A Japan Self-Defense Force Landing Craft approaches the shore of San Clemente Island, Calif., during exercise Dawn Blitz. (US Navy)
WASHINGTON — At some point between June 11 and June 28, a US Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey will, for the first time, land on the deck of a Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force ship as part of a major amphibious exercise between the US, Japan and regional allies.
Known as Dawn Blitz 2013, the amphibious assault war game off the southern California coast involves about 1,000 Japanese soldiers, three Japanese warships and assorted attack and cargo helicopters, which will team with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) and the US Navy’s Expeditionary Strike Group 3. The Marines also are bringing three squadrons of Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft and a handful of F/A-18 fighter jets to the scrum.
Canada and New Zealand each sent company-size elements to take part in the exercise, with observers from Australia, Mexico, Chile, Colombia and Peru in attendance as well.
So much representation from Canada and Latin American partners might seem out of synch with a Pacific-based amphibious scenario. But Brig. Gen. John Broadmeadow, commander of the 1st MEB, told reporters June 13 that partnerships like this are likely to become the norm.
“We are hitting a lot of [US Southern Command’s] objectives” in the exercise, he said. “This isn’t a one-way partnership between us and the Japanese; this is a broad coalition that looks at our pivot to the Pacific from a more global perspective, and that our South American partners are as important in that coalition as our traditional Pacific partners.”
US forces assigned to Southern Command, or SOUTHCOM, cover the Caribbean Sea and Latin America south of Mexico.
The Marine Corps is using the exercise as another way to get “back to the sea” after 12 years of fighting in the deserts and mountains of the Middle East, while imparting its knowledge of amphibious operations to partner nations that lack that capability.
“If you want to use the sea as a maneuver space and gain a positional advantage … that type of graduate-level amphib work takes years to develop,” Broadmeadow said.
For the first time, Japanese troops will plan and conduct ship-to-shore assaults both in partnership with Marine units and alone, while taking part in land operations with their Canadian and New Zealand counterparts.
Broadmeadow cautioned that the scenarios are not meant to represent any current threat from North Korea or any other specific hot spot.
As for the Osprey operations, the Japanese asked to see the MV-22 used in a humanitarian scenario, in which casualties are brought from shore to ship. So the birds will take off from shore before settling on the flight decks of the Japanese ships Shimokita and Hyuga.
Like every other DoD activity, the exercise has been bitten by budgetary concerns.
“We haven’t put the numbers of ships into the exercise as we originally envisioned,” Broadmeadow admitted. But he said he is still confident that the event is big enough and dynamic enough to benefit partner nations and his Marines.