U.S.-Japan exercises underscore new strategy guidance focus

By Donna Miles, American Forces Press ServiceJanuary 26, 2012

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WASHINGTON (Jan. 24, 2012) -- Two bilateral command post exercises with Japan kicked off yesterday and today, reflecting the growing strategic importance of the Asia-Pacific region as outlined in the new defense strategy guidance President Barack Obama announced earlier this month.

Japanese and U.S. military forces launched Keen Edge 12 yesterday at Yokota, Japan. The biennial exercise continues through Jan. 27.

Today, Exercise Yama Sakura kicked off, with operations to run through Feb. 5. Both exercises are designed to increase interoperability of U.S. and Japanese forces and their readiness to defend against external threats, officials said.

By providing realistic, combined and joint training that enhances both countries' combat readiness posture, they in turn provide for regional stability and security, said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Bill Clinton, a U.S. Pacific Command spokesman.

"These regular engagements showcase our commitment to peace and security in the region and to the protection of U.S. interests and those of our partners and allies," he said.

Keen Edge historically has been part of an annual exercise series that alternates between field training exercises, called Keen Sword, and command-and-control exercises.

About 500 U.S. personnel and about 1,380 Japanese forces are participating in this year's command post exercise, or CPX, during which headquarters staffs will use computer simulations to practice steps they would take in the event of a crisis or contingency.

Participants will practice responding to events ranging from non-combatant evacuations and force-protection scenarios to integrated air and missile defense to enhance bilateral coordination and cooperation, officials said.

Forces involved will use the computer-based Joint Theater Level Simulation System to direct and respond to exercise events. This system, officials reported, helps provide a realistic environment for commanders and staffs as they react and respond in real time to events generated by computer simulation.

U.S. participants in Keen Edge 2012 hail from U.S. Forces Japan headquarters; 13th Air Force, with headquarters at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, and in Japan through its Detachment 1; U.S. Naval Forces Japan; U.S. Army Japan; and Marine Forces Japan.

Meanwhile, nearly 800 U.S. military personnel and more than 3,500 Japanese forces are participating in Yama Sakura, the largest bilateral exercise between the U.S. Army Pacific and Japanese ground forces since the Great Tohoku Earthquake in March.

About 150 U.S. Soldiers from the 8th Army headquarters element at Yongsan Garrison, South Korea, will serve as the higher command for participating U.S. forces, which include members of U.S. Army Japan.

The exercise, officials said, will focus on bilateral and joint planning, coordination and interoperability of ground-based elements of the U.S. and Japan security alliance.

Officials called these command post exercises a cost-effective way to provide participants realistic and unobtrusive training in a simulated crisis or contingency operation while improving their ability to work together.

During senior-level talks between U.S. and Japanese military leaders last month about future operations and engagement between the two countries, Air Force Lt. Gen. Ted Kresge, 13th Air Force commander, said interoperability strengthens the bilateral alliance.

Kresge noted the success of the humanitarian relief mission after a massive 8.9 magnitude earthquake and tsunami struck Japan last March. American aid to the Japanese ultimately included 20 ships, including the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, almost 20,000 personnel and huge amounts of supplies and heavy equipment.

"As was demonstrated during Operation Tomodachi, there is tremendous value added in working and exercising side-by-side," Kresge said. "When real-world events occur, we are better able to operate in a joint environment and respond effectively and efficiently."

Meanwhile, 8th Army officials said, staff coordination exercises like Yama Sakura allow the staff to practice their role as a mobile warfighting headquarters, which in turn strengthens their ability to defend Korea as well as maintain regional security.

"This exercise improves 8th Army's ability to deter or defeat aggression on the Korean peninsula," said Brig. Gen. David J. Conboy, 8th Army's deputy commander. "It also helps strengthen the Republic of Korea-United States alliance by enabling critical staff coordination and collaboration at the multinational level."

Clinton said engagements like these support the new defense strategy guidance that recognizes the challenges as well as opportunities in Asia and the Pacific.

That strategic guidance, announced earlier this month, provides a strategic vision intended to guide the military through 2020 with its heavy focus on the region.

"Through continuous evaluation of our force posture and engagement activities, we will work with our regional partners and allies to maintain the military strength to protect our interests, defend our allies and deter potential adversaries from acts of aggression and intimidation," Clinton said.

U.S. relationships with Asian allies and key partners will remain critical to the region's future stability and growth, Navy Adm. Robert F. Willard, U.S. Pacific Command's commander, told the Annual Hawaii Military Partnership Conference on Jan. 6, the day after the guidance was announced.

In addition to strengthening existing alliances that have provided a vital foundation for regional security, Willard said, the United States also will strive to forge closer ties with emerging regional partners.

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