The USS Ronald Reagan (left) sails with a Japanese destroyer Tuesday in the South China Sea. Photo courtesy Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force
June 12 (UPI) -- Two aircraft carrier strike groups -- the USS Ronald Reagan CSG and ships from Japan's MSDF -- conducted a joint naval exercise in the South China Sea from Monday through Wednesday, the U.S. 7th Fleet said.
Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force sent the Izumo carrier group to work with the Reagan CSG as part of a cooperative deployment, the U.S. 7th Fleet said in a press release.
The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Izumo carrier group consists of the JS Izumo and the Murasame-class destroyers, JS Murasame and JS Akebone, as well as five military aircraft, all helicopters.
The Navy didn't disclose the USS Ronald Reagan's companion ships but each strike group usually consists of up to 12 surface ships, including Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers, Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruisers, one or two nuclear-powered fast attack submarines and up to 75 aircraft.
Reagan, Akebono, Izumo and Murasame "conducted communication checks, tactical maneuvering drills and liaison officer exchanges designed to address common maritime security priorities and enhance interoperability at sea," according to a U.S. Navy news release.
"Having a Japanese liaison officer aboard to coordinate our underway operations has been beneficial and efficient," Lt. Mike Malakowsky, a tactical actions officer aboard Ronald Reagan, said in the news release. "As we continue to operate together with the JMSDF, it makes us a cohesive unit. They are an integral part of our Strike Group that doubles our capability to respond to any situation."
The Ronald Reagan, a Nimitz-class carrier, operates in the Indo-Pacific region to protect and defend maritime interests of its allies and partners.
"The time we are able to spend at sea training and operating with our partners in the Japan Self Defense Forces is invaluable," said Capt. Pat Hannifin, Ronald Reagan's commanding officer. "Our alliance has never been stronger, and it's never been more important to this region than right now."
The USS Ronald Reagan departed its home port in Yokosuka, Japan, on May 22 for its first operational deployment this year.
The JS Izumo's Indo-Pacific deployment began April 30 and runs through July 10, The Diplomat reported.
The Japanese flattop and its escort are conducting exercises with the naval forces of Brunei, India, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Singapore.
Last month, U.S. President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe toured the JS Izumo's sister ship, JS Kaga, at the Yokosuka naval base south of Tokyo.
The Japanese cabinet approved the conversion of the two warships into full-fledged aircraft carriers capable of launching the F-35B aircraft.