Photo Information

A member of the Japan Ground Self Defense Force looks out the back of a CH-47JA Chinook helicopter during exercise Forest Light Eastern Army at Camp Soumagahara, Gunma Prefecture, Japan, Dec. 9.

Photo by Sgt. Branden Bourque

Forest Light 21

28 Dec 2020 | Lance Cpl. Gerardo Cano The Official United States Marine Corps Public Website

To end the crazy year that is 2020 strong, the U.S. Marines with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing participated in the bilateral exercise Forest Light with Japan Ground Self-Defense Force December 3 to December 21, 2020.

Forest Light is an exercise that occurs annually or semi-annually between the Marines and JGSDF that rotates through the five JGSDF Army units to strengthen cooperation and bilateral operations. This iteration of Forest Light was designed to increase the partnership between the Marines and the JGSDF Eastern Army, with focus on offensive and defensive air mobile field training.

VMM-265 was the Air Combat Element for the exercise, supporting with six MV-22B Osprey’s, aircrews, maintainers and staff support. VMM-265 provided general support to 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division and aviation training to the JGSDF. In addition, Marine Wing Communication Squadron 18 detachment provided radio support, Marine Air Control Squadron 4 detachment provided a Tower Liaison Officer and a weather forecaster, and Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 36 detachment assisted with aircraft maintenance.

The Japan Self-Defense Force is activating their own V-22 Osprey squadron. The V-22 will provide the unique capabilities of vertical take-off and landing and long distance travel at high speeds, making it an advantageous aircraft in austere environments.

“Bringing MV-22B’s to these exercises allows the JGSDF soldiers to gain exposure to these aircraft while the Japanese squadrons are training their pilots and crew chiefs.” said Maj. Joshua Daly, MV-22B Osprey pilot, Operations Officer for VMM-265.

Marine Medium Tiltrotor Training Squadron 204 has trained the initial JGSDF instructor cadre and those pilots are training the remaining pilots for the JGSDF V-22s in Japan. The JGSDF began V-22 flight operations in Kisarazu Air Field Nov. 6 2020, marking the first international partner to fly V-22’s.

“Bringing MV-22B’s to these exercises allows the JGSDF soldiers to gain exposure to these aircraft while the Japanese squadrons are training their pilots and crew chiefs.” Maj. Joshua Daly, MV-22B Osprey pilot

“I look forward to when USMC MV-22s, USAF CV-22s, and JGSDF V-22s conduct flight operations together.” said Daly

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, added health measures were implemented to help stop the spread of the virus, which has limited valuable training exercises between the Marines and JGSDF not based on the island of Okinawa. In preparation for these exercises, the Japanese Defense Bureau notifies local residents that U.S. aircraft and Marines will be training in the area.

“Off-island training gives aircrew valuable exposure to different low altitude training routes and landing zones on mainland Japan.” said Daly, “Additionally, participating in bilateral exercises builds partnership and integration with our allies and teaches members from both militaries how the other side does things.”

Participating on mainland Japan gives the air crew and pilots of VMM-265 access to different landscape geography unavailable in Okinawa, increasing the need for quick thinking and decision making.

“While these training areas are often surrounded by populated areas, it does allow our aircrews to plan to land at new and different landing zones.” said Daly, “It also challenges squadron planners as they work through the logistics preparations to operate from expeditionary bases and determine the most efficient way to get parts for day-to-day aircraft maintenance.”

Forest Light is designed to build towards a final exercise, the functional training and comprehensive training phase. The functional training phase includes events such as fast roping, formation flight with two JGSDF CH-47JA Chinooks and two MV-22B Ospreys, and a JGSDF distinguished visitor exposure flight. VMM-265 also conducted valuable unit level training during Forest Light, including low-altitude flight, night training and flight leadership events.

“It has been nice working with our aviation counterparts in the Eastern Army and getting to fly around this area of Japan. The JGSDF enjoyed working with the Marines from V3/8 and our Marines from VMM-265.” said Daly, “While the JGSDF V-22 squadron is still standing up, the 12th Helicopter unit was thankful to work with MV-22s to see their capabilities before the JGSDF aircraft start flying their soldiers.”