DN - Defence Notes

Upgunned ESG concept exercised in Talisman Saber

21st July 2017 - 11:07 GMT | by Gordon Arthur in Rockhampton

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Exercise Talisman Saber 2017, held in Australia this month, provided the US Navy (USN) with the opportunity to put its latent upgunned Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) concept through its paces in a realistic environment.

The upgunned ESG was a ‘concept in development by the US Navy’, said USN Rear Adm Marc Dalton, commander of the Amphibious Force Seventh Fleet, addressing a question from Shephard aboard USS Bonhomme Richard

The initiative will take the existing three-ship Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) with embarked Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and add three cruisers, destroyers or frigates. 

These additions from the Pacific Command’s Surface Action Group will protect the amphibious ships and add new capabilities.

The full upgunned ESG will make use of USS Wasp (LHD 1) when it arrives in Japan later this year ready to embark a squadron of F-35B fighters for the first time.

‘We’ve used this [Talisman Saber] exercise to work concept development, especially for the cruiser/frigate/destroyer integration into the force as we build towards adding the F-35B. Wasp will deploy with the F-35B in early 2018 for the first time. That will be our first opportunity to operate the complete package as we see the upgunned ESG,' Dalton explained,.

‘We’ve got a tremendous amount of insights into how we can take full advantage of that integration between amphibious capabilities and surface combatants, and all the capabilities with the aircraft and helicopters that the task force brings, so that, as we add the F-35B, it will be just another step and we will be proficient much more quickly in bringing these capabilities together.’

Dalton noted that ‘it’s not just about the individual capabilities that each of those units bring, but how we connect them together and take advantage of how they integrate’ so that the sum of the parts is greater than the individual components.

Adm Scott Swift, commander of the US Pacific Fleet, introduced the upgunned ESG concept in April 2016. He said it will help reduce pressure on the USN’s carrier strike groups. 

‘It’s not the same as a strike group. It doesn’t have that depth the strike group brings, not the same number of aircraft and capability, [but] if you look at the demand signal for carrier strike groups from a COCOM [combatant command] perspective from around the world, it’s 15 carrier strike groups,' Swift said last year.

It is clear that this move towards an upgunned ESG has been necessitated by the growing might of the People’s Liberation Army Navy. 

Indeed, US naval dominance in the region in the future is no longer assured. Against a near-peer adversary such as China, the US must therefore alter its approach and beef up the protection of its ARGs.

In the 1990s the USN and USMC attempted an ESG combination of three warships, a submarine, an ARG and a P-3 Orion aircraft, but that effort was stymied by command and control limitations.

Technology has moved a long way since then, and the sensors of the F-35B will help collect a lot of information in the absence of an airborne early warning aircraft like the E-2 Hawkeye. The MV-22B Osprey, with its range, speed and payload, is another important platform that will support the upgunned ESG.

On the day prior to the interview with Dalton, the Bonhomme Richard ARG performed a fast-paced amphibious lodgment on Freshwater Beach in Central Queensland, using Ospreys, LCACs and LCUs to bring 31st MEU personnel and equipment ashore during Exercise Talisman Saber.

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