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Operation Rising Thunder: U.S. and Japanese AH-64 Apaches Work Together

U.S. Army and Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) AH-64 Apaches worked together to launch AGM-114 Hellfire missiles for the first time. As part of Operation Rising Thunder, held at the Yakima Training Center, Wash., Sept. 3-24, the Army’s 16th Combat Aviation Brigade and the JGSDF’s 3rd Anti-Tank Helicopter Battalion tested their interoperability.

The test involved the Army pilots firing their Hellfire missiles at a ground target that had been zeroed in on by the Japanese pilots. It marked the first time that the two forces conducted an aviation life-fire exercise. “I think today’s exercise went pretty well, said Maj. Takahashi Shinicgiro, a Japanese Apache pilot. The U.S. used their freshly fielded AH-64E Apache Guardians, while the Japanese used their AH-64D Apaches. “We hit four out of four, so it worked out,” said Army Apache pilot CW3 Steve Frazee.

AH-64 Apaches

Japanese soldiers at an observation point watch U.S. Army 1-229th Attack Helicopter Battalion, 16th Combat Aviation Brigade AH-64E and Japanese 3rd Anti-tank Helicopter Battalion AH-64D Apaches as they prepare to conduct a joint Hellfire missile exercise at the Yakima Training Center Sept. 10, 2013, to test their interoperability. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Bryan Lewis

The purpose of the joint training was to improve communication between allies. “That was a tremendous achievement, because you had Japanese aircraft and U.S. aircraft operating in the same airspace, taking the same commands from the tower, working air-space deconfliction, air space management, fires control and gunnery,” said Maj. Gen. Stephan Lanza, commanding general, 7th Infantry Division. “The interoperability was tremendous.”

“That was a tremendous achievement, because you had Japanese aircraft and U.S. aircraft operating in the same airspace.”

Operation Rising Thunder celebrated its 20th anniversary of strengthening the relationship between the U.S. and Japanese military this year. To mark the occasion, both sides increased their contributions. The JGSDF has “raised considerably the amount of capability they have brought out,” said Maj. Gen. Takeyoshi Omari. To that end, the JGSDF deployed an infantry regiment, artillery unit, engineers, and an aviation section. “We have done the same thing,” said Lanza. The U.S. contributed the 5/20th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, in addition to other enablers from I Corps.

Apache Pilots

Local media interview U.S. Army 1-229th Attack Helicopter Battalion, 16th Combat Aviation Brigade AH-64E Apache pilots and Japanese 3rd Anti-tank Helicopter Battalion AH-64D Apache pilots at the Yakima Training Center Sept. 10, 2013 after a successful joint Hellfire missile exercise to test their interoperability. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Bryan Lewis

As demonstrated with the Apache exercise, the scope of Rising Thunder has also expanded as the focus has shifted to interoperability. “This year we have expanded it beyond cooperation and partnership to really being interoperable in a combined-arms maneuver scenario with our allies. As the U.S. pivots toward the Asia-Pacific region in response to the rise of China, the bond between the U.S. and Japan will only grow in importance.

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Steven Hoarn is the Editor/Photo Editor for Defense Media Network. He is a graduate of...