Waters South of Japan - Directed by the commander of U.S. Forces Japan and the Chief of Staff of the Japan Joint Staff, KS17 is the latest in a series of joint and bilateral field training exercises since 1986 involving U.S. military and Japanese Self Defense Force (JSDF) personnel designed to increase combat readiness and interoperability of the Japan-U.S. alliance.
Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) Rear Adm. Tatsuya Fukuda, commander, Escort Flotilla Four, and six JMSDF officers embarked USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) for the duration of the exercise. The embarked JMSDF personnel worked closely with Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 15 on the watchfloor aboard Ronald Reagan to take charge of the 10 U.S. and JMSDF surface forces participating in the exercise.
"We came aboard Reagan for two reasons," said Rear Adm. Fukuda. "To coordinate and seamlessly liaison with DESRON 15 for KS17 events, and, more importantly, to learn firsthand the latest maritime tactics and procedures. The United States always has the most cutting edge technology and command and control structures; it is good to learn from our ally."
Lt. Naoki Saito, a JMSDF intelligence and communications officer, said, "Face to face is the easiest way for mutual understanding between our forces. Email and other electronic communication can lead to misunderstandings and are not as good for operations. I am glad to be here to work through scenarios together."
The embarked JMSDF staff members stood watch alongside DESRON 15 officers for the duration of the exercise.
"During the surface and air exercise scenarios, the Japanese liaison officers worked side by side with us," said Lt. Chris Plappert, Air Operations officer of DESRON 15. "Not only is it fun to work through the scenarios together, but it allows us to think through issues better and see different ways to attack problems. The Japanese bring a keen attention to detail and exhaustive work ethic to the fight. Their contributions on the watch floor really enabled the success of KS17 missions."
Squadrons from Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 5 have been participating in multiple large force employment exercises with U.S. Air Force (USAF) and Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) units during Keen Sword 2017. The exercises required a large amount of planning and coordination on the ground at Kadena, Air Force Base, at sea aboard Ronald Reagan, and in the air in the local operating areas.
Most of the missions have involved CVW-5 F/A-18 Super Hornets and E-2C Hawkeyes operating with USAF F-15 Eagles and JASDF Mitsubishi F-15s. The exercise has been a unique opportunity to not only train with dissimilar aircraft, but also to enhance interoperability in joint and multinational operations.
"This bilateral, biennial, exercise gives the strike group the opportunity to increase our proficiency when it comes to working with our Japan Self-Defense Force allies," said Rear Admiral Charles Williams, commander Task Force (CTF) 70 and Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 5. "Training consistently with each other year in and year out allows us to gather our forces and operate seamlessly, removing barriers that might exist otherwise."
"Keen Sword is an important exercise to strengthen the ties between the JMSDF and U.S. Navy. Stronger ties directly contribute to our ability to work together and continue our important partnership," said Fukuda.
Exercises such as Keen Sword provide a critical field training environment for enhancing mutual understanding of each country's tactics, communication protocols, procedures, and general interoperability.