Military News

Monday, April 07, 2014

403rd Wing surges C-130s in major exercise

by Tech Sgt. Ryan Labadens
403rd Wing Public Affairs


4/7/2014 - KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Sixteen aircraft from the 403rd Wing took to the skies over the Mississippi Gulf Coast region April 5 in Operation Surge Capacity, a large-ship formation training exercise.

The exercise was designed to test multiple capabilities of the wing, such as coordination between various squadrons, the Federal Aviation Administration, Stennis International Airport, and active-duty and Reserve components here in supporting the mission. It also tested the abilities of 815th and 345th Airlift Squadron aircrews to plan and fly in a large formation, and to execute airdrops at two separate locations: Keesler AFB and Stennis.

The operation included C-130J aircraft from the reserve 815th and active-associate 345th AS, and WC-130J aircraft from the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, all of which fall under the command of the 403rd Wing.

The exercise was a huge undertaking, and a first of this size for the 403rd, said Maj. William Miller, 815th AS chief of tactics and the mission commander for the operation. Never in the history of the wing had a 16-ship operation been launched and recovered.

Miller highlighted the advantages of performing an operation of this magnitude.

"The benefit of doing a large formation of this nature is twofold. One, you get all of the maintainers involved to do what they need to do to get all of these planes generated and ready to fly. And two, it provides experience for all of our aircrews to project combat power in a large formation, which is in the Army's doctrine for us (the Air Force) to be able to produce and execute," said Miller.

The planes airdropped 15-pound sandbags, which were used to simulate equipment, over the runway at Keesler AFB, and then performed a simulated airdrop of paratroopers over the runway at Stennis International Airport in Long Beach, Miss. The U.S. Army 7th Special Forces Group from, Duke Field, Fla., was originally supposed to participate in the paratrooper airdrop but had to cancel due to the forecasted inclement weather.

First Lieutenant Jonathan Recor, 345th AS tactics officer and mission planning cell chief for the operation, praised the efforts of all those involved in getting the operation off the ground, especially the 403rd Maintenance Group.

"Maintenance - first off - was awesome. The fact that we were able to generate 16 out of 16 airplanes, to launch 100 percent of our available aircraft, is not only unheard of, but amazing. To have them all take off on time, with no issues, is a testament to what our people can do," said Recor.

According to Col. Frank Amodeo, 403rd Wing commander, the operation was a resounding success.

"I don't think it could have gone any better. What we were able to do today was not only a 403rd Wing effort, but a total Keesler base effort," said Amodeo, highlighting the coordination between the active-duty 81st Training Wing and 403rd Wing here. "We were able to build camaraderie, and we showed that we could execute our mission and provide operational capability, strategic depth and surge capacity."

The commander commended the wing on its efforts in executing the underlying goal of the operation.

"To me, what 'surge capacity' means is this: 'Can we surge when needed to meet the warfighter's demands?', and we demonstrated that we were able to do that today."

All Systems Go: Navy's Laser Weapon Ready for Summer Deployment


From Office of Naval Research

ARLINGTON, Va. (NNS) -- Navy engineers are making final adjustments to a laser weapon prototype that will be the first of its kind to deploy aboard a ship late this summer.

The prototype, an improved version of the Laser Weapon System (LaWS), will be installed on USS Ponce for at-sea testing in the Persian Gulf, fulfilling plans announced by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert at the 2013 Sea-Air-Space Expo.

"This is a revolutionary capability," said Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder. "It's absolutely critical that we get this out to sea with our Sailors for these trials, because this very affordable technology is going to change the way we fight and save lives."

Navy leaders have made directed-energy weapons a top priority to counter what they call asymmetric threats, including unmanned and light aircraft and small attack boats that could be used to deny U.S. forces access to certain areas. High-energy lasers offer an affordable and safe way to target these threats at the speed of light with extreme precision and an unlimited magazine, experts say.

"Our nation's adversaries are pursuing a variety of ways to try and restrict our freedom to operate," Klunder said. "Spending about $1 per shot of a directed-energy source that never runs out gives us an alternative to firing costly munitions at inexpensive threats."

