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U.S. and Japanese military forces integrating control capabilities through Yama Sakura 55

The Eastern Army of the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) and the U.S. Army held their bilateral training exercises code-named "Yama Sakura 55", held from December 1-14 at Camp Asaka in Tokyo and Saitama. The event testifies to the move to deeply involve the Japanese SDF in the ongoing U.S. military realignment in Japan.

The biennial "Yama Sakura" training exercises began in 1981, and the latest is the first to take place under the command of the U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC).

About 4,500 personnel from the GSDF and 1,200 from the U.S. Army participated in the latest command post training exercise.

Lt. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon, the commander of the USARPAC, has characterized "Yama Sakura 55" as the most important training exercise among the 75 Japan-U.S. military exercises in which his command took part in 2008.

At the opening ceremony, Mixon stated, "Yama Sakura provides us with an opportunity to train together to simulate full-spectrum joint and bilateral operations while refining both the operational command post roles and responsibilities and the Eastern Army's understanding of and ability to conduct bilateral operations."

In this year's Yama Sakura, the JGSDF was instructed for the first time by retired U.S. general officers, called "senior mentors," who came from the Battle Command Training Program (BCTP) that provides command and battle staff training for brigade, division, and corps commanders.

Under the U.S. Army's transformation plan, which focuses on developing more operational capabilities among headquarters units, Mixon said that U.S. Army Pacific is in the early stages of forming two command posts ? a main command post (MCP) based in Hawaii and a deployable operational command post, or the Early Entry Command Post (EECP), in Alaska. He said Yama Sakura is the first time the two command posts have served as the main command and control elements in an exercise.

In the Pacific Joint Training Strategy released by the U.S. Pacific Command in August 2008, it states, "As executive agent, use the merged KEEN EDGE / YAMA SAKURA exercise to continue to improve bilateral coordination with the Japanese Joint Staff Office and to assist the JSDF with their Joint reorganization efforts. Transition KEEN EDGE back to the even years starting in FY 10, with KEEN SWORD moving to the odd years starting in FY 11. Develop a strategy to make KEEN SWORD a joint exercise."

Emphasizing that the GSDF participation in "Yama Sakura" is in violation of the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, Kishimoto Masato, Tokyo Peace Committee secretary, said that it is very serious for the Japanese government to push such training exercises without making clear the details of the exercise.

- Akahata, January 14, 2009

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