Some of the British Army’s most feared soldiers have shared their battlecraft with Japanese troops.
For Exercise Vigilant Isles 23 (Ex VI23) last month, 128 personnel from Brunei-based B (Sari Bair) Company, 1st Battalion, The Royal Gurkha Rifles (1RGR) travelled to Japan.
The Gurkhas joined forces in the Far East with 20 soldiers from 16 Air Assault Brigade and 16 personnel from 3 SCOTS, Royal Regiment of Scotland, as they trained alongside around 400 personnel from the Japan Ground Self-Defence Force (JGSDF).
This was the largest ever Vigilant Isles exercise.
Before the two-week exercise began, a joint weapons and equipment capability demonstration at Somagahara camp helped the Japanese and British forces understand each other’s capabilities.
Rifleman Saekar Limbu said,
“We are excited about training with the Japanese and looking forward to sharing our tactics and ideas. We may be deployed together in the same country in the future. So in such a situation it will be easier to know how they operate.”
“We are looking forward to showing our Japanese counterparts how we stay silent at night while on patrol and track and kill the enemy.” Rifleman Pravin Tamar
Ex VI23 was delivered by the JGSDF’s 3rd Battalion, 1st Airborne Brigade and consisted of two main phases: functional training and comprehensive training.
Major Carl Schroeder, Officer Commanding, B Coy 1RGR said,
"As well as increasing the size of the forces, we have been able to bring live ammunition into Japan for the first time to do live firing with the Japanese forces."
At the Sekiyama training camp, 1RGR troops took part in live fire tactical training with JGSDF soldiers, using drones, machine guns, snipers and mortars.
Lieutenant Tom Last, 1RGR, set the scene:
“The two units – one Japanese, one British – will be assaulting an enemy position. We will prepare the battlefield for Japanese mortars alongside Japanese and UK snipers with UK support fired from a machine gun.”
During the comprehensive training phase at Ojyojibara training camp, a joint British and Japanese Exercise Control (EXCON) centre was camouflaged deep in a forest.
The control centre was set up after advance infiltration units from both sides deployed on to the ground where they had 24 hours to identity enemy locations including, critically, their anti-air capability.
Japanese advance forces then landed by parachute, and a British Army aviation assault was launched from a CH-47 Chinook, comprising a bilateral attack.
Captain Pete Foster, 1RGR said,
“The British forces headquarters was attached to the Japanese HQ, with both commanded by Lieutenant Colonels."
“We operated with a common map, one half Japanese, the other half English, and we met in the middle to merge our intelligence, our fires and plan together.
“As Gurkhas, we get very used to communicating across languages."
“But we understand that communicating isn’t just verbal, it can be so much more, and therefore working with the Japanese we haven’t always needed a linguist because we understand how to communicate through other means.”
The Gurkhas are a unique unit in the Army with a reputation of being among the finest and most feared soldiers in the world.
Major Carl Schroeder, Officer Commanding, B Coy 1RGR, said,
“Vigilant Isles 23 is very important to the British Army because this is the first time the exercise has run since the UK and Japan signed a major defence agreement at the start of this year."
“This has enabled us to do a lot more than we could on previous exercises."
“As well as increasing the size of the forces, we have been able to bring live ammunition into Japan for the first time to do live firing with the Japanese forces."
At the end of Ex VI23, Major Shroeder reflected on how his troops adapted to the different terrain in Japan, saying,
“We are used to operating in the jungle in temperatures of 30 degrees plus, so coming into a Japanese late autumn has been a bit of a culture shock."
"We had to pull all our warm kit out of deep storage, so it’s been good to get back to soldiering in cold weather, very similar to back in the UK."
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.
Ex VI23 will serve as a key training progression for 1RGR B Coy on the way to Indo-Pacific task force validation in 2024.