In a major milestone for the British Army and Japanese forces, personnel from the former embedded with the latter for the first time during training exercises held on Honshu, the largest and most populated island in Japan.
Before Exercise Vigilant Isles began in October 2018, no foreign troops had ever conducted military exercises on Japanese soil, apart from the US.
The exercise series has taken place annually for the last few years, except during the Covid pandemic.
More than 170 British Army soldiers participated in Exercise Vigilant Isles 23 (Ex VI23) during a two-week period. In a first for both nations, a British Army drone directed mortar fire during live firing in Japan.
Ex VI23 was delivered by the Japan Ground Self-Defence Force’s (JGSDF) 1st Airborne Brigade’s 3rd Infantry Battalion and consisted of functional training and comprehensive training exercises.
The 1 Royal Gurkha Rifles’ (1RGR) B (Sari Bair) Company, based in Brunei, contributed 130 troops to the exercises, the largest British Army unit to take part in the exercise; while the remaining British Army contingent was made up of soldiers from 16 Air Assault Brigade’s Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) Group and 3rd Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland (3 SCOTS) who operated as part of the 11th Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB).
Lieutenant Colonel Daisuke Ishikawa, 3rd Infantry Battalion, Japanese 1st Airborne Brigade, said the JGSDF had been “eagerly anticipating the opportunity to conduct bilateral training with the renowned and esteemed Gurkha Battalion, known for its brave soldiers and rich traditions.”
“We recognise the Gurkha Battalion as the world’s strongest force, particularly elite in jungle warfare and guerrilla tactics.” He said the exercises would facilitate combat-related information sharing and, concurrently, learnings from the Gurkha’s expertise in battle tactics.
Troops from 21 Air Assault Battery, 32 Regiment Royal Artillery also deployed a Puma UAS, under the umbrella of 16 Air Assault Brigade ISTAR, while working with a 1RGR mortar platoon. The final unit that deployed as part of the 16 Air Assault Brigade ISTAR Group was 226 Signal Squadron, 14 Signal Regiment.
A 7 Para Royal Horse Artillery joint terminal attack controller operating in Misawa in the far north, directed close air support from Japan Air Self-Defence Force (JASDF) F-2 fighter jets.
Soldiers from 3 SCOTS embedded with a recce platoon from the JGSDF, operated a Parrot UAS to locate hostile forces over the course of functional training at Sekiyama, while the comprehensive phase of the training was conducted at Ojoji, 400km (249mi) north of Tokyo, which was the main Field Training Exercise (FTX) during Ex VI23.
In the FTX, JGSDF advance forces made a freefall parachute landing, followed by a “bilateral attack” from a Chinook helicopter by Japanese static-line para and British Army aviation assault teams.