YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — It’s almost like a scene from the 1983 film “WarGames.”
There are computers all around tracking aircraft, ships and ground forces. In a separate room, ballistic-missile defense planners are on the lookout for enemy launches. High-ranking commanders sit down for battle updates piped in to the Crisis Action Team floor on large video screens. Classified and unclassified networks pump information along secure and unsecured lines.
Welcome to the secluded basement complex at U.S. Forces Japan headquarters on Yokota, which features full command center capabilities that can be fired up in the event a war or major regional emergency surfaces.
For the last two weeks, it’s been used as a control hub for Keen Sword, the massive field-training exercise held at installations throughout Japan and Okinawa. The Japan Self-Defense Force and all four branches of the U.S. military were slated to wrap up the 12-day drill Friday.
The Bilateral Joint Operations Coordination Center, or BJOCC, is equipped to run around the clock and can hold as many as 150 people working 12-hour rotating shifts.
Essentially, it offers a situational awareness platform for Air Force Lt. Gen. Bruce Wright, the USFJ commander, allowing him easier communications with Pacific Command and Japanese military authorities.
“It’s a giant nerve center,” said Army Lt. Col. Brent Hashimoto, USFJ’s chief of transformation and future capabilities. “When things are happening in here, most of the desks are manned, and you’ll see people on phones. There’s communication … up and down the chain of command. Lots of collaboration going on.”
The BJOCC was first stood up in February 2006 for the Keen Edge exercise. The 5th Air Force had used the old space prior to that.
An overhaul costing about $200,000 was completed last January, according to Air Force Maj. Jessica Luyando, the integrated air and missile defense operations and exercises officer for USFJ.
Hashimoto said every position on the main CAT floor has a Japanese counterpart working alongside U.S. personnel from the 5th Air Force, U.S. Army Japan, the III Marine Expeditionary Force, 13th Air Force-Detachment 1 and Commander, Naval Forces Japan. U.S. Embassy representatives also drop by periodically, he added.
The facility was activated following the Niigata earthquake in July and the North Korean missile launch and nuclear test last year, USFJ officials said.
During the two North Korean crises, Wright held daily video teleconferences with Adm. Takashi Saito, Japan’s top military officer.
“You don’t have hours and days with a crisis like that,” Luyando said. “Down here, it now takes mere minutes to get them face to face. We knew we were on the same page with each other. It helped us get ahead of the game.
“The North Koreans tried to drive a wedge between the U.S.-Japan alliance. It was a coup for us … [The BJOCC] brings together a common operating picture.”
Keen Sword, meanwhile, hasn’t been quite as hectic as planned for some at the facility.
In the bilateral Air Component Coordination Element room, flight operations fell by about 60 percent due to the recent grounding of F-15 Eagle fighters, said Lt. Col. Steve Weimer, the 13th Air Force-Detachment 1 deputy commander and assistant air exercise director for Keen Sword.
Non-critical flights of F-15 Eagle fighters were suspended pending an investigation into the Nov. 2 crash of an Air National Guard F-15C during training in Missouri.
“We had all our pieces in place; we just couldn’t fly the F-15s,” Weimer said, adding that KC-135 tankers, Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft, F-16s and Japanese F-4s flew missions during the exercise.
When the JASDF’s Air Defense Command moves from Fuchu Air Base to Yokota in 2010 as part of realignment, officials plan to build a tunnel connecting the BJOCC to the new building, according to Luyando.