MCGREGOR RANGE, N.M. - Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force soldiers from the 2nd Anti-Aircraft Artillery and 1st Air Defense Artillery brigades conducted a HAWK missile live fire exercise Thursday to meet their training and qualification requirements.

Although U.S. forces no longer employ the HAWK, it is still used in Japan, said Maj. Gen. Katsuo Takahashi, 2nd ADA Bde. commander.

"The HAWK system is still one of the most important systems for the defense of Japan," said Takahashi. "About 5 percent of the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force soldiers are air defense. And about 60 percent of air defense soldiers belong to HAWK units."

This year marked Takahashi's third visit to McGregor Range. He said the range is an excellent location for his units to train. One of his units, the 3rd ADA Group, is equipped with the Phase II missile, which was fired from range site 8. Phase II is one of the HAWK's upgrades.

"To maintain their proficiency, each battery comes to [McGregor Range] and fires the HAWK every other year," said Takahashi. "About 22 percent of HAWK soldiers participate in this bi-yearly training,"

In preparation for the live fire, the Japanese crews performed a series of mandatory checks, which they had to complete within a specific time frame, said Melvin Galloway, flight safety officer, Unit Training and Certification Division. They were evaluated on proficiency and timeliness. UTCD safety officers cleared the crews prior to proceeding with the exercise.

On range 8, at the sound of the sirens, Japanese crewmembers ran to the armed launchers and completed final checks minutes before the target was launched from Oro Grande Range, N.M. The identified hostile target flew into the engagement zone, the seize fire was lifted, the tactical control officer gave the order to engage, and the HAWK missile was launched and struck the target.

The HAWK missile system provides low-to-medium-altitude air defense against jet and rotary aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles and cruise missiles. U.S. forces began using it in the 1960s. In 1994, the PATRIOT missile superseded the HAWK in the Army. It was phased out in 2002, when the last users, the Marine Corps, replaced it with the Stinger missile system.