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United States Aids Japan's Quest for Joint Operability

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

TOKYO, Aug. 5, 1996 – How well would U.S. and Japanese forces work together in battle? How do the Japan self-defense forces measure up in joint operability? If conflict occurred, how would Japanese leaders respond to requests for military support?

U.S.-Japan field and command post exercises, held in alternating years, test these capabilities. The exercises help U.S. Forces Japan leaders evaluate Japanese military capabilities, which they generally praise. "Overall," said Air Force Col. Tom Boyd, U.S. Forces Japan senior spokesman, "the self-defense forces are well-trained, well-equipped and well-led."

Japanese law limits the military's clout, however, and Boyd said an understanding of this limitation is essential to American military leaders. "The Japan Defense Agency [Japan's DoD equivalent] isn't a 'cabinet-level' department," he explained. "Instead, it falls under the ministry of foreign affairs, which must approve any bilateral operations."

Military officials of both nations called the most recent bilateral exercise, Keen Edge '96, an eye opener. The exercise exposed Japanese commanders to the power of computer simulation. Two software packages -- Joint Theater Level Simulation and Corps Battle Simulation -- trained commanders and their staffs in interactive crisis action planning and execution.

Comprehensive data bases allowed exercise participants to simulate more than 1 million troops in combat, said Air Force Col. Bruce Wright, U.S. Forces Japan director of operations. Battle staff members used the same communication lines they would use during real conflict, but they didn't always use them effectively, Wright said.

"This exercise tested very limited resource operations," added Wright, whose resources as an F-16 squadron commander during Desert Storm were nearly unlimited. "We looked at air support in the context of two major regional conflicts and not having unlimited [U.S.] forces available. It created coordination challenges, for example, Army requests for air support. What if that support isn't available? What do we do then?"

The obvious answer, Wright implied, is host nation -- in this case, Japan -- support. To test Japan's response, U.S. Embassy staff coordinated a request for support through the ministry of foreign affairs, Wright explained.

"We hope we can handle the wide spectrum of military operational decisions required," he said. "That's our goal, and I think we made a great step forward with Keen Edge. We made some mistakes, but we learned a lot about each other, too."

Maj. Gen. Toshikatsu Yamaguchi, Japan Defense Agency director of operations, praised the use of computer simulation for the exercise. "The Japan self-defense forces generally were not familiar with conducting command post exercises using computer simulations," Yamaguchi said. "However, the U.S. forces provided us a good opportunity to learn."

Exercising with the United States also helps the Japanese forces get comfortable with the concept of bilateral military actions, Yamaguchi said. "Our respective air, ground and maritime self-defense forces have achieved a high level of skills in tactics," he said, "but in terms of joint operations, we are far behind the United States. Conducting joint bilateral exercises is vital to improving our capability."

The Japan Defense Agency will introduce its own computer simulation when it opens a new national command center in 2001. "We have been studying what capabilities our simulations should provide," Yamaguchi said, adding the Japanese system must be compatible with U.S. Forces Japan simulation software. "This national system will interface with the respective self-defense forces as well as the U.S. Forces Japan."

Using many of the same weapon systems further aids interoperability between the two nations, Yamaguchi said. "We have very capable weapon systems, mostly introduced to us by [the United States]," he said. These weapons include the F-15 fighter aircraft, airborne warning and control system aircraft, Aegis missile system and P-3C maritime patrol aircraft. In many cases, the United States has licensed Japanese industry to build the weapon systems according to American specifications, U.S. Forces Japan officials added.

Despite a traditional unwillingness to extend military activities beyond its borders, Japan hasn't completely ignored the world's hot spots. "They have the potential to do more in humanitarian assistance and peacekeeping operations," Boyd said. "They're involved in some now (with U.N. forces in the Golan Heights, for example)."

To determine what future roles their forces should perform, Japanese leaders are reviewing defense guidelines developed in the 1970s. The United States isn't involved in the debate, Boyd said, but thinks it's important.

"The Japan self-defense forces are a national asset," Boyd added. "They learn a lot from our training activities, but they also bring a lot to those activities. This relationship has been getting stronger over the last several years, and it's a real important part of the overall relationship between the United States and Japan."

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