U.S.-Japan exercise Yama Sakura to focus on unit training objectives
CAMP ZAMA, Japan — It’s one part sushi and one part apple pie.
U.S. Army Japan and their Japanese counterparts are gearing up for their annual bilateral exercise, Yama Sakura, taking place later this month.
Troops from the Army’s I Corps, based at Fort Lewis, Wash., and other locations, will work with members of Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force at the JGSDF’s Highashi-Chitose base in Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island.
Lt. Col. John Baker, the chief of USARJ’s Planning and Exercise Division, said the exercise takes the training objectives of I Corps and integrates them into a scenario.
He added that I Corps leaders take their mission-essential task list and decide what elements they want to work on. USARJ will act as the exercises’ “executive agent,” setting up the command post and hosting the exercise.
“None of our forces actually participate,” Baker said. “We bring the players together.”
Yama Sakura started out as a “board game” in 1982, Baker said. As technology evolved, however, the exercise became more expansive, adding network linkups with several remote locations to coordinate. Starting in the early 1990s, computers were introduced to help run the exercise.
This year’s Yama Sakura is incorporating an Air Force exercise called Fuji, being run out of Yokota Air Base. Fuji is a similar training operation between the Air Force and the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force.
“We’re fully embedded with the Air Force” and plan on using actions occurring in Fuji to help define conditions during the Army exercise, Baker said.
“Our plan is to keep a very robust airplay in the exercise,” he said.
Baker said these changes help USARJ meet the training needs of both armies, which is good, because battle doctrine has changed considerably.
“As the world evolves, we’re seeing a different type of opposition force. It’s not a classic OPFOR — they’re unpredictable,” he said.
This new doctrine, Baker said, is being practiced in the United States in what’s known as a contemporary operating environment. The Japanese forces will be introduced to some of the concepts by their American counterparts during this year’s exercise.
Baker said “there’s no linkage whatsoever” to current events, such as the North Korea situation, and the scenario laid out for Yama Sakura.
The exercise “doesn’t focus on current events … rather, we concentrate on unit training objectives,” Baker said. “It’s a purely notional scenario used to incorporate their training objectives. If that’s what they want to improve, it’s put into the scenario.
“They look at their needs and tell us what they want, then we incorporate it into the exercise.”
Maj. Randy Cephus, a USARJ spokesman, said these tasks usually revolve around “deploying and maintaining a force in the field, and conducting rear-area operations,” such as support for forces and logistics.
“A key difference Yama Sakura has over other exercises is it’s bilateral,” Baker said. “A sharing of cultural ideas is an essential part of it. This type of training creates long-lasting relationships that really do a lot to foster ties between our two countries.
“It’s really the overtone for the exercise.”