US, Japanese troops team up for first-ever Northern Viper exercise
HOKUDAIEN, Japan — Marine Corps light-armored vehicles and Japanese tanks rolled across the island of Hokkaido on Wednesday during drills designed to hone the allies’ ability to fight side by side in wartime.
The action was part of the inaugural Northern Viper, a joint live-fire exercise running through Aug. 28 that aims to get Marines and Japan Ground Self-Defense Force troops working together in an unfamiliar environment on Japan’s northernmost island, a Marine Corps statement said. More than 2,000 Marines and about 1,500 JGSDF personnel are taking part in the drills.
The training “exposes the Marines to alternate training venues, and it familiarizes a wider audience in Japan with the contributions and capabilities of the Marines to the defense of Japan and regional peace and security,” the statement added.
At the Hokudaien exercise area, participants conducted live-fire drills with Japanese and U.S. armor, providing cover for ground troops firing on range targets. The training was designed to show the “lethality of both [forces’] equipment,” said Capt. Cody Hardenburgh, 31, Light Armored Vehicle Company commander, Combat Assault Battalion, forward deployed to 3rd Marine Division as part of the Unit Deployment Program.
Later, on another part Hokkaido, members of the 3rd Marine Division plan to fire the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS, for the first time in Japan. The Marines are also scheduled to train with M-777 howitzers and 81mm mortars brought from Okinawa by U.S. C-130 cargo planes and naval ships.
Those weapons have seen plenty of action recently against the Islamic State in Iraq. Two 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers were killed there Sunday when a 155mm round exploded prematurely as the soldiers conducted strikes using an M-777 on the militants.
On Friday, the Marines will fly up to six MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft over Hokkaido. UH-1 Huey and AH-1Z Cobra helicopters are also participating in the exercise, the Marines said.
The aircraft are part of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, which is doing live-fire drills alongside Japan’s 11th Brigade during the three-week exercise.
The Marines decided to move forward with their plan to involve Ospreys in the drills despite requests from Japanese officials to ground the controversial helicopter-plane hybrid in the wake of a deadly crash this month off Australia’s eastern coast.
“The U.S. military plans to use MV-22 Ospreys in Exercise Northern Viper,” Marine officials told Stars and Stripes last week. “We have confirmed the safety of the MV-22 Osprey and we will continue to participate in exercises and operations throughout Japan.”