Air Force Capt. Sean “Wreck” Collins, a 13th Fighter Squadron pilot, parks an F-16 Fighting Falcon at Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport on Guam, Feb. 4, 2023.

Air Force Capt. Sean “Wreck” Collins, a 13th Fighter Squadron pilot, parks an F-16 Fighting Falcon at Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport on Guam, Feb. 4, 2023. (Jao’Torey Johnson/U.S. Air Force)

Thousands of airmen and about 100 aircraft from the United States, Australia, Japan and France have kicked off a 15-day exercise on Guam, according to the Air Force’s 36th Wing.

Cope North 2023, involving 2,000 service members from the four nations, began Friday and will run until Feb. 24, Tech. Sgt. Eric Summers, a spokesman for Andersen Air Force Base, said by phone Friday.

“Aircraft from the United States, Australia, Japan, and France will fly 1,200 sorties across seven islands and 10 airfields,” Pacific Air Forces said in a Jan. 27 statement.

The 36th Wing didn’t immediately provide a list of the aircraft types or units participating in the exercise Friday afternoon.

However, photographs released by the Department of Defense this month show the following aircraft on Guam for the training: Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 13th Fighter Squadron at Misawa Air Base, Japan, and Japan Air Self-Defense Force Mitsubishi F-15J Eagles.

Cope North is happening amid a rapid Chinese military buildup and concerns about the security of Taiwan. Beijing considers the democratic, self-governing island to be a breakaway province that must be reunified with the mainland, by force if necessary.

Cope North, held on Guam since 1999, is focused on coordinating large numbers of aircraft as well as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, according to the PACAF statement.

The training hones skills such as airlift and logistics needed to deploy aircraft, support personnel and equipment to remote locations to operate far from comfortable home bases, the statement said.

Operations will take place at Andersen, Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport and Northwest Field, Guam; the Northern Mariana Islands, including Rota, Tinian and Saipan; Yap in the Federated States of Micronesia; Iwo Jima, Japan; and the Republic of Palau, according to the statement.

The goal of the training is to bring allies and partners closer, enhance security and maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific, the statement said.

The training could be seen as preparation for the defense of main-island Japan, Okinawa, Guam or Taiwan, according to Ralph Cossa, president emeritus of the Pacific Forum think tank in Hawaii.

The U.S. and Japan lack the fully integrated command structure that Washington has with Seoul, he wrote in an email Friday.

“We need to develop, test, and refine our command and control procedures bilaterally with Japan and … multi-laterally with like-minded friends and allies,” he said.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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