Marines, Japan Wrap Up Resolute Dragon Exercise, Begin Exercise Kamandag

November 9, 2023 4:36 PM
Leadership with 4th Marine Brigade speaks to U.S. Marines with 3d Littoral Logistics Battalion, 3d Marine Littoral Regiment, 3d Marine Division, and Philippine Marines after a motivational run for the 73rd Philippine Marine Corps Birthday before KAMANDAG 7, at Camp Cape Bojeador, Philippines, Nov. 7, 2023. US Marines Corps Photo

The U.S. Marine Corps wrapped up exercise Resolute Dragon 23 with the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force, on Oct. 31 and began Exercise Kamandag Thursday in the Philippines.

On Oct. 31, the Marines finished up the Field Training Exercise (FTX) portion of RD23, which began on Oct. 14 in Japan. The FTX followed an earlier first phase held in July that focused on enhancing relationships between the command posts of III Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) and the JGSDF Western Army and deliberate planning for future bilateral training, according to a Marine Corps release.

Approximately 3,300 U.S. service members with various units across III MEF and the joint force and approximately 5,000 service members of the Japan Self-Defense Force (SDF) participated in the drills, which were carried out across 19 installations and facilities from Hokkaido and throughout Kyushu and the southwest islands.

“III MEF and the JGSDF Western Army actively rehearsed bilateral command and control and combined arms live-fire training, building linkages between Marine Corps Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations and the JGSDF’s Cross-Domain Operations concepts,” said U.S. Marine Corps Col. Andrew Gourgoumis, III MEF current operations officer, in the release. “This is the first time that we conducted training and established a bilateral coordination center at Camp Ishigaki, which opened this past spring.”

The release added that a number of first-time activities were carried out, including the first deployment of a U.S. Marine Corps TPS-80 Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar via a flight on a Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) C-2 cargo airplane, from JASDF Naha Air Base, Okinawa to JGSDF Camp Ishigaki on Ishigaki Island. Camp Ishigaki also hosted the first bilateral casualty evacuation drill using JGSDF CH-47 Chinooks and JGSDF V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft.

The 1st Marine Aircraft Wing’s Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 262, the Western Army Aviation Group and 1st Helicopter Brigade increased interoperability between the two nations by testing new tactics, and, for the first time, JGSDF AH-64 Apache attack helicopters provided an attached escort for a Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey while operating in the Hijyudai Range of Northern Kyushu, according to a Oct. 26 Marine Corps release.

RD23 was the first integration of Task Force 75, Navy Expeditionary Forces Pacific, into III MEF and Western Army bilateral operations, and was another opportunity for bilateral operations with U.S. Army’s 1st Multi-Domain Task Force (MDTF) integration, according to the release.

“The 1st MDTF, alongside our joint partners and allies, are synchronizing effects across all domains, presenting multiple dilemmas to our adversaries and demonstrating a combat credible force that advances our shared goals of preventing conflict and ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific,” said Brig. Gen. Bernard Harrington, the commander of the 1st MDTF, in the release. “Resolute Dragon is also an important opportunity for us to advance our combined and joint interoperability at the human, technical and procedural levels, critical to increasing our effectiveness as a combined and joint force.”

The Marines now will carry out Exercise Kamandag in the Philippines from Nov. 9–20 alongside the Philippines Marine Corps, JGSDF and the Republic of Korea Marine Corps. The UK’s Royal Marines will participate as observers.

Marine Rotational Force – South East Asia (MRF-SEA) will lead the U.S. forces, which will include 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment (MLR), 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and elements of III MEF with Colonel Thomas M. Siverts, who commands both MRF-SEA and 11th MEU, being the overall U.S. commander.

“When you talk about dedication to shared regional security, stability, and a Free and Open Indo-Pacific, KAMANDAG is just that. This seventh iteration is historic for many reasons,” said Col. Siverts, commanding officer of MRF-SEA in a Marine Corps release on Saturday. “One reason is our continued strengthening Alliance reflected in the sheer scope of this year’s exercise. Secondly, MRF-SEA only participated in this exercise last year, and now we are privileged to be leading all U.S. Marine forces in this year’s exercise. Most importantly, we’re able to capitalize on relationships established a year ago. We’re leading and improving interoperability alongside the very same Philippine Marine Corps counterparts”.

