Japan Assault Fleet Arrives at Pearl Harbor…Just For Practice

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US Navy Specialist 1st Class Amanda Dunford

Japan Maritime Self Defense Force warships JS Atago, foreground, and JS Shimokita, at Pearl Harbor naval base, Hawaii. The superstructure of a third Japanese warship, the helicopter carrier JS Hyuga, can be seen at right. On the deck of Shimokita are ground vehicles and helicopters – shrink-wrapped to protect against salt air -- that will take part in major amphibious warfare training in southern California.

TOKYO – Warships from Japan’s Maritime Self Defense Force have been making stops at the American naval base at Pearl Harbor for more than two decades. But it’s going to seem strange, indeed, when Japanese ground troops clamber aboard this weekend.

Three of the newest and largest ships in the JMSDF arrived at Pearl Harbor on Thursday. Several-hundred ground troops from Japan’s Western Army Infantry Regiment will link up with the ships after flying in from bases in Kyushu. The flotilla will continue on to southern California, where the troops will take part in several weeks of amphibious warfare training with U.S. Marines.

Altogether, it represents one of the most ambitious military exercises of Japan’s post-war era.

Japanese troops have trained with Marines for several years, but have never operated from their own warships. The JMSDF, though highly capable, does not have any ships specifically designed to carry ground forces or to launch or support troops ashore.

Years of debate over whether to develop amphibious warfare capability ended in 2010 when China began to aggressively press ownership claims on Japan’s remote Senkaku Islands, which China calls Diaoyu.  Japan has several thousand small and potentially vulnerable islands and rocky outcroppings that stretch some 700 miles southwest from Japan’s home islands.

One of the goals of the exercise, called Dawn Blitz 2013, is learn how to berth large numbers of ground troops and store weapons, ammunition, equipment and supplies aboard ship for extended periods of time.