Klunder leads the Office of Naval Research (ONR), which has worked with the Naval Sea Systems Command, Naval Research Laboratory, Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division and others to make powerful directed-energy weapons a reality.

The Navy already has demonstrated the effectiveness of lasers in a variety of maritime settings. In a 2011 demonstration, a laser was used to defeat multiple small boat threats from a destroyer. In 2012, LaWS downed several unmanned aircraft in tests.

Over the past several months, working under the ONR Quick Reaction Capability program, a team of Navy engineers and scientists have upgraded LaWS, and proved that targets tracked with a Phalanx Close-In Weapon can be easily handed over to the laser's targeting and tracking system. The result is a weapon system with a single laser weapon control console, manned by a surface warfare weapons officer aboard USS Ponce who can operate all functions of the laser-and if commanded, fire the laser weapon.

Using a video game-like controller, that sailor will be able to manage the laser's power to accomplish a range of effects against a threat, from disabling to complete destruction.

The deployment on Ponce will prove crucial as the Navy continues its push to provide laser weapons to the fleet at large.

Data regarding accuracy, lethality and other factors from the Ponce deployment will guide the development of even more capable weapons under ONR's Solid-State Laser - Technology Maturation program. Under this program, industry teams led by Northrop Grumman, BAE Systems and Raytheon Corp. have been selected to develop cost-effective, combat-ready laser prototypes that could be installed on vessels such as guided-missile destroyers and the Littoral Combat Ship in 2016.

The Navy will decide next year which, if any, of the three industry prototypes are suitable to move forward and begin initial ship installation for further testing.

"We are in the midst of a pivotal transition with a technology that will keep our Sailors and Marines safe and well-defended for years to come," said Peter Morrison, ONR program manager for SSL-TM. "We believe the deployment on Ponce and SSL-TM will pave the way for a future acquisition program of record so we can provide this capability across the fleet."

Tanker Airlift Control Center leads the way for air operations centers under new inspection system

by Senior Master Sgt. Angie Sarchet
Air Mobility Command Public Affairs


4/7/2014 - SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill.  -- The Air Mobility Command Inspector General team recently closed out the 618th Air and Space Operation Center's (Tanker Airlift Control Center) first Unit Effectiveness Inspection cycle with a Major Command Capstone event, marking the first air operations center inspected under the new system.

The leader of Air Mobility Command's Air and Space Operations Center praised the Air Force's new inspection system because it places review authority in the hands of commanders.

Maj. Gen. Timothy M. Zadalis, commander of the TACC at Scott Air Force Base, Il, said the inspection system empowers wing commanders to establish and lead continuous self-inspections, alleviating the constant cycle of preparing for multiple inspections throughout the year.

"As a commander, I appreciate having authority over my inspection program, and that we're now inspected on the work we do here daily so our people can focus on taking care of the mission," Zadalis said.

The timing of the unit's UEI didn't happen by chance. The AMC IG staff purposely planned the fiscal year 2014 inspection calendar with the intent to sample the full range of AMC mission sets, according to Col. Christopher Sullivan, AMC IG team chief for the AOC inspection.

"AMC is a complex organization and the AOC is a testament to that. We're more than a series of stand-alone bases, with a single mission" Sullivan said. "AMC is integrated in joint basing and within the Total Force. This serves as a force multiplier but also comes with complex relationships. We have to move out and work through challenges to implement and improve what we believe is a better inspection system."

Sullivan explained that the Capstone isn't the first AMC IG inspection working with the AOC; they partnered on a separate nuclear inspection earlier this year and he said both teams learned, grew and became more capable after the inspection.

"The new system is in many respects a partnership between the unit and the IG, all with the goal of making the 618th AOC a more effective organization," said Zadalis, who is impressed by his wing inspection team's progress and the work they accomplished throughout the unit. "Any change comes with some level of discomfort and this was no different, but it's change for the better and worth the front-end effort," the general said.

