Over 170 British Army soldiers have taken part in a major training exercise in Japan over the last two weeks.
Exercise Vigilant Isles has taken place annually for the last few years, except during the Covid pandemic.
But this year was the first time British troops have been embedded with their Japanese counterparts during the biggest ever exercise.
Previously the two nations’ troops did not fully integrate with each other while training on Honshu, the largest and most populated island in Japan.
Other firsts during Exercise Vigilant Isles 23 (Ex VI23) included:
- Joint live fire training carried out by the British Army and Japanese forces.
- A British Army drone flown in Japan which directed mortar fire during live firing.
The largest British Army unit that took part in the exercise was 1 Royal Gurkha Rifles’ (1RGR) B (Sari Bair) Company, based in Brunei, who contributed 130 troops.
The remaining British Army contingent was made up of soldiers from:
- 16 Air Assault Brigade’s Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) Group.
- 3rd Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland (3SCOTS) who operated as part of the 11th Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB).
Under the umbrella of 16 Air Assault Brigade ISTAR, troops from 21 Air Assault Battery, 32 Regiment Royal Artillery deployed a Puma unmanned aircraft system (UAS) while working with a 1RGR mortar platoon.
In addition, a Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC), from 7 Para Royal Horse Artillery, operated in Misawa in the far north where the soldier directed close air support from F-2 fighter jets belonging to the Japan Air Self-Defence Force (JASDF).
JTACs operate from a forward position and direct artillery as well as close air support.
The final unit that deployed as part of the 16 Air Assault Brigade ISTAR Group was 226 Signal Squadron, 14 Signal Regiment.
Soldiers from this unit tapped into electronic warfare equipment to find ‘enemy’ patrols at the Somagaraha training area, two hours northwest of Tokyo.
Ex VI23 was delivered by the Japanese 1st Airborne Brigade’s 3rd Infantry Battalion and broken down into two main phases: functional training and comprehensive training.
During the functional training at Sekiyama, soldiers from 3 SCOTS embedded with a recce platoon from the Japan Ground Self-Defence Force (JGSDF) where they operated a Parrot UAS to locate hostile forces.
The comprehensive phase, conducted at Ojoji, 400 kilometres north of Tokyo, was the main Field Training Exercise (FTX) during Ex VI23.
This saw Japanese advance forces land by freefall parachute, followed by Japanese static-line para and a British Army aviation assault from a Chinook, comprising a ‘bilateral attack’.
At the opening ceremony for Ex VI23, Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Stanford-Tuck, Commanding Officer, 1RGR, said:
“This exercise is a clear and visible manifestation of the ever-growing partnership between our two nations.
“Today, standing here, shoulder to shoulder, together, we reaffirm the strength of our shared values, a commitment to peace, security, and prosperity.
“The recently agreed Hiroshima Accord marks a historic high in the UK-Japan relationship setting the direction for our partnership for the next decade and beyond.
“It reflects our mutual understanding of evolving security challenges in a world where some are seeking to contest and challenge established norms.
“This joint military exercise is clear evidence that we see these agreements as more than just words on paper.
“They are an iron expression of our shared determination to work together to address the challenges that confront us both: climate change, maintaining our prosperity, and safeguarding international and regional security to name but a few.”
Lieutenant Colonel Daisuke Ishikawa, 3rd Infantry Battalion, Japanese 1st Airborne Brigade, said,
“We have 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.
“Therefore, we would like to facilitate combat-related information sharing and, concurrently, learn from your expertise in battle tactics.”
After the opening ceremony, soldiers from both nations laid out their weapons and equipment in a bilateral display for the troops to inspect and interrogate.
Over the last few years, Exercise Vigilant Isles has seen British and Japanese troops work 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 JGSDF on the slopes of Mount Fuji for the first Vigilant Isles exercise.
At that time, apart from the US, no foreign troops had ever conducted military exercises on Japanese soil.
The increasing importance of Japan to the UK as a partner in the Indo-Pacific, and the signing of the Hiroshima Accord in May 2023, has seen the exercise grow in scope and ambition.
The British Army is a global force. One that is persistently engaged around the world, training and operating with its partners. And training to be more lethal, agile, digitised and expeditionary.
The Indo-Pacific is critical to the UK’s economy, security and global ambition to support open societies.
The UK is therefore deepening engagement in the region in support of shared prosperity and regional stability.
Japan is one of the UK’s closest strategic partners and, by taking part in Ex VI23, the British Army has shown its commitment to enhancing this partnership.