|A volcano erupts on Hokkaido, and a massive earthquake hits during evacuation efforts. How will Japan and the U.S. military respond? The two countries plotted strategy and organized their resources in the annual Yama Sakura exercise that ended Thursday.
Held at Camp Sendai in northern Honshu, the Yama Sakura exercise drew more than 1,700 active-duty military members and reservists from Japan and the United States, according to Maj. Gen. Alan D. Johnson, U.S. Army Japan commander.
The 10-day exercise was sponsored by U.S. Army Japan and the Japan Self-Defense Force Ground Staff Office, and simulated on computers. Because of the war on terrorism and heightened U.S. security, fewer GIs participated in this year’s exercise, Johnson said, "but it wasn’t significantly less. It shows a commitment on the part of Japan’s ally, the United States, to abide by and support the defense treaty between the two countries, even in light of all the commitments that are currently on the U.S. military," Johnson said.
This year, the exercise focused on more real-life scenarios, such as humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and noncombat evacuation, Johnson said.
Challenges inherent in most bilateral relationships are raised during the exercise, Johnson said. "There are the language problems, and the doctrinal problems between the two armies," he said. "Many of the things that were exercised on this Yama Sakura highlighted some of the political and legal constraints that the [Ground Self-Defense Force] operates under."
Limitations were discovered in the theater missile-defense warning system, and recommendations for improvement were given to Japan’s GSDF, Johnson said. "Just the way they’re wired as an army, it made it very difficult to provide some of the warning we thought was necessary" to both military and civilians in an impending missile attack on Japan, he said.
More than 5,000 Japanese participated in the second largest exercise sponsored by the U.S. Army in the Pacific, Johnson said.
Lt. Gen. Mitsuo Nonaka, commanding general of the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force, northeastern army, praised the exercise’s objective.
Nonaka said that Yama Sakura is a "significant part of a series of bilateral exercises in which we work shoulder-to-shoulder and enlighten each other to accomplish the mission. Ultimately, it leads us to our common objective of securing peace and stability in Japan and in the region."