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SECURITY > Self-Defense Forces

U.S. Marines and Japan units train to thwart island attack

  • December 9, 2021
  • , Nikkei Asia , 3:09 a.m.
  • English Press

JUNNOSUKE KOBARA, Nikkei security affairs editor


HACHINOHE, Japan — Japanese and U.S. personnel concluded a two-day exercise on Wednesday that was designed as training for a rapid response to an amphibious invasion of a remote island.


The drill between the U.S. Marine Corps and Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force, which was open to the media, was the first to feature the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS, that had been transported to the site by air.


On Tuesday, an American HIMARS was placed on a C-130J transport plane at the U.S.-run Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, then flown to Hachinohe Air Base, which is operated by Japan’s Marine Self-Defense Force, in Aomori Prefecture.


The HIMARS is capable of hitting a target several hundred kilometers away, yet can fit inside a plane. However, the system had only been transported by sea in Japan until now.


Moving the HIMARS by air will save time, which is crucial when moving equipment to respond to an enemy invasion.


The drill comes amid the backdrop of an increasingly assertive China. In October, 10 Chinese and Russian warships passed through the Tsugaru Strait that runs between Japan’s main Honshu island and the island of Hokkaido. Meanwhile, Beijing has been dispatching a record number of warplanes flying close to Taiwanese airspace.


The succession of incursions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone “looks a lot like rehearsals,” U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Saturday.


The U.S. Marines follow the expeditionary advanced base operations concept, also called EABO. Under this form of warfare, troops swiftly land on an island and set up a staging area. This joint drill is the first to adopt this approach.


On Wednesday, members of the Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. military tested how the former’s cross-domain operations, designed to defend islands, can work in conjunction with EABO. The two sides used the Ojojihara Training Area in Miyagi Prefecture to set up a command post, craft a strategy and issue orders on firing rockets and surface-to-ship missiles.


Participants also trained in treating wounded soldiers. Self-Defense Force personnel watched and learned the speedy treatment processes by experienced U.S. medics.


Japan’s Marine Self-Defense Force and the U.S. Navy have trained together using aircraft carriers. During a drill last month, the USS Carl Vinson nuclear-powered carrier operated alongside Japan’s Izumo, a multipurpose destroyer that is being modified to serve as a de facto carrier.


Marine Self-Defense Force personnel boarded the American carrier, which staged takeoffs and landings by F-35C fighter jets. Vice Adm. Karl Thomas, commander of the U.S. Seventh Fleet, told reporters last week that he would prefer to see a heavier carrier presence to boost deterrence.


Because Japanese islands in the East China Sea lack air bases and runways, aircraft carriers will be essential in defending that territory. Two Izumo-class destroyers carrying F-35B fighters are due to be dispatched in the area.

“I believe that there is no mistake that the strong partnership between Japan and the U.S. is contributing to regional security,” said Vice Adm. Hideki Yuasa, Japan’s commander in chief of the self-defense fleet.


Under a plan being put forward by Tokyo and Washington, Japan will allocate new funds for joint drills as part of the extra costs the country will shoulder for hosting U.S. troops. The goal is to have Self-Defense Forces conduct a wider range of drills with the U.S. armed forces.


In March, Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi agreed with Austin to expand joint exercises. The scope will extend to mock rescue operations near Japan’s Senkaku Islands, which China claims and calls the Diaoyu, as well as submarine drills in the South China Sea, among other scenarios.


The U.S. and Japan are closing in on a date to hold a “two-plus-two” meeting between defense and diplomatic chiefs. The two sides are expected to discuss the results of the past year as well as the future of joint exercises.

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