COURTESY US NAVY
The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) sails the Philippine Sea to begin Exercise Valiant Shield in 2006. CLICK FOR LARGE
Pacific war games play out near Guam
Last summer, Adm. Robert Willard heard morning briefings in Washington, D.C., about Valiant Shield -- the largest aircraft carrier exercise since the Vietnam War conducted off Guam.
This summer, Willard will run the naval and air war games near Guam from his command center at Makalapa as the new commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
It will be the first chance for Willard to test and evaluate the effectiveness of his staff as well those of the other military commands that fall under his control.
Last summer's weeklong naval war games involved more than 22,000 U.S. military personnel, 30 ships and 280 aircraft.
The Navy said the number of participating U.S. personnel will be about the same. Navy officials say three carrier strike groups will again be the focal point of the exercise which will begin Aug. 6. They will be the nuclear-powered aircraft carriers USS John Stennis and USS Nimitz, and the conventionally powered carrier USS Kitty Hawk.
The Pentagon recently sent the USS Enterprise to the Persian Gulf, possibly to replace the USS Stennis, which has been there since mid-February, to work with to the USS Nimitz. The Stennis deployed there because of the growing tensions with Iran.
The Air Force said its part in Valiant Shield will include a mix of 60 fighters, bombers, air refuel tankers and cargo planes. All of the air operations will fall under the responsibility of the Gen. George C. Kenney Headquarters at Hickam headed by Lt. Gen. Chip Utterback. He will serve as the air force component commander for Willard, who is the joint task force commander. Like last year Utterback will command the aircraft from all services, including those launched from Navy aircraft carriers.
However, unlike last year's exercise there will be no observers from other nations.
Last summer -- Ecuador, India, Malaysia and Singapore -- were invited to participate.
Willard said the decision not to include observers was made before he assumed command of the Pacific Fleet in May. He said it was decided there wasn't enough difference between last year's exercise and this year's to warrant participation by foreign observers.
He said the decision to include allied nations as observers in future Valiant Shield war games will be made "on a case-by-case basis."
Willard, a seasoned F-14 Tomcat jet pilot, said this year's Valiant Shield "will pick up from the lessons learned" from last year's training.
These include the complexities of operating three aircraft carriers in the same area while at the same time adding in the operations of another military component -- the fighters, bombers and tankers of the U.S. Air Force.
Willard said exercises like Valiant Shield don't detract from the Navy's "real world" missions in the Persian Gulf and helps to prepare the Navy's senior leaders as well as its deck crews.
He added that exercises like the biannual Northern Shield held in the Pacific Alaska Range Complex involving 6,000 participants upgrade the Navy's readiness and its ability to operate with other services and foreign nations
"That's a good thing," said the 1973 Navy Academy graduate.