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Members of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 314 and Japan Air Self-Defense pose for a photo in front of an F/A-18A and two F-15s at Komatsu Air Base, Japan, during the Komatsu Aviation Training Relocation exercise March 17, 2016. VMFA-314, home based out of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, San Diego, temporarily deployed to MCAS Iwakuni for a six month rotation with the unit deployment program, is forward deployed to Komatsu, Japan for the ATR.

Photo by Cpl. Nicole Zurbrugg

Black Knights fly beak-to-beak with Japanese aviators

18 Mar 2016 | Cpl. Nicole Zurbrugg The Official United States Marine Corps Public Website

Marines with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 314 executed dissimilar air combat training and bilateral tactical mission training during the Komatsu Aviation Training Relocation exercise at Komatsu Air Base, Japan, March 7-18, 2016.

Komatsu ATR is a dissimilar air combat training exercise allowing pilots with diverse aircraft to simulate aerial warfare and execute basic fighter maneuvers, aircraft tactical intercepts and offensive-defensive counter air missions in preparation for real wartime situations.

VMFA-314, known as the “Black Knights,” trained with Japan Air Self-Defense Force to execute theater security cooperation and increase operational readiness for the U.S. and Japanese forces. The squadron is home based at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, San Diego, and forward deployed to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan with the unit deployment program.

“ATRs are an important part of our training because it allows us to establish relationships and understand the strengths and weaknesses on both the U.S and Japanese side,” said Lt. Col. Gregory A. McGuire, commanding officer of VMFA-314. “It’s never a good idea to show up to a fight without understanding what your partner or opponent is capable of.”

JASDF flew alongside VMFA314’s F/A-18A Hornets with the F-15 Eagle presenting the squadrons with an opportunity to practice offensive and defensive basic fighter maneuvers, or “dogfighting,” and air-to-air combat training against different aircraft.

“The F-15 is a much larger aircraft with a more powerful engine and bigger fuel tanks,” said Capt. Joshua Martin, a pilot with VMFA-314. “There are certain aspects of these flights where the JASDF have a huge advantage and there are areas where we are at an advantage.”

Training with another squadron allows more aircraft to be in the air to provide both “red air” and “blue air” roles. Red air role players, or the threat aircraft, act as training aids to assist blue air, or allies, in overcoming the threat. 

By exploiting each other’s strengths and weaknesses, both the U.S. and Japanese pilots can learn from one another and be prepared for real world situations.

“This is my first ATR,” said Martin. “I’m relatively new to the squadron so going out and finding a Japanese F-15 pilot waiting for me was interesting, but really cool. Overcoming the language barrier and getting used to flying in this weather made it somewhat challenging, but hopefully we’re both learning and teaching one another during this training.”

Despite heavy clouds, rain and cold weather, VMFA-314 and JASDF pilots successfully carried out every training mission. The diverse climate helped familiarize the pilots with their aircraft and how to overcome challenges as they arose. 

“Coming from San Diego, our pilots are not used to operating in the colder climate of Komatsu,” said McGuire. “But getting used to training in a foreign location and working with new people gives the Marines confidence they can go anywhere and do anything. Despite the cultural differences and language barriers, we learned that deep down we’re [U.S. and Japanese pilots] all the same at heart. We laugh at the same things, love to fly and fight against each other.”

The ATR program better prepares U.S. and Japan forces to work together in the future while continuing to enhance combined interoperability, increase combat readiness, and build integral relationships with the host nation.

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