U.S. holds amphibious drills in Okinawa

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Seen via a night-vision scope, the sea surface comes into view beyond U.S. marines, poised on high ground to support landing troops who were later to come ashore. This photo was taken on Sunday at a training ground of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Camp Courtney in Uruma, Okinawa Prefecture.

The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps conducted a joint exercise, mobilizing about 10,000 personnel, at bases in Okinawa Prefecture and locations in the East China Sea from Feb. 3 through Feb. 7.

Taking part in the exercise, dubbed “Noble Fusion” and designed with the situation surrounding Taiwan in mind, were multiple elements of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps plus some elements of Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force and Maritime Self-Defense Force.

The following reportage is based on my observations as I accompanied the joint drill, which included distributed maritime operations and small-scale troop movements.

At around 8 p.m. on Feb. 6, a seaside area of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Camp Courtney in Uruma, Okinawa Prefecture, was cloaked in darkness. Yet, as I gazed through a night-vision scope toward the beach from a position on high ground, I could clearly see even the shapes of waves hundreds of meters away.

Meanwhile, the sound of helicopter rotors grew gradually louder. The choppers were AH-1Z attack helicopters, providing air support for units landing on the beach.

The instant the helicopters flew over my head, small rubber boats, being mobilized simultaneously, descended on the shore one after another from out of the darkness. As the landing troops came ashore, there were echoing sounds of gunfire. The smell of gunpowder floated in the air. Then I realized that the beach was covered with about 20 boats.

The premise of the exercise was to secure an operating base on a remote island.

A beach in the nearby town of Kin played the role of another remote island. The U.S. Navy’s Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) — a hovercraft to transport troops and equipment ashore — landed there from the sea, raising clouds of dust. Some of the troops it carried quickly deployed a unit of the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS).

The aim of the exercise was to practice distributing troops over multiple islands to secure key bases, including those for antiaircraft and anti-ship operations, resupply operations and information-gathering operations, for the purpose of blocking enemy ships and aircraft from advancing. The process is called “expeditionary advanced base operations.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Marines rappel from a helicopter onto the deck of the USS Miguel Keith during an exercise that simulated searching for enemies aboard the ship in this photo taken on Feb. 5 in waters near Okinawa Prefecture.

In envisioned Taiwan contingencies involving China, it is assumed that the U.S. forces will deploy troops in Japan’s Nansei Islands and in island groups in the South China Sea.

Brig. Gen. Kyle Ellison, deputy commanding general of the U.S. Marine Corps’ 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, said, “We have to provide critical capability sets to our joint force in an austere environment.”

He also said: “What we’re doing out here is about honing our skill sets, ensuring that if, heaven forbid, we have to increase from competition to crisis, that we would be ready. And we are.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun

In the exercise, the F-35B, the most advanced stealth fighter jet, and the transport aircraft Osprey repeatedly landed on and took off from the USS America, an amphibious assault ship based at the U.S. Navy base in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture.

In the waters near Okinawa Prefecture, a related exercise was conducted with marines who rappelled from helicopters onto the expeditionary mobile base USS Miguel Keith, searching for enemies aboard the ship and bringing them under control.