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Photo Information

U.S. Marines with 1st Battalion, 2d Marines and members of the Japan Self-Defense Force Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade offload a Japan Self Defense Force CH-47JA Chinook helicopter during Keen Sword 23 at Tsutara, Japan, Nov. 16, 2022. Keen Sword is a biennial training event that exercises the combined capabilities and lethality developed between 3d Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, and the Japan Self-Defense Force. This bilateral field-training exercise between the U.S. military and JSDF strengthens interoperability and combat readiness of the U.S.-Japan Alliance. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Scott Aubuchon)

Photo by Cpl. Scott Aubuchon

U.S. Marines, Japan Ground Self-Defense Force exercise defensive capabilities across multiple islands during Keen Sword 23

12 Dec 2022 | 2nd Lt. Duncan McClain 3rd Marine Division

The exercise kicked off with the establishment of three Bilateral Ground Tactical Coordination Centers (BGTCCs) at three different locations in the Nansei Islands where Marines from the 3d Marine Division, 12th Marine Regiment, and 3d Battalion, 12th Marines worked with their JGSDF counterparts to plan and coordinate operations together.

“The BGTCC is similar to a combat operations center where we de-conflict fire missions with the Japanese, as well as collect and exchange data with other units within the Marine Expeditionary Force and Division,” said Sgt. Christian Secor, a satellite communications operator with 12th Marine Regiment.

While the BGTCC is a relatively new concept, these bilateral command and control nodes were employed and further developed by 12th Marines and the JGSDF during several exercises over the past year to include Resolute Dragon 22, Keen Edge 22, and Resolute Dragon 21.

“The mission of 12th Marines, particularly here, is to ensure that we can link the significant capabilities of the Japan Self-Defense Force, back to the joint force, and put the U.S. joint force in support of them,” said Col. Jonathan N. Sims, commanding officer of 12th Marine Regiment.

Meanwhile, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines embarked on the USS New Orleans (LPD 18) and partnered with the JGSDF’s Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade (ARDB) for an amphibious assault on the island of Tokunoshima. During this operation, the ARDB secured the beach coming from ship-to-shore in amphibious assault vehicles while the U.S. Marines provided reinforced with additional combat power via MV-22B Ospreys.

“We were doing an air assault from the USS New Orleans, but we really demonstrated the capability to get to where we needed to go,” said Capt. Connor Keating, a company commander with 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines. “The ARDB is a very capable and willing force. We know that if we find ourselves side by side with them we are in a good place.”

In a separate training event, another group from the ARDB and 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines inserted via CH-47JA Chinooks and MV-22B Ospreys to secure and defend the remote island of Tsutara. The combined ground forces landed on rocky beaches and traversed the steep terrain within dense jungles to accomplish their mission.

While Keen Sword is designed to strengthen interoperability and combat readiness, there is also a relational component that comes from operating closely with friends, partners, and allies.

“This training allows us work with units and people that prepare us for a real-world deployment,” said Sgt. Javier Camilo, a data systems administrator with 12th Marine Regiment. “Being able to work with members of the JGSDF face-to-face helps improve our understanding of the situation and improve communication.”

From a broader perspective, the exercise demonstrates a commitment from Japan and the United States to mutual defense and regional security. Keen Sword 23 is part of a biennial exercise series conducted since 1986 that demonstrates the combined capabilities and lethality developed between U.S. military and the Japan Self-Defense Force.

“Every rep and set we can get working with any of our partners is important to us,” said Sims. “Conflict will always be an allied effort.”