HOKKAIDO, Japan -- Marines with Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 224, Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 12, and Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron traveled from Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, to participate in the Chitose Aviation Training Relocation exercise at Chitose Air Base, Japan, Jan. 12-22, 2016.
VMFA (AW)-224, also known as the “Fighting Bengals,” embarked as the primary squadron to conduct dissimilar air combat training alongside and against the Japan Air Self-Defense Force to further support combined interoperability and Pacific theater security cooperation.
“We have a need to practice with other aircraft that are not F/A-18D Hornets,” said Lt. Col. Michael P. Shand, commanding officer of VMFA-224. “Chitose ATR gives us an air-to-air training opportunity, and since we have several different generations of aircrew in the squadron, for some this is their first deployment.”
Many of the U.S. pilots fought against dissimilar aircraft for their first time. The JASDF’s F-15J/DJ Eagles encompass different performance characteristics, forcing the Fighting Bengals to maneuver their aircraft in a different fashion.
“We learn new and exciting things … every time we work with a foreign military,” said Shand. “There are only so many ways to operate a fighter squadron, and we all do it a similar way, further building trust and confidence in any future endeavors we might share.”
As a result of the Defense Policy Review Initiative, the ATR program began in 2007 to increase operational readiness of U.S. and Japan forces, provide sharpened bilateral interoperability and reduce noise obtrusion in local communities by distributing the training around Japan.
The dispersion of U.S. forces’ jet-fighter training from Misawa Air Base, MCAS Iwakuni and Kadena Air Base to six other JASDF bases assists in achieving these goals, further highlighting the commitment to being better neighbors and to mitigating the U.S. foot print to local communities.
“Different venues offer different training opportunities,” said Shand. “The ATR program allows us to exchange better practices and also gives us an opportunity to build camaraderie with JASDF members. I hope the Japanese community recognizes our effort to reduce the impact on surrounding areas as well. We have a job to do and training to accomplish, but we don’t want to come here and be bad guests. We are aware of their concerns and work hard to accommodate them while also meeting our objectives. I hope they recognize that, because our relationship with the Japanese people is very important to us.”
Tsuiki, Nyutabaru, Hyakuri, Chitose, Komatsu and Misawa Air Bases are among the six mainland Japan locations utilized for ATR exercises, and as of 2011, the program now includes territories of Guam and the Mariana Islands.
“I want to see the ATR program continue and I hope the U.S.-Japan alliance deepens through the facilitation of this training,” said Maj. Atsuya Shimatani, chief of public relations office, administrative department for JASDF. “I think this unique training opportunity is very good and I hope we can get more opportunities to train with the U.S. forces.”
As previously agreed upon between the government of Japan and U.S. Department of Defense within Japan, ATR implementation throughout these six locations significantly improves the understanding of U.S. and Japan military tactics and capabilities, further enhancing our working relationship and overall alliance.
“The ATR exercise is very good,” said Shimatani. “It helps in developing the bilateral training and affects the relationship between both nations. We are doing well and our relations are growing.”
Bilateral engagements such as Chitose ATR have assisted the two nations form one of the world’s strongest alliances to maintain peace and stability in the region, while building relationships to facilitate vital coordination in training and possible real world events.
“I believe the ATR Program has strengthened over time and it gives UDP units an opportunity to strengthen and sharpen their skills as well,” said Shand. “Overall, this will continue to increase the readiness of Marine combat units across the theater.”