For most of the month of June, Operation Dawn Blitz 2013 will be happening off of the San Diego County coastline from Coronado to Camp Pendleton and will include exercises at San Clemente Island. Three Japanese ships are currently using Naval Base San Diego this month for this historic exercise aimed at demonstrating confidence in the Marine Corps’ Osprey, the hybrid helicopter-airplane.
Over 1000 Japanese personnel of the Japanese Self Defense Force will participate in Dawn Blitz 2013 along with the Armed Forces of Canada and New Zealand, along with the United States Navy and Marine Corps, bringing a total of over 5,000 troops to this training exercise. This is the first time New Zealand and Canada have participated in this exercise, which was only restarted in 2010 off of the San Diego County coast. Japan’s self-defense force has sent troops to train with U.S. Marines here in the past, as recently as March 2013, but has never sent ships to practice amphibious skills.
This comes at a time, when there is high tension between Japan, China, the Philippines, and Taiwan over some disputed islands in the East China Sea. With both countries modernizing their armed forces, it was reported by a Japanese news service that China requested that the Dawn Blitz exercise be canceled. Since the Second World War, Japan is Constitutionally not allowed to build an offensive force, but their military is to be used as a self defense force.. This may be changing as the United States is pushing Japan to aid more in their Country’s defense and interest. Although the tension continues, China is still expected to take part in the U.S.-led Rim of the Pacific exercise in Hawaii next year, which also includes Japan.
In San Diego, Dawn Blitz started on Tuesday June 11th, with the most extremely important event of the landing of a Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey onto the Japanese Helicopter Destroyer “Hyuga”, the first time a Osprey has landed on a foreign ship, was scheduled for the 14th.
“Putting an Osprey on another vessel will be something of an interesting moment, an historic moment for the Osprey and exactly what we had envisioned it being, that it is a versatile aircraft that we can rapidly deploy,” said Marine Corps 1st Lt. Garth Langley, the Public Affairs Officer for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade.
While the Marine Corps has been fighting in the deserts of the Middle East for over the last 10 years, this exercise brings them back to their original mission of being a amphibious assault force.
For the foreign troops, it’s a chance to practice sea-to-land maneuvers in one of the world’s largest maritime training ranges. Around the Pacific, interest in amphibious ability has grown as a way to get both military power and crisis response during natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes.
The Marine Corps and Japanese graciously invited the Press Corps to be present during this historic landing. This was a major part of the Dawn Blitz exercise to show the Japanese and other allies that the Osprey is a safe aircraft to operate and can land on their ships. Japan is currently interested in purchasing the MV-22 from the United States.
After arriving at Naval Base San Diego, we boarded the JS Hyuga,and departed San Diego, heading out to approximately 6-9 miles off of Pt. Loma. On board were some of the flight deck crew from the US Navy, aircrews from the Marines. I was able to speak with Lt. Col B.J. Harms, the Commanding Officer of the HMM-161 (The Grey Hawks), a Marine Osprey Squadron, which was participating in the landing on board the “Hyuga”, and asked about the safety record of the Osprey.
“After several testing and training accidents in the early history of the MV-22 Osprey, there has be many people doubting the safety of the aircraft, but the bugs have been worked out and it’s a reliable platform in a combat or rescue situation” stated Lt. Col B.J. Harms.
Being a former Marine infantrymen, who has flown on Marine UH-1 Huey’s, CH-46 Frog’s, and CH-53’s Super Stallions, I approached a group of Marine flight crew members, made up of Senior Non-commissioned Officers to ask them about the Osprey’s safety in combat operations. My main focus was, with the Osprey being a larger aircraft than the CH-47, does it risk being a bigger target? when I spoke with these men, all had been in combat in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and have flown combat missions in other helicopters, and they were all in agreement, that the Osprey is safer and better suited for the combat zone than any of the other larger helicopters in the Marine Corps inventory. The first thing that was stated, “they (the enemy) can’t hear us coming like before, we’re dropping in fast from 5 to 6,000 ft., the troops off load and were moving out in a hurry with our turbo props. We’re fast and stable.”
While we waited for the Osprey to arrive, the Japanese flew their CH-47 “Chinook” and their SH-60K Sea Knights for photo opportunities.
When the time arrived, the Osprey accompanied by 2 others, circled the “JS Hyuga”, and then made her approach and landed softly on the aft-deck on the ship. The Marine aircraft’s 84-foot wingspan means it would have to land on the rear deck of the “Hyuga”. After landing, the Japanese trained by doing a Medivac from the Osprey, and practiced the loading and off loading of supplies for an humanitarian exercise. The Osprey then moved her wings and rotors around to where the aircraft was more compact and ready to be towed and then lowered into the ships hanger below decks. The Osprey was easily lowered and a little time later raised back up to the flight deck, where Marine General Broadmeadow, his staff, and several high ranking Japanese military officers. Boarded the Osprey and flew back to Naval Air Station, North Island.
I would like to thank the United States Marine Corps, The Japanese Self Defense Forces, The 1st MEF’s Public Affairs Officer, Marine 1st Lt. Garth Langley and his staff for a job well dome, and also for allowing the Media to fly back to NAS North Island in another MV-22 Osprey. It was a wonderful experience.