Iron Fist 23: USAF and JGSDF conduct island seizure training March 8, 2023
The U.S. Air Force 36th Airlift Squadron, Japan Air Self-Defense Force 2nd Tactical Group, and Japan Ground Self-Defense Force 1st Airborne Brigade conducted bilateral airborne operations at remote islands in Kagoshima Prefecture, March 3.

This event was part of Iron Fist 2023; a field training exercise (FTX) designed to increase interoperability and strengthen the relationship between the U.S. Marine Corps, the U.S. Navy, and the JGSDF. This iteration of Iron Fist allowed for additional integration of USAF and JASDF forces.

The scenario incorporated two USAF C-130J Super Hercules assigned to the 36th AS from Yokota Air Base and a JASDF Kawasaki C-1 assigned to the 2nd TAG from Iruma Air Base. Each aircraft loaded and carried more than 100 JGSDF 1st Airborne Brigade paratroopers to a drop zone in Kikaijima Island, Kagoshima Prefecture.

“The purpose of the FTX is to simulate an island seizure,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Andrew Morris, 36th AS C-130J pilot. “The USAF flew alongside the JASDF, to drop the JGSDF paratroopers over the island while the U.S. Marine Corps executed a simultaneous amphibious assault onto the beachhead.”

This FTX allowed Yokota aircrews the opportunity to integrate more closely with Japanese allies and a practical application for taking an island by air, land, and sea.

“Our pilots and loadmasters work with joint partners in a training mission to integrate not only between aircraft, but also between countries to achieve the objective,” said Morris. “This clearly demonstrated the interoperability and the partnership that we have with the Japanese Self-Defense Forces and the mission was executed flawlessly.”

Iron Fist 23 was the first time this particular FTX was held in the Western Pacific, in an effort to materialize joint operations between Japan Self-Defense Forces and U.S. Forces by integrating airborne operations by 1st Airborne Brigade with bilateral amphibious operations.

“Combining our airborne and amphibious operations was the most distinctive event in this exercise,” said Maj. Gen. Junya Wakamatsu, JGSDF 1st Airborne Brigade commander. “Furthermore, I believe conducting our operations in Kikaijima for the first time, highlights the cooperative efforts made by Japan and the U.S. military.”

Unique to this FTX, bilateral forces dropped paratroopers into designated drop zones established across local farmland instead of military training areas, like most other airborne operations.

“This time, we are operating on an island in a sugar cane field,” said Morris. “The drop zone was surveyed just a few days ago. This technique simulates a real operation on a real island.”

Realistic experiences like this can help motivate and better train U.S. Airmen and JSDF members.

“Due to the current state of the world, when we conduct operations we do it together with our U.S. military allies,” said Wakamatsu. “Our jumpers anticipate that our airborne operations will be conducted on remote islands with the support of the 374th Airlift Wing more often. It is extremely critical to continue to maintain our capability and mission daily.”