Members of the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment train in Niigata prefecture, Japan, Dec. 5, 2020.

Members of the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment train in Niigata prefecture, Japan, Dec. 5, 2020. (U.S. Marine Corps)

One thousand Marines and Japanese soldiers will practice airborne assaults to capture “key maritime terrain” during a two-week exercise that kicked off Monday on Japan’s main island.

Five hundred members of the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., are working with 400 troops from the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force’s 30th Infantry Regiment, their commander, Lt. Col. Neil Berry, said in a telephone interview Sunday from Camp Fuji, outside Tokyo.

The Forest Light exercise — which includes about 100 Marines from the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing and six MV-22 Osprey tiltrotors attached to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265 — is going on at the Soumagahara and Sekiyama training areas in Gunma and Niigata prefecture, according to a Marine Corps statement Monday.

The troops will conduct air assaults in the Ospreys and Japanese CH-47 helicopters, according to the Marine battalion’s operations officer, Maj. Joshua White, also on the phone call.

“Typically, key maritime terrain (islands and coastal areas) is going to be tough to get to,” he said.

The training follows last month’s Keen Sword exercise that involved members of the Okinawa-based III Marine Expeditionary Force working with Japan’s Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade, a force modeled after the U.S. Marines and charged with defending outer islands, some of which are claimed by China.

During Keen Sword, the Marines and Japanese troops practiced amphibious landings on islands off the coast of Japan.

The training is going on 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.

It also comes as China is rapidly developing its own amphibious capabilities.

Since late last year, the Chinese navy has launched two Type 075 amphibious assault ships that are about the size of the USS Wasp; a third is reportedly due to join the fleet shortly.

The 3rd Battalion arrived on Okinawa for a six-month deployment in October, Berry said.

The Forest Light training on the mainland will include live fire, force-on-force drills and integrated command and control and fire support, he said.

The Marines and Japanese troops will practice attacking side by side and there will be scenarios where the Marines reinforce Japanese defenders, Berry said.

Fighting alongside someone who doesn’t speak the same language isn’t unusual for the Marines, he said.

“Over the last 20 years we’ve been doing it in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said the veteran of deployments to Afghanistan in 2005 and 2010.

“We are not dealing with Afghans with the JGSDF,” he said. “These guys are capable. They are lethal. We are going to learn some stuff from them.”

The Marines have integrated their management of the coronavirus with the Japanese, White said.

“I’ve been out there a couple of times and something I’ve always noticed is the attention to detail and cleanliness [of Japanese troops],” he said.

Forest Light concludes Dec. 17, according to the Marine Corps’ statement. Twitter: @SethRobson1

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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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