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Okinawa Marines, JASDF pilots take to the skies

Date Posted: 2005-09-26

NAHA AIR BASE, OKINAWA, Japan — Eight Japan Air Self-Defense Force pilots and four Marine Corps pilots flew skirmishes together for the first time Sept. 7-9 in the skies above Okinawa.

The JASDF pilots were with 302nd Fighter Squadron, 83rd Air Wing, and the Marine pilots were with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 312, Marine Aircraft Group 12, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing.

The skirmish training was unique in many ways, not the least of which was the way the training was initiated. Pilots from the JASDF and VMFA-312 met out in town in Japan by chance, according to Capt. Sam P. Bluntzer, unit information officer for VMFA-312. The idea for a bilateral training rose from that meeting and was brought into fruition several months later.

“As far as I know, this is the first time our unit has worked with Japanese forces,” Bluntzer said.

Pilots from the JASDF and VMFA-312 did more than train together. The units played host to each other, touring Naha

Air Base, home of the 302nd, and Kadena, current home of VMFA-312. Lt. Col. Douglas A. Denn, commanding officer of VMFA-312, believes that this new training will be beneficial for all parties involved.

“The training is fun for the Marines,” said Denn. “It is also a good cultural exchange and excellent training,” Denn said.

According to Denn, there were many reasons for the training event.

“First, the Marines are getting rare, bilateral training here,” Denn said. “Secondly, it gives us all the opportunity to interact with the host nation. And finally, it (exposes) our pilots (to) dissimilar aircraft.”

Denn was especially excited about the opportunity to work with the JASDF’s F-4EJ Phantoms.

“Every time you fly against a dissimilar aircraft, it increases your professional aviator and pilot skills,” he said. “We used to fly those planes. It’s a great opportunity to fly against them.”

During the skirmishes, pilots flew two-on-two and two-on-one maneuvers. The 302nd launched from Naha Air Base, and VMFA-312 launched from Kadena to meet in the airspace over Okinawa. Skirmishes lasted no more than fifteen minutes after take-off, but the pilots flew several scenarios in that time.

Although no actual weapons were used, the pilots engaged using radars and simulated weapons to intercept their targets. The different scenarios were used to practice aerial combat, reinforce maneuvering ability, and to practice employment of both long-range and short-range weaponry.

“We ran intercepts against each other, practicing weapon use and tactics,” Denn said. “We also eventually got into visual engagements or ‘dog fights.’”

To avoid damage to personnel and aircraft, the rules of engagement were discussed in depth before the training actually began.

“The rules are very structured,” Denn said. “We want to minimize the risk of midair collisions. We are in constant contact with intercept controllers and with each other using visual contact as well as radar and radio communication.”

By continuing training like this, VMFA-312 hopes to keep its combat skills sharpened.

“It is vital that we continue to do training like this,” Denn said. “In the event that we go into combat, we must be effective the first time. Training like this helps keep us poised to support the Corps when we’re called.”

Currently, the units have no plans to train together again, although both expressed interest in furthering the newfound relationship.

The JASDF maintains 24 F-4EJ Phantom fighters in the 302nd at Camp Naha in Naha City, the prefectural capital. The base is located next to Naha International Airport.

VMFA-312 is based out of Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, S.C. The unit is currently deployed under the Unit Deployment Program to Marine Air Group 12, and is stationed at MCAS Iwakuni, Japan.

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