AMC IG began planning nearly a year ago on an implementation plan for the revised AFIS. Throughout the scheduled inspections, inspection team members speak with Airmen at each unit to gain valuable insight on what's right with it, what's wrong with it, and what needs to be improved or reconsidered, Sullivan said. Their feedback informs the AMC commander about unit effectiveness, and is ultimately sent to the Secretary of the Air Force Inspector General.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel thanks bilateral forces for their service

by 2nd Lt. Ashley Wright
374 AW/PA


4/5/2014 - YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel addressed 200 service members at a troop call here Saturday at 1 p.m. to thank joint and bilateral forces for their service and emphasize the growing importance of the Asia-Pacific region.

Secretary Hagel discussed the on-going efforts to continue to support bilateral military relationships.

"I want to reassure our allies, our partners here in this part of the world, of our commitment...to our partnership, our friendships and our treaty obligations," Hagel said.

Looking to the future, Hagel has high hopes for the Pacific region.

"We think that the force posture we have, our defense structure and our capabilities and our readiness and our capacity still is more than sufficient to fulfill the missions and the objectives that we have to protect the United States, stay committed to our allies around the world and protect America's interests around the world," Hagel said.

Following his remarks, Hagel presented 200 coins to service members and Japanese Air Self Defense Force members in recognition for their service.

"It takes steady, wise, firm leadership and commitment, as you all are demonstrating by your service here, and our long partnership and friendship with Japan and the Japanese people," Hagel said.

Hagel plans to speak with Prime Minister Abe and other Japanese Defense officials before he leaves to make his first visit as defense secretary to China.

Veterans in need receive hope

by Senior Airman Marcy Copeland
56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs


4/4/2014 - LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- Hope can come in many forms, but for veterans in need, hope can be a simple business suit and a tie.

The 56th Equipment Maintenance Squadron, supported by the 56th Fighter Wing Chapel, held a clothing drive for the U.S. Veterans Initiative nonprofit organization in Phoenix that offers aid to veterans who are either homeless, at risk of being homeless or unemployed.

"This is my fourth time donating, and it's nice to see the center has actually developed quite a bit from the first time I was there," said Master Sgt.Douglas McGraw, 56th EMS programs flight chief. "I get a hopeful feeling for the veterans and for the U.S. VETS center itself. They are doing things right and getting results, which are what we all want."

Approximately 530 articles of clothing were donated to the organization. The donations included standard clothing items such as jeans and shirts, but a large portion was business attire for men and women.

"It just warmed my heart," said Master Sgt. Victor Mercado, 56th EMS product superintendent, "knowing the caring people on base who donated belongings they no longer use will go to good use to help these veterans get on their feet and hopefully land them a job and get their lives back in order."

The goal of U.S. VETS is to successfully transition veterans and their families to a civilian life with the support of counselors, housing opportunities and career development.

The Phoenix location began its services to veterans in October 2001. One of two locations in Arizona, it serves an estimated 175 to 200 veterans each day providing counseling, food and low-cost short or long-term supportive housing provided by Cloudbreak Communities. A computer room is available to aid with job searches and donated clothes provide a professional look that may help these veterans obtain a job.

"For me, the biggest thing was learning more about the organization," said Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Ted Wilson, 56th FW Chapel. "It's more than just donating clothes. It's what this organization does and how they go about helping the veterans in the community. This particular organization, it's not just a free hand-out. There is accountability - things these men and women have to do. They have to pay some sort of rent; they have to pay some for food as well, so it's not an absolute free hand-out here."

According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, there are an estimated 57,849 homeless veterans on any given night. These homeless men and women have served in World War II and operations in Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Southwest Asia, Grenada, Panama and Lebanon, and in military counter-drug efforts in South America.

These men and women may have served alongside many current active-duty, Reserve or Guard members. They are part of the one percent who raised their hand to help defend this country.

For more information or to make a donation, visit http://www.usvetsinc.org/.

