IWAKUNI, Japan – Marine Aircraft Group 12’s Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 242 pilots launched four F/A-18D Hornet jets from the runway here May 19 to conduct ongoing simulated air-to-air combat training with elements of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force. VMFA(AW)-242 wrapped up its third week of the newly implemented air to-air training with the Western Air Defense Force 8th Air Wing’s F-15J 304th and F-2A 6th JASDF Tactical Fighter Squadrons from Tsuiki Air Base.
“What we are developing is a consistent air-to-air regime to train with,” said Capt. Frederick Gallup, a VMFA(AW)-242 pilot. “It’s two countries developing good working relationships with each other as well as getting good training and making assets available for both parties.”
U.S. Hornet squadrons usually only conduct this type of training during annual large-scale exercises, but both U.S. and Japanese forces agreed more could be done to enhance and strengthen communication between the two allies.
Keen Sword 2011, conducted Dec. 3-10, 2010; marked the 10th combined-bilateral training exercise conducted between U.S. military forces and Japan Self-Defense Forces since 1986 and capped the 50th anniversary of the Japan-U.S alliance.
VMFA(AW)-242 and JASDF decided together to up the ante on their parts by implementing ongoing air-to-air training throughout the year to further improve relations and tighten military cohesion.
“During Keen Sword, we had two Japanese JASDF officers here for two weeks, so we were able to build a relationship with them,” said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Ertwine, VMFA(AW)-242 executive officer. “We started talking to them about potentially working together more often. They told us they thought it was a great idea.”
Planning came full circle when MAG-12 and VMFA(AW)-242 command elements visited JASDF counterparts at Tsuiki AB in March. Command elements exchanged proposals and plans of operations and intended to meet both Marine Corps and JASDF training requirements.
“It’s the first time in many years we have essentially integrated unit-level training between the squadrons,” said Capt. Bijan Derakhshan, VMFA(AW)-242 operations officer. “It’s essentially dissimilar air combat tactics so we can get used to training against a platform different from our own to make us more well-rounded.”
U.S. Marines presented a crawl, walk, run analogy with a plan to begin small-scale operations, which would eventually become more complex over time.
“We went down to Tsuiki AB and gave a presentation on what we would like to accomplish with them and how we would like to build a long-term relationship with Tsuiki AB,” said Ertwine.
The simulated training is carried out much like badguys verses goodguys where U.S. and Japan forces alternate roles.
Training together also serves as an advantage for both forces because the aircraft can be told apart.
“When we go out and fight each other all the time and it is Hornets versus Hornets, you can’t really tell who is the good-guy and who is
the bad-guy,” said Ertwine. “Now we have, for example, two F-15s and two Hornets. Everybody knows who is the good guy and who the bad guy is.”
VMFA(AW)-242 and JASDF brief prior to carrying out the training
and debrief to exchange feedback and ensure the mission was
accomplished. Meetings consist of distant correspondence as
well as face-to-face interaction to establish effective communication
and a complete understanding of the common mission.
Conducting ongoing simulated air-to-air training with the JASDF this way is also beneficial for VMFA(AW)-242 logistically and administratively. Operating right out of Iwakuni means less
maintenance and administrative coordinating.
“It’s been very important for us to do this because we now do not have to fly to Kadena, fight with the U.S. Air Force F-16s and fly home for the night,” said Ertwine. “We can just fly right out of Iwakuni, meet up with the JASDF in their training area and land right back here. It’s very simple for us and allows us to build a relationship with them.” Communication has continued to be a significant element after the training sessions have been conducted and when it is time for Marines and JASDF to exchange feedback.
Ertwine said it can be tricky because the different sides have different rules on how to implement aspects of training, but working together will help them to overcome.
“We are trying to find a common working relationship where we all agree to what the training rules are,” said Ertwine. “We’re doing a good job and it has been very successful so far.”
The simulated air-to-air operations are still in the infancy stages as Marines and JASDF continue to communicate, work together and establish future training goals.