The drills taking place will be conducted at various training sites throughout Luzon, Batanes, Zamboanga, Tawi-Tawi and Palawan, according to the release. Participating forces will conduct humanitarian aid and disaster relief training to include chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear training operations, littoral search and rescue, coastal defense training and amphibious operations, conduct medical subject matter expert exchanges and participate in staff integration events along the eastern and northern coasts of the Philippines.

“Participation from the JGSDF, the Republic of Korea, and observers from the U.K. in this year’s iteration underscores the global importance of maritime security, demonstrating our combined commitment to maintaining stability and peace across the Indo-Pacific region,” according to the release.

Elsewhere, CNN reported that a Chinese J-11 fighter jet fired flares in front of a Canadian CH-148 Cyclone helicopter that was operating from frigate HMCS Ottawa (FFH-341) in the South China Sea on Oct. 29, following an earlier incident in which Chinese J-11 fighters flew close to the helicopter.

The first incident occurred over international waters 34 miles from the Paracel Island chain in the northern part of the South China Sea. The second incident took place over international waters 23 miles from the Paracels while Ottawa was operating in international waters 100 miles east of the Paracels, according to CNN, which also reported that Ottawa’s officers told them the helicopter was searching for a detected submarine.

Maj. Rob Millen, the helicopter pilot, told CNN that during the first incident, the Chinese fighters flew in circles around his helicopter, coming as close as to 100 feet, and his helicopter experienced turbulence coming off the Chinese jets, posing a danger to the helicopter. Millen said he ended that encounter by descending to 200 feet, an area in which the helicopter can operate but is “very uncomfortable for fast air fighter jets.”

During the second incident, a J-11 fired flares in front of the helicopter. There was a risk of “the flares moving into the rotor blades or the engines so this was categorized as both unsafe and non-standard, unprofessional,” Millen told CNN, which was embarked on the warship. Ottawa conducted a Taiwan Strait transit on Thursday, along with destroyer USS Rafael Peralta (DDG-115).

Canada’s Department of National Defence issued a statement on Friday confirming the incident and said that while deployed in support of Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, Ottawa’s embarked CH-148 Cyclone helicopter was conducting routine exercises in the South China Sea, when it was intercepted by two People’s Liberation Army J-11 fighter jets on Oct. 29.

Though the initial encounter was safe, two subsequent encounters were deemed unsafe, according to the release. The Canadian agency added that all interactions took place in international airspace, well outside any claimed territorial seas and associated airspace.

“The Canadian Armed Forces considers an intercepting aircraft’s actions to be unsafe when those actions place our aircraft in danger or cause the pilot to manoeuvre to avoid collision. The Canadian aircraft was subject to multiple close-proximity manoeuvres by a People’s Liberation Army J-11 fighter jet that put the safety of all personnel involved at unnecessary risk,” reads the statement. “Canada expects that any intercepts of our aircraft be conducted in a safe and professional manner.”

In a Saturday reply to Chinese media queries, Senior Col. Zhang Xiaogang, spokesperson at China’s Ministry of National Defense said that Ottawa had made two sorties of ship-borne helicopters with unknown intentions approaching China’s Xisha (China’s name for the Paracel Islands) airspace and that the People’s Liberation Army organized naval and air forces to conduct identification and verification in accordance with the law, and issued warnings multiple times.

He added that the Canadian helicopter not only refused to respond, but also took provocative actions such as flying at ultra-low altitudes, and that after that the media ‘hyped’ the incident and accused and smeared China.

“Canada’s move violates China’s domestic laws and relevant international laws, jeopardizes China’s sovereignty and security, and is a malicious and provocative act with ulterior motives. China’s relevant response and handling actions are professional and standardized. We urge the Canadian side not to ignore the facts, stop exaggerating and hyping up the situation, and strictly restrict the actions of frontline sea and air forces to prevent accidents at sea and in the air,” Zhang said.

Dzirhan Mahadzir

Dzirhan Mahadzir

Dzirhan Mahadzir is a freelance defense journalist and analyst based in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. Among the publications he has written for and currently writes for since 1998 includes Defence Review Asia, Jane’s Defence Weekly, Navy International, International Defence Review, Asian Defence Journal, Defence Helicopter, Asian Military Review and the Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter.

Get USNI News updates delivered to your inbox