(The appearance of hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by the 56th Fighter Wing, the United States Air Force, or the Department of Defense of the external Web site, or the information, products, or services contained therein. For other than authorized activities such as military exchanges and Services/Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) sites, the United States Air Force does not exercise any editorial control over the information you may find at these locations. Such links are provided consistent with the stated purpose of the Web site.)

Force Improvement Program team moving forward

by Carla Pampe
Air Force Global Strike Command Public Affairs


4/7/2014 - BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. -- Air Force Global Strike Command's Force Improvement Program team wrapped up their visits to the command's missile wings last month, where they were tasked with identifying challenges associated with performing missile duties and working with Airmen to propose solutions.

"We are using this ... as an opportunity to make significant and important improvements across the enterprise," Wilson said. "The Force Improvement Program's purpose is to create an aggressive, action-oriented, field-influenced program with the goal of making substantial and lasting changes to the ICBM mission."

During their visits, the teams conducted 1,800 field surveys, leadership surveys and family surveys, and personally interviewed 835 Airmen across the three ICBM bases.

"AFGSC and their analysis team of scientists, along with behavioral experts and an outside team from the Navy and Executive Leadership Group, created a question list that best dug at the issues of morale, leadership, workplace environment and job satisfaction," said Col. Michael Tichenor, AFGSC Task Force 204 director and FIP team leader.

By using a combination of expert teams assembled from the ICBM bases, the diverse 69-person functional cultural working group was comprised of operations, maintenance, security forces, mission support group and helicopter operations members, as well as peers from outside the ICBM community, including U.S. Navy submariners and AFGSC bomber bases.

"We felt that bringing in peers from both in and outside of the missile community would bring a fresh perspective," Maj. Gen. Jack Weinstein, 20th Air Force Commander, said. "We wanted every Airman's voice to be heard. The teams didn't just focus on the missile operators, but interviewed people from all spectrums of the missile community to ensure they had input in this process."

Master Sgt. Shizuka Smith, 341st Medical Operations Squadron superintendent, was one of those Airmen interviewed at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont.

"I've been here at Malmstrom for seven years and I've never seen something like this before," Smith said. "I think it's been great to have one-on-one interview sessions, because this gives Airmen a chance to speak up when they otherwise wouldn't."

"I think this is really different than anything the Air Force has done before," said Capt. Daniel Bradfield, F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., 5th Civil Engineer Squadron readiness and emergency management flight commander and FIP mission support function team lead. "There have been tons of studies and surveys and things that have been done to look at the nuclear enterprise all across the board, but what hasn't ever really been done is provide unfiltered feedback from troops on the ground - from NCOs, senior NCOs and young officers - about what some of their concerns are and some of the actions that maybe we should be taking.

"We interviewed our peers and took what we gathered straight to General Wilson," he added. "There's no filter; there's no in-between step. We briefed him directly on our findings."

After completing their round-robin bases visits, the FIP team met at F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo., to assess the stacks of findings and recommendations from the field. Their deliverable: a list of field generated concerns and possible fixes across all five of the teams' functional areas. Each of the peer-led teams briefed their findings and recommendations to Wilson and Weinstein on March 3. The two commanders then spent the next weekend personally reviewing each of the near 350 recommendations and making decisions on which field recommendations to implement.

When asked about the decision to personally review and discuss each and every recommendation, Wilson said, "These field recommendations were thoughtful, direct, and on-target; General Weinstein and I took each of them seriously."

When asked how many of the Airmen's ideas got approved, Weinstein said, of the near 350 recommendations, "you can literally count on two hands how many we said 'no' to; not surprising, our Airmen's observations and recommendations just made sense."

Many of the major recommendations and observations were presented to the Secretary of the Air Force and the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, who in-turn provided feedback on the FIP recommendations to the Secretary of Defense.

New FIP offices in 20th Air Force and at the AFGSC headquarters are busy cataloguing the many commanders' decisions stemming from the FIP recommendations and assigning the right people to work the issues.

"We set up a team of full-time headquarters staff to assign, track, and move out on these ideas and decisions," Maj. Gen. Rob Rego, AFGSC vice commander, said. "The NAF and MAJCOM commanders are demanding the team move quickly on as much as we can."

