By Maj. John H. Alderman IV,124th MPAD, Ga. Army National GuardDecember 14, 2009
CAMP HIGASHI-CHITOSE, Japan-On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the U.S.-Japan mutual defense treaty, U.S. and Japanese forces have successfully concluded a major exercise here on Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan.
Yama Sakura, an annual joint and combined full-spectrum training exercise, this year involved 1,500 U.S. service members and 3,500 members of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force. Its focus was the refinement of bilateral planning, coordination, and interoperability.
"This exercise proves the strength of the long-standing relationship between the U.S. and Japan," said Lt. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, commanding general of U.S. Army Pacific.
The exercise had four objectives: The exchange of ideas, techniques, and military experience; training U.S. forces for deployment to Japan; the exercise of JSDF and U.S. forces in the defense of Japan; and preparation of USARPAC forces for combined, multi-national and joint full spectrum operations.
To achieve its objectives, the exercise included a major computer-simulated command post exercise where U.S. and Japan forces worked closely together to thwart a fictional enemy's invasion of Hokkaido. As the battle unfolded, enemy forces caused situations requiring humanitarian assistance, and the joint headquarters dispatched forces to assist with that aspect of the battle, as well.
This was in fact the first major training exercise for I Corps Forward, a relatively small but highly capable command and control headquarters that facilitates coordination and quick, decisive operations on short notice. In this case, the headquarters was assisted by a second such unit, the Contingency Command Post, for greater capability.
"In this particular operation, we combined the CCP and I Corps Forward to be capable of doing a major combat operation," explained Mixon. "The normal function of the CCP is to respond to disasters, offer humanitarian assistance, and other types of activities to include peace enforcement and peace keeping."
Overall, the exercise proved to be a great success.
"I Corps Forward has validated the concept it was designed for," said Maj. Gen. Francis Wiercinski, Commanding General of U.S. Army Japan and I Corps Forward. "Its small size and technological edge allow it to quickly deploy and gain situational awareness, while buying time for a larger command to deploy and integrate seamlessly into the fight."
Decisively contributing to the success of the simulation was the co-location of the U.S. and Japan operational headquarters into a Combined Operations/Intelligence Center, or COIC. Even where language is not a barrier, such joint headquarters are often kept separate. But here, proximity - aided by technology - has facilitated faster, better informed decision-making.
"In order to further improve our bilateral response capabilities," remarked Lt. Gen. Takeshi Sakai, commanding general of the JGSDF Northern Army, "I request that you all make coordination between our forces and make bold, daring attempts to meet new challenges without fear of mistakes."
Each iteration of Yama Sakura has seen the headquarters moving closer together; now, with the COIC, coordination and the exchange of information are so fast as to be nearly instantaneous.
"The complexity of the bilateral relationship and operations requires a lot of training on our part," said Mixon. "That is the real power of having I Corps Forward located at Camp Zama [Japan] working with the Japan Ground Self Defense Force permanently, and the theater Army doing these exercises."