Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force soldiers unload weapons and vehicles from a landing craft air cushion as part of Dawn Blitz aboard Camp Pendleton, Calif., on May 31. The exercise will help Marines and their Pacific partners conduct complex amphibious operations essential for global crisis response. (Gunnery Sgt. Chance W. Haworth / Marine Corps)
For the first time, the Dawn Blitz amphibious exercise includes several of the U.S.’s Pacific partners, and China has taken notice — even going so far as to request that the U.S. and Japan cancel portions of the event.
About 5,000 ground and naval forces — Marines, sailors and troops from Japan, Canada and New Zealand — are participating in this year’s iteration of Dawn Blitz, which will be held ashore at Camp Pendleton and Twentynine Palms, Calif., and aboard ships off the coast of San Diego, from June 11 to 28.
Members of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, 1st Marine Division, 1st Marine Logistics Group, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, and Marine Forces Reserve will take part.
Dawn Blitz began as a Navy-Marine Corps exercise in 2010, but was widened this year to include Pacific allies. What caught the attention of Chinese officials was the plan to conduct training that simulates the recapture of a remote island, Kyodo News reported. Tensions between China and Japan have been high due to a territorial dispute over the uninhabited Senkaku Islands. China filed requests through diplomatic channels that the U.S. and Japan cancel that training, according to Kyodo.
But Cmdr. Takashi Inoue, deputy director of public affairs for Japan’s Joint Staff, said their participation in the exercise is not based on any current geopolitical situation. And 1st Lt. Garth Langley, public affairs officer for 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade, said the event is just one of many training simulations that are routine for any amphibious exercise.
“This is all to maintain our readiness,” Langley said. “These opportunities to train are very sporadic. We’re using this opportunity to conduct all of the kinds of missions we’d be required to respond to as an amphibious task force.”
It is unusual for Japanese troops — who serve in a self-defense force legally limited to maintaining peace and protecting the homeland — to participate in beach assaults. Retired Air Force Col. Carl Baker, a graduate of the Air War College and director of programs at Pacific Forum Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the exercise reflects a growing awareness in Japan that it needs to be able to defend its islands.
“As China develops its capabilities to go beyond its regional waters, [Japan] sees a need to enhance that defense,” Baker said. “I don’t want it to come across like Japan is preparing for military conflict with China, but it does have to be able to defend its islands because it is an island country.”
It’s not just the Senkakus that Japan is concerned about, he added. And China is not in a position to tell the U.S. and Japan what types of exercises they should or should not conduct.
Another significant part of the exercise is the plan to land an MV-22 Osprey helicopter on a Japanese ship. Brig. Gen. John Broadmeadow, 1st MEB’s commanding general, called it a historic moment for the Corps, according to a Marine Corps news release.
The Osprey has been a contentious issue for Japan and the Marine Corps. Thousands of people took to Japan’s streets in 2012 to protest about safety concerns, but Marine officials have touted it as an integral part of the Corps’ shift to the Asia-Pacific region since it can fly long distances, allowing them to respond to various types of crises.
Baker said he expects the Osprey will be used more and more in joint exercises with Japan.
Dawn Blitz also includes anti-mine operations with New Zealand and Canada, live-fire opportunities and Navy-led Maritime Pre-positioning Force training and sea-basing operations, Langley said. It will allow the forces to develop the skills needed for a combined response to a humanitarian crisis, he added.