And movement is happening, Rego said.

"We've already seen Headquarters Air Force action on some of our Airmen's recommendations to include a $19 million commitment for money this year to deliver on some of our Airmen's most pressing needs identified during the FIP, to include security forces equipment, LCC maintenance, and missile maintenance parts and equipment, and much more," he said.

Furthermore, Weinstein has signed out several policy directives capturing many of the recommendations asked for by his Airmen.

One of the next big steps for FIP implementation is the stand-up of seven Tiger Teams that will be hitting the bases April 7. These teams' charters are to figure out how to implement some of the biggest FIP recommendations.

These Tiger Teams will construct implementation plans in seven key areas based on the decisions arising from the FIP. These areas are helicopter reorganization, ICBM maintenance, nuclear duty incentives, creating a Security Forces "model defender," ICBM training and evaluation, ICBM alternative crew tours and Personnel Reliability Program overhaul. The Tiger Teams will travel to all the missile wing bases over the next two weeks and will present their plans to the senior working group in late April.

"It is critical to understand that these ideas will not go away," Wilson said. "I am committed to seeing them through and making real change."

Wilson added that AFGSC leadership at every level will provide feedback to the field on their recommendations, and regular updates will be provided on force improvement program progress.

"We're ready to act," Wilson said, "and the Force Improvement Program is an opportunity to foster positive change at the units, at the Wings and in Air Force Global Strike Command."

Senior Airman Katrina Heikkinen, 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs, contributed to this article.

DOD Must Meet New Challenges With Smaller Force, Fox Says



By Amaani Lyle
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 7, 2014 – The Defense Department’s fiscal year 2015 budget request recognizes that the U.S. military must meet homeland and global objectives with a pared-down force, acting Deputy Defense Secretary Christine H. Fox said today at the Army War College in Carlisle Barracks, Pa.

“The budget is based on strategic imperatives and recognizes a time of continued transition and uncertainty for the U.S. military in terms of its roles, missions and the available resources,” Fox said. “The last decade has been dominated by protracted land wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, … but now our focus has to move to preparing to counter a variety of security threats and embracing opportunities on all points of the compass.”

The decision to maintain the U.S. technological edge at the expense of size was based not only on stark lessons of history, Fox said, but also on rigorous analysis.

“Past major drawdowns -- World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Cold War -- all kept more force structure in the military than could be adequately trained, maintained and equipped given the defense budgets at that time,” she said. This, she explained, forced the U.S. military at those times in history to disproportionately cut into accounts that fund readiness and modernization, which created a hollow force.

To determine the size of the forces needed, Fox said, officials used two critically important inputs: existing operational plans and the global force management allocation plan that provided an estimate of steady-state requirements for U.S. forces to support the day-to-day needs of combatant commanders.

“This analysis showed that for the active Army, a force size of 440,000 to 450,000 was adequate to meet these demands when accompanied by a reserve force of 195,000 and a [National] Guard of 335,000.”

Together, Fox added, this force of 980,000 soldiers would meet the priorities specified in the strategy as laid out in the Quadrennial Defense Review, which ultimately means that after years of growing the Army, the time has come to shrink it.

“[The current] Army has born the burden of battle in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it’s a bitter pill to be rewarded in this way,” Fox said. “We have no choice but to get smaller for all of the services.”

Still, Fox noted, the opportunities for the future U.S. forces will be endless. “There are tremendous opportunities for Army to contribute in securing the gains in Afghanistan, keeping the peace in Korea, engaging in Africa, or delivering humanitarian relief to countless nations,” she said.

The specific tenets of the president’s strategic defense guidance weighed heavily in DOD budget request choices, Fox explained, include shifting operational focus and forces to the Asia-Pacific region while sustaining commitments to key allies in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Fox also underscored the concurrent need to be able to defeat a major adversary in one part of the world while denying victory to an opportunistic adversary elsewhere and reducing the force planning requirement to conduct large, prolonged counterinsurgency and stability operations.

