The scenario — carried out in typical Marine air-ground style — enabled the Japanese troops, many
of whom have trained at previous exercises at Camp
Pendleton, to build and hone their knowledge of MV-22s
and amtracs, or AAVs.
Japanese Soldiers are more familiar with the Marines’
MV- 22, which Japan is buying for the long-range lift
capability needed to operate and support forces across its
far-flung island chains. Japanese Soldiers flew in MV-22s
on and off the Japanese amphibious ship JS Hyuga and
U.S. Navy ships during last year’s Dawn Blitz exercise,
and Marines have flown Ospreys onto Japanese ships off
Japan during humanitarian and disaster relief exercises.
“This sort of demonstration provides invaluable
practical experience and helps build real interoperability,” Gridley said.
The AAVs “are just coming into service with GSDF,
but there are opportunities … to cooperate in figuring
out how to use AAVs properly,” Gridley said. “There’s
even a possibility of placing a GSDF AAV detachment
with Combat Assault Battalion on Okinawa in order
to get on-the-job training and simultaneously build
Marines at Camp Fuji, Japan, also have helped famil-
iarize Japanese Soldiers with the vehicles, an aging sys-
tem the Marine Corps ultimately plans to replace.
Japan’s interest in the AAV stems in part from the
2011 tsunami, when ground forces had no means to
reach affected areas to rescue people. While consid-
ered a combat landing vehicle, the AAV “is an essential
tool that any amphibious force must have. If you don’t
have them, you’ve reduced your options,” said Grant
Newsham, a retired Marine and senior research fellow
with the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies. “There’s an
operational benefit to having AAVs, but, beyond that,
AAVs can help JSDF improve its joint capabilities [by
forcing the Maritime Self Defense Force and GSDF to
cooperate], and also provide an opportunity to strength-
en the USMC/GSDF relationship in a meaningful way.”
Since 2014, the AAV schoolhouse at Camp
Pendleton, Assault Amphibian School Battalion, has
hosted Japanese Soldiers at AAV courses. So far, 20
Japanese Soldiers have received 46 certificates of grad-
uation from courses including crewman course, vehi-
cle commander course and intermediate maintainers
course, said Maj. Craig Thomas, an 11th MEU spokes-
man. They average staff sergeant in rank. Another six
Japanese officers attended and graduated, he said.
First Lt. Michael Ragonese, 1st Platoon commander
with Bravo Company, 3rd Amphibian Assault Battalion,
joined in regular planning meetings with the Japanese
leading up to Iron Fist, including both Japanese infan-
try and the Soldiers who would operate the AAVs.
“There was a very big focus on that joint planning
piece,” Ragonese said.
Together, they reviewed maintenance procedures and
the daily upkeep of the vehicles, and that relationship
continued as they moved through smaller unit training.
For many Soldiers at Iron Fist, “this isn’t the first
time they have seen AAVs … or worked with AAVs,”
Ragonese said. “It’s just a refresher to get everyone
back on the same page.”
They practiced egress drills and worked side-by-side
ashore at Camp Pendleton and at sea aboard Somerset.
Amtracs are known to be maintenance-heavy and
complicated. So the Marines focused on helping them
“shake the cobwebs and get back up into the swing of
working in the vehicles,” he said. His corporals and
sergeants taught them “a few things about upkeep and
maintenance and things to check for.
“They definitely did come with questions,” he said of
the Soldiers. This time, those reflected their experience,
with fewer questions of “how” and more of “we have
this idea, how would this work?” That tactical-level
concern shows their progress in operating and utilizing
the vehicles and thinking how to operate as a mechanized force, he noted.
Marines also helped the Japanese understand the
relationships between their infantry Soldiers and those
who would crew and operate the AAV, which is supposed to be in support of the infantry force.
“They are still building that similar command rela-
tionship where we support the infantry,” Ragonese
said. “They are very, very detailed oriented, and they
were able to catch minor things here and there, espe-
cially refining timelines. They were smart and very
Overall, he was impressed with how well they did,
adding, “They definitely took this very seriously. They
were very responsive to the feedback from us.” n
Japanese infantry Soldiers take up positions around
an airfield on the bluffs above Camp Pendleton’s Red
Beach after troops and Marines landed in Marine Corps
AAVs from USS Somerset Feb. 26 during Iron Fist 2016.
WWW.SEAPOWERMAGAZINE.ORG 46 SEAPOWER / MAY 2016