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US, Japan Kick Off 10-Day Tabletop Exercise That Includes Australia for First Time

CAMP ASAKA, Japan — More than 6,000 soldiers from the U.S. Army and Japan Ground Self-Defense Force gathered throughout Japan on Monday to begin 10 days of command-and-control training.

Yama Sakura, which runs through Dec. 13, is an annual tabletop exercise that aims to prepare the nations’ ground forces to work together against an invading enemy force, or any other crisis or contingency, according to I Corps spokesman Capt. Angelo Mejia.

The training involves theoretical scenarios rather than troops and equipment in the field, he told Stars and Stripes after Monday’s opening ceremony at Camp Asaka in Tokyo.

Around 300 U.S. and Japanese troops stood in formation to hear from their commanders. Similar ceremonies took place at other exercise spots in Japan, including in Hokkaido, Miyagi and Kanagawa prefectures.

“The challenges of today are continually evolving,” Lt. Gen. Ryoji Takemoto, commander of Japan’s Ground Component Command, told the troops. “Let’s work together for victory.”

They were joined by 30 soldiers from Australia, which had only observed past Yama Sakura drills. About 200 Australians are participating in the overall exercise.

“This is the first year that they are full participants in one of the largest and most complex command-post exercises in the Indo-Pacific,” I Corps commander Lt. Gen. Xavier Brunson said during the ceremony.

Troops will “test, develop and refine” their strategies for working together and coordinating operations by air, land and sea, he told those assembled in the camp’s courtyard.

“Through your shared vision and by working together, we can all ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific,” he said.

Yama Sakura challenges the staff sections within a command, Mejia said.

“When anything happens around the world and the military is called up to execute a mission, the staff side of things work on problems like these,” he said.

The primary emphasis will be on coordination and communication between individual commands and the three nations’ militaries, Mejia said.

“Missions and scenarios are tracked virtually while simulated adversaries react to our operations,” he added.

Yama Sakura is the first in a series of four command-post drills that make up the preamble to Operation Pathways — U.S. Army Pacific’s method of connecting multiple drills — and sets the stage for larger field exercises, including Talisman Sabre in Australia, Cobra Gold in Thailand and Orient Shield in Japan.

“A command post establishes the physical communications hub for a division or higher to synchronize every function of warfighting across a battlefield which will eventually lead up to a warfighter exercise,” Mejia said.

Troops are participating in Yama Sakura from Joint Base Lewis-McCord, Wash., home of I Corps, and four bases in Japan: Camp Asaka in Tokyo; Camp Higashi-Chitose in Hokkaido prefecture; Camp Sendai in Miyagi prefecture; and the U.S. Army’s Camp Zama in Kanagawa prefecture.

Source : Stripes