This the first post on Dawn Blitz; I’ll do a second at the conclusion of the exercises, or if something really interesting comes up.  – KM

V-22 Ospreys approaching JS Shimokita while underway. DoD photo.

V-22 Ospreys approaching JS Shimokita while underway. DoD photo.

I made a conscious decision to not attend Dawn Blitz 2013. I’ve covered a U.S. – Japanese exercise at Camp Pendleton before, and I had been frustrated by the fact that, although the U.S. Marine Corps had an open attitude towards seeing things, the Japanese clamped down on press access. I’d flown down to Pendleton for two days of coverage and ended up staring at a hillside for an afternoon with Japanese soldiers allegedly hiding in it. The appearance of a Marine Corps tank platoon saved the day on that one. San Diego is nice to visit and you can get some great Mexican food, but when you have to cover the trip out of your own pocket you have to pick and choose.

Well, it looks like I chose wrong with Dawn Blitz, because the Japanese appear determined to show the exercise off. The exercise I covered, Iron Fist 2011, occurred during the ramp-up to Japanese-Chinese tensions, and perhaps the Japanese were trying to keep things low key. But, judging from the amount of press that’s being generated from the exercises, the Abe administration wants to send a signal to China.

Iron Fist 2011 had only a handful of journalists, including a reporter from the Yomiuri. Dawn Blitz 2013, on the other hand, has more than a dozen Japanese reporters from television and the news. (Previously the only network that I know of that covered Iron Fist was New Tang Dynasty TV, the Falun Gong channel.) This year I’m consigned to living vicariously through the Japanese – American news pool. It’s not a bad way to get information, but standing on the flight deck of a helicopter destroyer trying not to get bowled over by the prop wash of a V-22 Osprey is even better.

The quick DoD description of the exercise is:

Dawn Blitz 2013 is a two-part, scenario-driven, simulation-supported amphibious exercise designed to train Expeditionary Strike Group 3 (ESG 3) and 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade (1st MEB). The initial, synthetic scenario occurred Jan. 28-31, 2013 and the final live phase will be conducted June 11-28. Dawn Blitz provides a robust training environment where forces plan and execute an amphibious assault from a seabase in a land-and- maritime threat environment to improve naval amphibious core competencies. Dawn Blitz 2010 was the first MEB-level amphibious assault exercise the Marine Corps conducted since 2001. The core capability of MEB-level amphibious operations is essential to national defense. (Link)

Western Army Infantry Regiment trooper, San Diego. DoD photo.

Western Army Infantry Regiment trooper, San Diego. DoD photo.

Schedule:

-       11 JUNE- EXERCISE BEGINS
-       11-28 JUNE- MINE WARFARE AND DIVE TRAINING AT CAMP PENDLETON
-       10-21 JUNE- COALITION INFANTRY TRAINING
-       13-18 JUNE- MARITIME PREPOSITIONING FORCE OFFLOAD AT NAVAL BASE CORONADO, SILVER STRAND
-       14 JUNE- MV-22 LANDING ABOARD JAPANESE SHIP JS HYUGA
-       17 JUNE- SAN CLEMENTE ISLAND AMPHIBIOUS OPERATIONS
-       17 JUNE- BI-LATERAL MEDIA ENGAGEMENT ABOARD JS HYUGA
-       20 JUNE- JSDF LIVE FIRE TRAINING
-       23-28 JUNE- MARITIME PREPOSITIONING FORCE BACKLOAD AT NAVAL BASE CORONADO, SILVER STRAND
-       24 JUNE- MULTINATIONAL AMPHIBIOUS LANDING ON CAMP PENDLETON
-       25 JUNE- US NAVY MEDIA DAY ABOARD USS BOXER
-       25-28 JUNE- FORCE ON FORCE INFANTRY TRAINING WITH MARINE FORCES RESERVE
-       26 JUNE- MASS CASUALTY EXERCISE
-       28 JUNE- EXERCISE CONCLUDES

Japanese order of battle for the exercises:

Naval: Rear Admiral Hideki Yuasa, Escort Flotilla 2
JS Atago (Aegis destroyer)
JS Hyuga (Anti-submarine warfare helicopter destroyer)
JS Shimokita (Landing ship, tank)
- Unknown number LCAC hovercraft.

Ground:
Western Army
-Western Army Infantry Regiment (Marine)(Battalion) (Capt. Nobuyoshi Makita, S-2)
-Rifle Platoon, 12th Infantry Regiment, 8th Division (will embed with 31st MEU.)

Apparently some ground troops rode the ships for the entire trip, some married up with the task force at Pearl Harbor, but most flew in commercially.

