OKINAWA, JAPAN - “As allies, it’s vital that we know how to work together,” says Cpl. Joseph Roche, a joint fires observer with Alpha Company, Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 4th Marines. Roche, along with other individuals with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, spent the week conducting fire liaison observation and exchange alongside service members with the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force.
“It’s been a learning experience. It takes practice communicating in English, and using the proper format to conduct a joint call-for-fire drill,” said 1st. Lt. Takaki Naoto, a platoon leader with Fire Power Leading Company, Field Artillery Battalion, Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade.
Six JGSDF members and a group of senior JSDF officers arrived on Camp Hansen April 9th, 2019, to be greeted by key leaders of the 31st MEU. At the Command Post, JSDF officers actively engaged in a Rapid Response Planning Process brief with the command, including introductions and an overview of ongoing events with the exchange for the week.
“Utilizing the SAVT improves the quality of our training,” said Naoto, in reference to the Supporting Arms Virtual Trainer Facility, where a handful of enlisted JGSDF personnel tested their skills plotting coordinates alongside joint fires observers with BLT 1/4. “We’ve been exploring different skill levels, starting from the very basic of call-for-fire drills with artillery and mortars,” says Roche. “After running through very basic missions, we do full tactical execution templates on the simulator.”
The simulator, equipped with an immersive 360 degree projection and surround sound system, takes users through a variety of training environments and combat scenarios. In the simulator, the “Marines and JGSDF members rehearse coordinating artillery, conducting call-for-fire drills, and establishing close-air support,” says Roche. “This training ensures we’re on the same page as our allies. We know we can conduct these operations jointly, when necessary.”
Daily visits to the SAVT throughout the week were complimented by a real world exercise conducted from lookout hill, Camp Hansen; the group, now functioning as a bilateral team, identified predetermined enemy targets visible from their observation post. After confirming their locations, JGSDF members used radio equipment to contact AH-1Z Viper and UH-1Y Huey helicopter pilots with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 262. Tablets in hand, linked via satellite to the targets, gauged the accuracy of the notional air support fire coordinated through the combined effort of the two countries. According to Roche, “it was a definite success. The joint-exercise enhanced and confirmed the Marine Corps and the Japanese ability to work together conducting call-for-fire and close air support.”
Aside from providing a valuable opportunity to exchange knowledge and tactics, Naoto says “this Subject Matter Expert Exchange will deepen our mutual understanding and the communication between the Marine Corps and JGSDF.” It’s a testament to the lasting bond between Japan and the United States, which though already strong, has continued to strengthen through the years. “This observation and exchange will enhance our good relationship,” says Naoto. “Even in peacetime, we must train bilaterally. Then we know we can perform bilaterally.”