JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii --
The Japan Air Self-Defense Force, Royal Australian Air Force, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Navy wrapped up Exercise Cope North 17 at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, March 3.
The exercise’s 88th iteration began Feb. 15, 2017, and focused on improving aerial and ground-based combat readiness and providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations with an overarching objective of reinforcing existing partnerships within the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
More than 2,700 personnel and 100 aircraft participated in this year’s Cope North. A full range of capabilities were trained including fighter, bomber, airlift, tanker, rescue and command and control aircraft operations. More than 700 sorties have been completed over the three-week exercise providing numerous opportunities to learn and refine tactics.
“The key objective of the exercise was to enhance our ability to operate together in everything from combat readiness to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief,” said Group Captain Tim Alsop, Cope North exercise director. “Cope North offers the best training scenarios for the crews to operate together. The integration reinvigorates the strong bonds of friendship between individuals and is the building block of successful future cooperation.”
While training for air superiority, U.S. and Japanese forces conducted live bombings on the Farallon de Medinilla Range, located 160 nautical miles north of Guam. Additionally, all forces engaged in fighter versus fighter air combat tactics training and integrated with the B-1B Lancer for the first time during a Cope North.
A large focus in the air was this year’s humanitarian assistance training with the aeromedical evacuation squadrons. Each air force took turns leading missions and showcasing their unique methods of accomplishing their mission to the others.
“It was a great exercise,” said Capt. Warren Carter, 18th AES flight evaluator from Kadena Air Base, Japan. “Not only did we have the capability to do our interoperability training, but we also built some good friendships and partnerships. This is just the start of greater things to happen; not only in the exercise but actually in real-world missions in the very near future.”
As pilots and aircrews integrated with each other so did the maintainers on the airfield. Interoperability has its roots on the ground where aircraft are serviced and supported leading to a natural link among multi-service maintenance Airmen.
“It’s pretty exciting when we get the opportunity to work with other Air Force units and other nations because we get to see each other’s systems,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Mcoy, 67th Aircraft Maintenance Unit weapons team load chief. “We don’t necessarily work on each other’s jets but we get to compare the different ways we operate. So when we notice others doing something more safely or quickly, we can adapt ourselves to it and improve our methods; and that works both ways as well.”
All three nations also operated from North Field, Tinian, one of the three principal islands of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Each air force sent their security forces Defenders to work together under RAAF lead.
“Each fire team has representatives from every nation and they’re working together from day one to the end of the exercise,” said Capt. Jay Bateman, 736th Security Forces Squadron director of operations. “ That interoperability is really important because if anything happens in the Pacific Command area of responsibility when we come together for either humanitarian assistance or a wartime mission we’re saying, ‘nice to see you again,’ versus, ‘hello,’ for the first time.”
Training in air tactics continued in the final week of the exercise and all three nations began exercising their security forces at Andersen South. This was considered their run phase which hit fast with many kinetic operations and training in ground combat skills to test the nations’ integration with each other on the ground.
Every piece of Cope North was carefully designed to integrate all nations in wartime and peacetime scenarios. Participants also got involved with Guam's community by volunteering at several events which the nations tackled as a team.
“Through this exercise, I believe one of our biggest achievements was cultivating a trilateral partnership not only at an operational level but also at the leadership level,” said JASDF Col. Hirohisa Takakusaki, Cope North exercise director. “I joined this exercise as a squadron commander in 2010. Now, I’m here as a detachment commander 7 years later. I’m surprised how greatly the contents of the exercise have improved in various areas such as scenario complexity, schedule design and the exercise being trilateral now most of all. As JASDF, we strongly hope to continue this annual exercise to improve air tactics and interoperability within our three nations. Lastly I would like to express my sincere appreciation to Andersen AFB and the local residents of Guam for the warm hospitality and arrangements.”
Col. Juris Jansons, U.S. Air Force Cope North exercise director, echoed his Japanese counterpart's appreciation for support received from the local community.
"The 36th Wing's support, from the dining facility to flightline and everything in-between, was outstanding and contributed to our ability to focus on honing our combat readiness skills," Jansons said. "We leave this year's Cope North as a more capable team of cohesive warriors. Ready to fight tonight across the Indo-Asia-Pacific region with our Japanese and Australian counterparts."