Japan’s new marine unit gets a workout during Talisman Sabre drills Down Under
By SETH ROBSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 24, 2019
BOWEN, Australia — U.S. troops in Australia for this month’s Talisman Sabre exercise have been working alongside Japan’s newly formed Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade, a force modeled after the U.S. Marine Corps and charged with defending outer islands.
On Tuesday, members of the Japanese amphibious unit landed in a CH-47 Chinook helicopter at an airfield in the coastal Queensland town of Bowen that had been secured by the Marines in a drill the day before.
Some Japanese troops joined the Marines in defensive positions while others set up communications equipment.
“They’re setting up a command operations center,” said Capt. Stewart Conor, 32, of Averill Park, N.Y., commander of the force securing the airfield — the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based Company A, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment.
The Japanese soldiers’ mission involved seizing another objective — a nearby sports complex, he said.
The presence of its troops in such a challenging, multinational exercise is evidence that Japan is making progress in its efforts to develop amphibious capability.
Members of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force began observing and participating in amphibious training with U.S. Marines on Okinawa in 2012.
The training, which was off limits to media, was part of a multiyear effort to develop amphibious capability that included new helicopter carriers and landing craft.
The buildup has taken place amid tensions in the East China Sea, where China has challenged Japan’s claim to the Senkaku Islands (known as Daioyu by the Chinese) and the nearby oil and gas resources.
Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Capt. Hiroshi Watanabe, who was on the ground at Bowen, said 300 out of the now 2,000-strong amphibious brigade are participating in Talisman Sabre.
The force transited north from Brisbane in a pair of warships, the JS Ise and JS Kunasaki before conducting an amphibious landing, he said.
“It’s a very good exercise to improve our skill level,” he added.
“We think interoperability between Japan and the U.S. will improve through this exercise,” Watanabe said, using a military buzzword describing the ability of one nation’s armed forces to use another country’s training methods and equipment. “Also, there is relationship building between Japan and Australia.”
Conor was on Okinawa from 2014 to 2017 and watched the Japanese amphibious capability grow in strength.
Troops from the Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade trained at Camp Pendleton earlier this year, said Conor, whose unit is part of Marine Rotational Force – Darwin in Australia’s Northern Territory this summer.
“It gives [the Japanese] the ability to respond within Japan’s island chain in a very rapid manner,” he said of the new force.
Marine Col. Matthew Sieber, an exchange officer who is helping the Australian army grow its own amphibious capability, said Talisman Sabre had put the Japanese troops a long way from their homeland.
“They are getting some great training in new training areas that they can’t get in Japan,” he said. “The number of repetitions they can get here in Australia is far more than they can do in Japan.”