YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan – Representatives of the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) and Japanese Ministry of Defense were hosted by the 459th Airlift Squadron on February 13, 2019 at Yokota Air Base as part of a trilateral search and rescue (SAR) exchange.
The exchange was a free flow of information regarding SAR practices between the SLAF, Japanese Self Defense Force (JSDF), and USAF to increase effective coordination in the event of a humanitarian assistance mission.
This event was a part of the JSDF’s first defense cooperation event with the SLAF focusing on Capacity Building Assistance for Search and Rescue. In addition to visiting Yokota Air Base, the delegation from Sri Lanka also visited Iruma and Hyakuri Air Bases.
SAR engagements have been a priority during USAF-SLAF Airman-to-Airman Talks and when the Japanese Ministry of Defense extended an opportunity for the 459th Airlift Squadron to showcase their expertise, the squadron stepped up to the challenge. Planning for the engagement began shortly after the INDOPACOM Capabilities Development Working Group in October 2018 and assisted in targeting specific SAR requests from the May 2018 Airman-to-Airman Talk hosted by the SLAF.
Through coordination with the JSDF, plans became a reality when SLAF Air Commodore Kapila Wanigasooriya, Chief of Defense Staff director general of coordination, visited the 459th Airlift Squadron alongside representatives from the International Policy Division at the Japanese Ministry of Defense.
“We showed them our search and rescue capabilities along with our air medical transport on the UH-1,” said Lt. Col. Scott Adams, 459th AS commander. Additionally, Lt. Col. (Dr.) Kenji Takano and his team from the 374th Medical Group shared their insights and expertise on how to integrate the medical skill sets into SAR air operations.
As part of the subject matter expert exchange, 459th AS instructor pilot Capt. David Shadoin compared USAF SAR procedures with the six visiting SLAF personnel who had expertise in rotary and fixed wing operations as well as medical and ground force SAR support operations. After the exchange, Wanigasooriya and his team were shown a display of a UH-1N Huey equipped for SAR operations for discussion.
“The more exposure we have with host nation and foreign nation relations, the better we can execute when it really matters in a humanitarian assistance or disaster relief effort,” Adams said. Successful multilateral events like this help strengthen alliances and partnerships and establish a common understanding of SAR tactics, techniques, and procedures. This baseline aids future collaboration essential during continued engagements or future real world rescue operations.