DOD also will aggressively pursue terrorist networks and counter weapons proliferation while enhancing cyberspace and missile defense capabilities and maintaining a smaller but credible nuclear deterrent, the acting deputy secretary said.

“The world has gotten no less dangerous, no less turbulent or in need of American leadership,” Fox said. “And unlike previous drawdowns, there is no obvious peace dividend as there has been in the past, such as at the end of the Cold War.”

At the same time, Fox said, there is a strong possibility in fiscal year 2016 that national defense resources may not reach the levels envisioned to fully support the president’s strategy.

While Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had no choice but to prepare for the current austere budget environment, Fox said, the president’s fiscal 2015 budget request provides $115 billion more over the next five years than sequester-level funding. Meanwhile, current law requires sequester-level spending cuts to resume in fiscal 2016.

“This budget plan and the associated proposals provide a sustainable path toward shaping a balanced force, a force able to protect the nation and fulfill the president’s defense strategy, albeit it with some additional risk,” Fox said. “Attempting to retain a larger force in the face of potential sequester-level cuts would create a decade-long readiness and modernization holiday on top of the program cancellations and delays that we’ve already had to make.”

Going forward, Fox said, DOD must figure out a way to institutionalize the lessons from the past 13 years knowing that the desire of the nation is to move away from these wars.

“The Army cannot turn into a large garrison force waiting for the next land war,” Fox said. “There is just too much to do in the world, and we need clever ideas on how to be everywhere, do everything with fewer forces across the entire joint force.”

The challenge persists to regrow and reshape the Army into the future, Fox said.

“We must determine what we need to retain in the smaller force to allow you to get to a larger force quickly if necessary when needed in the future,” she added.

Fox Challenges Marines, Navy to Innovate



By Nick Simeone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 7, 2014 – The Navy and Marine Corps need to think about how to be more innovative, including leveraging experiences learned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in the face of budget challenges that could become more acute, acting Deputy Defense Secretary Christine H. Fox said today.

“Whether sequestration returns or not, the reality is we’re counting more than ever on your leadership and innovation to solve problems and meet new and often unfamiliar challenges to our nation’s security,” Fox told students at the U.S Naval War College in Newport, R.I., in one of a series of addresses she has delivered in recent days at war colleges around the nation.

In each, Fox’s theme has reflected warnings senior defense officials have been making since last year’s budget sequester and the likelihood of further spending cuts to come: that the Pentagon is going to have to re-examine priorities, reduce overhead and shrink the force while finding ways to continue vigilance in what officials describe as an increasingly unpredictable global environment.

“Our Marines have excelled at everything we’ve asked of them in the [counterinsurgency] fight, … and they continue to do so in Afghanistan today,” Fox said. “So even as we make this transition, we need to capture as much of these hard-won experiences as possible, because we’ll undoubtedly need it again in the future.”

Fox also challenged the students to rediscover their service’s core capabilities, “even as you build from the lessons of the immediate past to take on new missions.”

“There are now many young, battle-hardened Marines who have spent little time inside of a ship, much less practicing to conduct an assault from sea,” she said. “As you regain your sea legs, I also hope you will work to innovatively update your amphibious concepts of operations.”

Regarding the Navy, Fox said, “we need to confront the reality that there’s more demand for ships than budgets allow, and I don’t see this changing any time soon,” emphasizing that no one is expecting the end of the Iraq war and the winding down of the conflict in Afghanistan to yield a peace dividend.

“Our naval forces need to think creatively about how to provide presence, getting more out of the ships we currently have,” she said. Fox challenged the audience to determine whether to change deployment concepts and keep ships deployed longer. “There must be some innovating approaches out there that people like you, our future leaders, can find and adapt,” she added.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is in the Asia-Pacific region, and just announced the addition of two ballistic missile defense ships to Japan, Fox noted. “What other opportunities like that are out there that would help us meet the needs of our strategy?” she asked the students.

Ultimately, Fox said, it’s not about numbers but capabilities.

