Japanese pilots stretch their wings over Alaska
Stars and Stripes June 10, 2003
Japanese aviators deployed to Alaska’s Elmendorf Air Force Base are going to do the type of flying that would raise eyebrows and the ire of residents back home.
They’re part of a 275-member contingent of Japan Air Self-Defense Force airmen at Cooperative Cope Thunder exercises, which kicked off Thursday and will end June 20.
The exercises, portions of which also are being flown at Alaska’s Eielson Air Force Base, showcases multinational airlift operations combined with interdiction, suppression and destruction of enemy air defenses, and counter air missions. Those aerial missions are difficult to undertake in Japan’s restricted airspaces.
“Japanese training areas are very small, and there are a lot of restrictions for fighter pilots,” Lt. Col. Hiroshi Murakami, chief of JASDAF’s deployment unit staff, said in a telephone interview.
In Alaska, Murakami said JASDF F-15J fighter pilots “can fly freely, do low-level flying and lots of very important training.”
Air Force exercise officials said there are 66,000 square miles of military airspace used by fighter pilots flying in the Alaskan skies.
Airmen from South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, India and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization also are taking part.
“Cooperative Cope Thunder will allow us to sharpen air combat skills, exchange air operations tactics and promote close relations among air forces and nations,” said Lt. Col. David Ennis, commander of Detachment 1 of Elmendorf’s 353rd Combat Training Squadron.
Ennis said Japanese F-15 pilots will fly defensive counter air missions as a bilateral partner.
“They will not directly participate together with forces of other nations, which will be flying offensive counter air missions during the exercise,” he said.
Almost 1,700 people — about 1,000 U.S. servicemembers and 700 foreign troops — are participating in the exercise.
The exercise marked the first-ever deployment of JASDF F-15J’s to North America. Japan also deployed an E-767 Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft, three C-130 cargo transports and a Stinger missile team.
A senior Japanese officer said the training the F-15J pilots — the core of Japan’s air defense system — gain at the exercise will be extremely valuable.
“Our participation in Alaska allows greater opportunities for our units to improve tactical skills and increases our ability to work within our bilateral relationship,” said Col. Moritaka Noguchi, 2nd Air Wing Flight Group commander from Chitose Air Base on Hokkaido.