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NEWS | March 14, 2024

U.S.-Japan soar through heavy winds for Airborne 24

By Staff Sgt. Spencer Tobler, 374th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

As dawn approached on the brisk morning of March 7, relentless winds echoed over the flightline of Yokota Air Base, Japan. The stage was set for Airborne 24, as nearly half of the 374th Airlift Wing’s C-130J Super Hercules fleet, U.S. Army jumpmasters and approximately 300 Japan Ground Self-Defense Force paratroopers geared up to execute the world’s largest bilateral static-line jump exercise.

Airborne 24 is much more than an annual bilateral tactical airlift training exercise, it is an ongoing partnership between U.S. and Japan forces. This exercise serves as a powerful testament to both nations' unwavering commitment to upholding stability and security throughout the Indo-Pacific region.

This year’s iteration of Airborne saw unprecedented mission objectives, as paratroopers were due to airdrop over Kikaijima Island, Japan, rather than the East Fuji Maneuver Area which was used in previous iterations. The overall goal being to demonstrate JGSDF’s ability to execute the rapid insertion of troops onto an island in southern Japan, showcasing the strategic significance of engaging in bilateral operations.

“The Fuji drop zone had always been simulating an island seizure,” said Maj. Andrew Morris, 36th Airlift Squadron C-130J Super Hercules pilot and Airborne 24 project lead. “We moved the exercise to Kikaijima so we could actually drop on an island. If we had to fortify a southern island in the event of conflict, this is exactly what we would do.”

Unfortunately, winds approached speeds of 22 knots as the C-130J fleet entered the designated dropzone and the airdrop portion of the exercise was canceled.

“We saw it coming,” said Capt. Gregory Franklin, 36th AS C-130J Super Hercules pilot and Airborne 24 mission commander. “Naturally, I was bummed that the jumps didn’t go, but there’s not much you can do when the weather doesn’t want to cooperate.”

Despite not executing airdrops, the U.S. and Japan championed the successful preparation, coordination, and surgical precision needed to get three battalions worth of paratroopers over a small island in southern Japan.

“We got all aircraft airborne and got all the jumpers to the drop zone on time and in a position to make the drops happen,” said Franklin. “We were able to hone our bilateral interoperability. Any time we get to integrate with our Japanese partners, it's valuable training.”

Bilateral movements and operations, like Airborne 24, further strengthen the ironclad U.S.-Japan alliance, bolster capabilities and enhance interoperability.

“There may be language barriers and differences in methods for getting things done, but ultimately, we are all working to the same goal,” said Franklin. “We must practice together because when it comes to gametime we need to be able to perform at a high level together to win. It's critical to both nations’ security.”