“We need to make the financial and intellectual investments in technology and modernization programs now,” she said, “before we no longer have the massive technological advantages we’ve enjoyed over the past 60 years.”

Hagel Visits Chinese Aircraft Carrier Liaoning



By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

QINGDAO, China, April 7, 2014 – On Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s first official visit to China, the Peoples’ Liberation Army allowed him, in response to a request made in January, to become the first foreign visitor to tour the sleek refitted Russian aircraft carrier -- the PLA’s first -- called Liaoning.

China is Hagel’s third stop after multiday meetings in Hawaii and Japan on his fourth trip to the Asia-Pacific region since becoming defense secretary. After a day of meetings here tomorrow, Hagel will stop in Mongolia to meet with government and military leaders there before starting home April 10.

Liaoning is moored at Yuchi Naval Base in its home port of Qingdao in east China’s Shandong province.

"The secretary was very pleased with his visit today aboard the carrier Liaoning,” Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a statement.

Hagel understood the significance of the PLA’s granting of his request for the tour, Kirby added, and the secretary was impressed by the professionalism of the ship’s officers and crew.

“He hopes today's visit is a harbinger of other opportunities to improve our military-to-military dialogue and transparency,” the press secretary said.

A defense official traveling with the secretary described the ship’s tour as lasting about two hours, beginning with a briefing about the ship, its capabilities and operating schedule conducted by the two-star strike carrier group commander and the ship’s commanding officer, Capt. Zhang Zheng.

The briefers were good, and they invited and encouraged questions, the official said. Hagel and his guest, U.S. Ambassador to China Max Baucus, and others on the tour all asked questions, the official added.

“The briefing lasted about 30 minutes, and then we saw medical facilities on the ship, some of the living quarters, the flight control station where they control flight operations, the pilot house, and the bridge, where they drive the ship,” the defense official said.

The secretary and his group also took a walking tour of the flight deck and saw launch stations and helicopter recovery stations as well arresting cables, “and got a briefing on how what we call in the U.S. Navy the ‘landing signals officers’ guide the aircraft in for an arrested landing on the flight deck,” the official explained.

He said the ship was extraordinarily clean, and the crew was sharp and informative.

”Every sailor at every station where Hagel [stopped] for the tour knew exactly what their job was, and how important their job was, and exactly how to explain it to the secretary,” the official said.

Hagel had a lot of give-and-take discussions with the crew throughout the tour, and talked to them just as he talks to U.S. troops when he goes out to visit them, the defense official added.

“The tour ended with a stop in the officers’ dining area, where Hagel had a chance to sit down with junior officers, have some refreshments and just talk to them,” the official said. “We all did. I sat down at a table with two junior female officers, and everybody did the same thing.”

The crew members were very impressive and very dedicated, he observed.

“It's a new capability they're trying to develop, and I think they all appreciate the importance of it to the PLA, but also the difficulty of it,” the official said. “On more than one occasion, the officers who were with us said quite frankly they know they have a long way to go in naval aviation. It is a difficult military capability to develop and to perfect, … and they expressed that they believe they can still learn much from us in terms of how to get better at it.”

The ship has three launching stations for jet aircraft, four arresting wires, a complement of about 1,500 sailors, one sixth of whom are officers, and there were 90 women in the crew, both officers and enlisted service members, the defense official said.

Liaoning has been out on sea trials almost 20 times, and officials know they still have to do more, he added.

Compared with U.S. aircraft carriers, Laioning isn’t as big or fast, and it doesn’t carry as many aircraft or as many types of aircraft, the official said, but it’s a real aircraft carrier, capable of launching and recovering jet combat aircraft.

“We asked them when they would have an operational naval air wing on the ship, and the captain said there's no timeline for that right now,” the official said. “They aren't at the state where they're declaring that sort of operational readiness.”

The defense official said the opportunity for Hagel and his group to tour the aircraft carrier today was a significant step in China’s attempts to be transparent and open.

“I would say that as this trip to Beijing begins for the secretary, today was a good first step in terms of trying to develop more openness and transparency,” the defense official said.