phalanx close-in weapons systems.

The ship’s move follows the Navy’s goal of sending its most advanced and capable ships to the Pacific region.

The Milius’ arrival will help combat 7th Fleet’s shortage of destroyers after fatal collisions last year severely damaged the USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain. Those ships, which are under repair, also have the Aegis system.

Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Scott Swift told Stars and Stripes last year that the Milius was not being sent to replace the damaged destroyers, but to help alleviate 7th Fleet’s workload.

“I am concerned about the number of ships that we have out here,” he said. “Milius was coming out to help get us down to the [operations] tempo that we can really sustain. We’ve got such an incredible amount of work out here that I need Milius plus another ship to backfill behind Fitzgerald.”

The Milius is expected to pull into Yokosuka late this month. Upon arrival, it will undergo a scheduled maintenance period as crews and their families settle into their new home, the Navy said. Twitter: @CaitlinDoornbos

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Caitlin Doornbos covers the Pentagon for Stars and Stripes after covering the Navy’s 7th Fleet as Stripes’ Indo-Pacific correspondent at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. Previously, she worked as a crime reporter in Lawrence, Kan., and Orlando, Fla., where she was part of the Orlando Sentinel team that placed as finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news. Caitlin has a Bachelor of Science in journalism from the University of Kansas and master’s degree in defense and strategic studies from the University of Texas at El Paso.

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