Neither volcanic ash nor bad weather from Typhoon Haitang could keep U.S. and Japanese military forces from completing their Cope North training Thursday as planned.
The exercise, the 25th since the first Cope in 1978, also marked the first time that Japanese aircraft dropped live bombs on ground targets since the end of World War II.
The bilateral exercises are held to improve the abilities of the U.S. Air Force and Japanese Air Self-Defense Force to defend Japan.
The first-time use of live ordnance this time around is unrelated to any real-world events, said Japanese Lt. Col. Koji Imaki.
“We have been working to make this training happen, it just happens to be this time,” he said. The aircraft used the bombing range at Farallon de Mendinilla, an uninhabited island in the Northern Marianas about 200 miles north of Guam. No such range exists in Japan, he said.
Lt. Col. Chuji Ando has been flying F-4s for 13 years and said the live-bomb training differed from Japan’s usual use of inert bombs.
With live bombs, he said, “I have to [be very] careful. I can’t miss anything, so the stress is very strong. We have to get over the stress, but we can’t [have an] experience like that in Japan.”
Participants in the exercise included six F-15E Strike Eagles from the 391st Fighter Squadron at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho. The unit has been on temporary duty at Andersen since April. Ten F-4EJs from the JASDF 8th Squadron and two E-2Cs are also taking part, all from Misawa Air Base, Japan. Maj. Jeff Doyle of the 5th Air Force headquarters at Yokota Air Base, Japan, directed the exercise, which involved 240 Japanese and 300 U.S. Air Force members.
While Japanese personnel train regularly with U.S. pilots at Misawa, the joint exercise was a first for the members of the 391st Fighter Squadron.
“They understand the business of flying jets,” Capt. Joe Ryther, 391st weapons officer, said of his Japanese counterparts. “They utilize all the resources in their jets for their mission, as do we.”
Japanese and U.S. pilots alike enjoyed the unrestricted airspace and lack of commercial traffic in the exercise area.
But the training was limited by ongoing ash emissions from the volcano at Anatahan, an island about 25 miles northwest of the bombing range. The prevailing winds normally blow the ash to the west, but Typhoon Haitang, while not threatening the Marianas, pushed the ash eastward directly over the range and forced cancellation of several sorties. Weather bands associated with the typhoon also caused other flights to be canceled or changed.
The exercise overall, however, succeeded on many fronts, said Col. Michael Boera, commander of the 36th Air Expeditionary Wing.
“Anytime you can bond and have a personal friendship with a fighting force from another country, it’s a good thing,” he said. “Magic happens when you have personal contact.”
Said Doyle: “Every exercise the [JASDF and U.S. Air Force] relationship and training just keep getting better and better. So every exercise we keep trying to push the envelope. We do a little more.”