JAPAN — For more than 60 years, the United States and Japan have shared in partnership, as well as a communal vision of peace, prosperity, democracy and regional stability. Committed to mutual security and a free and open Indo-Pacific, the nations’ dedication to defense and network of alliances was evident during exercise Yama Sakura 81, held Dec. 1-13, in Japan.
“This marks the 41st iteration of this annual exercise, which increases the abilities of the joint force, strengthens our partnerships and allows us to improve our execution of multi-domain operations as part of a multinational force,” said Lt. Gen. Xavier Brunson, America’s First Corps commanding general during the Yama Sakura 81 opening ceremony at Camp Itami, Dec. 5. “Our collective team is comprehensive and extremely capable as a warfighting unit.”
A team of more 3,000 Japanese and 1,500 U.S. military forces participated in the largest U.S.-Japan bilateral and joint command post exercise, which is co-sponsored by the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force and U.S. Army Pacific, annually. Since its inception in 1982, Yama Sakura has focused on the development and refinement of the JGSDF and the U.S. military’s bilateral planning, coordination and interoperability efforts.
This year’s iteration of Yama Sakura was unique in that the U.S.-Japan alliance “increased the scope of the exercise,” said Brunson.
Not only was Yama Sakura 81 the largest exercise of its kind, to date, for the first time, new training relationships were forged at echelon. America’s First Corps teamed up with JGSDF’s Ground Component Command as a secondary training audience and served as the Joint Task Force higher headquarters for the primary training audience, exercising land power and command and control of the assigned and attached joint forces within the scenario.
As another first, Yama Sakura 81 offered the opportunity for a U.S. Army division headquarters to partner with a regional Japanese army. Members of the 25th Infantry Division collaborated with the Japanese Middle Army to tackle the training scenario that tested their multi-domain and cross-domain capabilities.
Additionally, the U.S. Marine Corps 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade partnered with the JGSDF’s Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade, and the exercise was also supported by U.S. Army Japan, the 5th Security Force Assistance Brigade and the U.S. Army Reserve’s 9th Mission Support Command.
“This command post exercise makes us more capable and more lethal,” said Brig. Gen. Kyle Ellison, 3rd MEB commanding general. “Although our daily objective is to prevent conflict, our adversaries should not take that to mean we will not be prepared for conflict.”
While the exercise training scenarios were simulated, the collaboration amongst the allied militaries enhanced modern warfighting skills essential to defending Japan from any crisis.
“It is necessary for Japan and the United States, who share the Indo-Pacific region, to improve the effectiveness of our talents and contributions in response to [any] situation in this important region,” said Lt. Gen. Shin Nozawa, JGSDF Middle Army commanding general, who added that the security environment surrounding Japan is becoming increasingly important.
In close coordination, the allied armies focused on cross domain and multi-domain operations, as well as generating decisive joint landpower to meet the complex demands of the exercise.
“Whether responding to a natural disaster or something worse, we know that landpower is the regional security architecture that binds the Indo-Pacific together,” said Gen. Charles Flynn, USARPAC commanding general. “Exercises like Yama Sakura position our organizations forward in the Pacific and give us the ability to strengthen bonds with our Allies and Partners and create new approaches and opportunities to counter threats to a Free and Open Indo-Pacific.”
The exercise proved that relationships matter and highlighted the U.S. and Japan’s continued commitment to strengthening bilateral relationships through shared, face-to-face experiences in the Pacific and realistic training.
“Throughout the exercise, we improved bilateral response capabilities and established strong relationships with the U.S. Forces,” said Nozawa during the closing ceremony, Dec. 12.
The 25th Infantry Division’s deputy commander for operations shared similar sentiments.
“We are much better prepared for the future challenges that we may face, together,” said Col. Jeffrey VanAntwerp. “I look forward to future iterations [of exercise Yama Sakura].”