The British Army is back in Japan. Combining the influence of soft power and the expertise of operational training. This month the British Army has been fostering closer ties with an important strategic partner in the East.
The British Army has reaffirmed the UK’s ongoing commitment to the Asia-Pacific region and with the resumption of the biennial training exercise Vigilant Isles.
Vigilant Isles 22
British soldiers have been training alongside their Japanese counterparts in a bilateral war game exercise in Gunma prefecture in central Japan. It is a joint exercise on island defence.
The exercise saw British Forces leading six reconnaissance teams each comprising personnel alongside the Japanese Ground Self Defence Force as part of wider bilateral defence engagement activity.
Japanese people got to see another facet of the British Army. The Band of the Coldstream Guards wowed audiences on their tour of Japanese historical settings and concert halls.
Members of 1 Regiment Royal Horse Artillery boosted by soldiers from 7 Para Royal Horse Artillery, 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery and 104 Regiment Royal Artillery were on exercise Vigilant Isles 22 alongside the Japanese Ground Self Defence Force (JGSDF). They were working together to develop the JGSDF’s operational capabilities and to promote mutual understanding and trust.
This partnership began in October 2018 when the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC) trained with the Japanese Ground Self Defence Force on the slopes of Mount Fuji for the first Vigilant Isles exercise. Other than the Americans, no foreign troops had ever conducted military exercises on Japanese soil, in what the HAC’s then Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Mark Wood described as “an incredible privilege”.
The Covid epidemic interrupted further collaborative training exercises. Recently, the UK government's defence and foreign policy integrated review announced a "tilt" towards the Indo-Pacific region. In May 2022 Japanese Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida, visited the UK and signed a defensive partnership. Exercise Vigilant Isles resumed soon after.
At the same time as this important training exercise took place, the Band of the Coldstream Guards toured from Tokyo to Osaka, Nagano, Nagoya, Kyoto and Izumo.
It has been fantastic to tour Japan and perform in some of the best concert halls in the world. The band has been coming here for over 30 years and we continue to support and forge relationships with our Japanese counterparts Major Stewart Halliday,
Director of Music
Band of the Coldstream Guards
Whilst no stranger to performing outside historic palaces, the Band of the Coldstream Guards had the honour of playing outside Japan’s historic Matsue Castle (built between 1603-1607). The wooden castle predates the Coldstream Guards. The regiment has the honour of being the oldest continuously serving Guards regiment in the British Army having been formed in 1650.
Major Stewart Halliday, Director of Music Band of the Coldstream Guards summed up the success of the tour: “It has been fantastic to tour Japan and perform in some of the best concert halls in the world. The band has been coming here for over 30 years and we continue to support and forge relationships with our Japanese counterparts”.
A sentiment that can only help to reinforce the objectives of Vigilant Isles 22, of promoting a mutual understanding and trust between the Japan Ground Self-Defence Force and the British Army.
The commitment to troop collaboration on a regular basis strengthens these partnerships and reinforces UK’s Defence relationship with Japan.
This relationship has deepened significantly in recent years with a programme of exercises, training exchanges, security arrangements and capability development programmes spanning all five domains.