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U.S., Japan airmen join forces for bilateral exercise

Printer Friendly VersionPrinter Friendly VersionSend to a FriendSend to a FriendYOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan (AFNS) -- Airmen stationed in Japan and other locations around the world joined their Japanese counterparts and sister services to kick off the year's first bilateral exercise Jan. 22, here. The command post exercise, known as Keen Edge '10, runs until Jan. 27 and is designed to increase combat readiness and interoperability of U.S. forces and Japan Self-Defense Forces. Exercise participants practice responding to events ranging from noncombatant evacuations and force protection scenarios to integrated air and missile defense to enhance bilateral coordination and cooperation. "These exercises are invaluable to both U.S. forces and our Japanese partners in building common bonds of trust and understanding as we work together to accomplish exercise objectives," said Maj. Gen. Sam Angelella, the 5th Air Force vice commander and 13th AF deputy commander. "There's no doubt that the alliance between our two countries is strong; we just celebrated the 50th anniversary of the signing of the current security agreement. But Keen Edge is designed to display and enhance that strength as a means to deter aggression and maintain peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region." Hundreds of U.S. personnel are participating at locations throughout Japan and Hawaii, but the primary operating locations are at the U.S. Forces Japan headquarters here and 13th Air Force headquarters at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii. This year even the United States Pacific Command commander and his staff are participating. At Yokota AB, most of the Airmen are from 5th AF headquarters, 13th AF's permanent "forward element" in Japan called Det. 1, and augmentees from as far away as Langley AFB, Va. In addition, all three Air Force wings in Japan are participating. Det. 1 personnel make up most of the exercise's bilateral air component coordination element. The U.S. and Japanese airmen assigned to the BACCE serve as a linchpin between the two organizations that decide how to employ the airpower assigned to their respective countries; the air operations center at Hickam AFB and the combat operations center at Japan's air defense command headquarters at Fuchu Air Base. The BACCE ensures the decisions and directives between those two organizations are complementary. "Without the BACCE there wouldn't be a bilateral mechanism to do air coordination," said Col. Larry Bowers, the Det. 1 commander and BACCE deputy director. The BACCE concept is successful because of the inherent close cooperation that exists between the U.S. and Japan airmen. "We have a Japan Air Self-Defense Force airman sitting beside a U.S. Air Force Airman, so each position is literally bilateral," the colonel said. "That way we get inputs from both sides to make sure we're coordinating." Airmen assigned to 5th AF headquarters man the similarly named air component coordination element, which focuses on issues facing the three Air Force wings in Japan. The ACCE Airmen provide USFJ leaders with situational awareness on Air Force operations that are supporting USFJ missions such as non-combatant evacuation operations. The new function here comes with a "steep learning curve," said Lt. Col. Garth Doty, the 5th AF operations and plans deputy director and ACCE chief, "but everyone is taking advantage of the training opportunity within the robust scenario." The BACCE and ACCE are just two of the many important sections participating in this exercise, but the story remains the same throughout the operations center here - Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines from all over the globe are working side by side with their Japanese counterparts to strengthen bilateral cooperation and the U.S.-Japan alliance. "This exercise is a very good opportunity for the U.S. and Japan to confirm our bilateral plans and how we would operate in a real contingency," said Maritime Self-Defense Force Capt. Isao Watanabe, lead joint staff liaison officer for USFJ and the exercise. "A bilateral, joint exercise like Keen Edge allows us to find out what our capabilities and limitations are between our two nations and between our own sister services," said Army Maj. Jim Hewitt, a USFJ ballistic missile defense liaison officer to 13th AF. "Some exercise scenarios simulate crises or other tragedies, but those scenarios prepare us for what could happen in real life. We essentially get to exercise what we don't normally get to practice on a daily basis, and that benefits everyone."