Air:
-2 CH-47 Chinooks, 1st Aviation Brigade, GSDF
-? AH-64 Apaches, GSDF
-? UH-60/SH-60 Blackhawk/Seahawk Helicopters, MSDF, 1st Aviation Brigade, GSDF

Here’s a photo of Shimokita at Pearl Harbor. What appears to be fuel bladders in the front, as well as light vehicles — no armored vehicles. Two CH-47Js wrapped in plastic for protection against salt water are parked in the rear. LCACs are stored in the well deck.

JS Shimokita. Department of Defense photo.

JS Shimokita. Department of Defense photo.

The AH-64 Apaches, as well as other helicopters must have made the trip in Hyuga‘s hangar.

Here’s a video Mike Yeo at The Base Leg blog found. AP footage of a Osprey landing on JS Hyuga. An Osprey was to land on both JS Shimokita and Hyuga.

Observations:

1. Hyuga‘s own deck crew, in the checkered shirts, are landing the Osprey.

2. The Osprey descends to the hangar on the forward elevator–the island is in the background. This is important because Hyuga has two elevators, and the forward elevator is smaller than the aft elevator. (The forward elevator is 10 x 20 meters; the latter 13 x 20 — Thanks to Susumu for the info.)

Here’s a photo of the Osprey on the aft elevator.

Department of Defense photo.

Department of Defense photo.

The Osprey was apparently lowered into the hangar on the aft elevator and brought up on the forward. Looks like a tight fit in the hangar.

Department of Defense photo.

Department of Defense photo.

Something to think about: some analysts believed that Hyuga’s rear elevator (the only one dimensionally able to fit the F-35B) was unable to lift the F-35B. This video proves it can. The V-22 Osprey weighs 15,000 kilograms empty. An empty F-35B weighs 14,700 kg. So, the F-35B will fit on and can ride the elevators–at least the rear one. The aircraft may have to be fueled and armed on the flight deck, but it is technically doable.

3. The deck hand nearly lost his paddles to the Osprey’s prop wash.

In the Blogger’s Roundtable for Dawn Blitz (audio), Brigadier General Broadmeadow, who is leading the exercise, stated that the Osprey landing demonstrated interoperability between U.S. and Japanese forces. Which of course is true, but think of it also as a sales pitch. Japan has been publicly talking about buying Ospreys for some time now, and this opportunity was a salesman’s dream. All that remains is for Japan to somehow find the money.

Here’s another Department of Defense video, this time of WAIR troops.

Observations:

1. WAIR really is light infantry. The regiment has no armored vehicles, just trucks and jeep-like vehicles. Their heaviest weapons are French-made 120mm mortars and 84mm Carl Gustav recoilless rocket launchers.

2. Troopers Civil servants have night vision goggle mounts on their ballistic helmets. Night vision has been in use by the GSDF since the early 2000s, but this is the first time the mounts have been used in exercises in the U.S.

3. More new stuff: Camelbak hydration packs, apparently bought on the civilian market, are in evidence, as are knee pads and various MOLLE-compatible packs and gear. They’re also wearing AK-style chest rigs. The point is, WAIR is getting gear upgrades.

4. Velcro patches with blood types on them, first made popular by American forces after 9/11, are evident. (The Carl Gustav gunner/assaultman is B positive.) The GSDF is learning from the experience of other armies.

5. Howa Type 89 assault rifles are still fairly basic, without the usual bells and whistles of American rifles. Some Type 89s were upgraded with Picatinny rails, but none of those are visible. No Aimpoints, EOTechs, ACOGs, PEQ-16s, Surefires, etc. Probably a good thing, as it’s easy to turn a seven and a half pound rifle into a ten pound rifle.

84mm Carl Gustav recoilless rifle. Department of Defense photo.

84mm Carl Gustav recoilless rifle. Department of Defense photo.

Despite the presence of large numbers of Japanese press, a cursory review of Japanese online media reveals Dawn Blitz isn’t big news in Japan. (Examples of coverage here and here.) There’s a lot of video of Ospreys but the articles lack details and context. Most of the press centers around the landing of the Osprey on the deck of Hyuga, with barely a mention of the larger geopolitics behind it. (The V-22 Osprey is well known in Japan for being part of the Futenma/Henoko situation in Okinawa.)

Also of news in Japan is U.S. Marines in Hokkaido accidentally sent a stray 155mm howitzer training round out of an artillery training area, and resumed firing without consulting the Defense Ministry.

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A contributor and editor at the blog War Is Boring, Kyle Mizokami started Japan Security Watch in 2010 to further understand Japan's defenses and security policy.
Kyle Mizokami has 536 post(s) on Japan Security Watch