50 members of the HAC in London have gone to Fuji Training Camp on the slopes of the Japanese mountain to work with the Japanese Ground Self-Defence Forces as part of their annual camp. Troops will be deployed to observation posts in the rural training area to simulate a joint operation involving a similar number of Japanese soldiers. The exercise will focus on sharing tactics and surveillance techniques.
Exercise VIGILANT ISLES began with a joint helicopter drill where troops from both nations demonstrated their rapid reaction capability. The training continues for the next fortnight in Ojijihara, north of the city of Sendai, a five-hour drive from Tokyo.
The HAC is the Army’s Reserve intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance regiment. Commanding Officer Lt. Col. Mark Wood, said:
“The HAC has almost 500 years of history, but this is the first time anyone in the Regiment or indeed the British Army has had the opportunity to train alongside the Japanese Ground Self Defence Force. It is an incredible privilege to be at the vanguard. The Japanese have been incredibly welcoming and excellent partners to work with, and we have learned a huge amount from them, improving both our mutual understanding and our ability to plan and conduct activity together.”
Despite recent joint exercises with both the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force, this is the first time any foreign troops- with the exception of the Americans- have conducted military exercises on Japanese soil. Lt. General Patrick Sanders, Commander Field Army, visited the British troops at Fuji on October 2.
“It’s important to remember that the British army works alongside its allies around the world and trains with many of its security partners,” he said. “Japan remains one of our most important strategic partners in the Asia-Pacific region and we welcome the opportunity to develop strong bilateral ties as well as demonstrate the UK’s approach to joint exercises. No nation operates alone and we want to assure Japan that they will not have to fight alone either. Stability in Asia is essential to stability around the world and the UK is opposed to any change in the status quo by force. This exercise is designed to promote peace and stability in the region with our natural partners whose values of respect and democracy we share.”
General Tamara of the JGSDF was also present and commended the exercising troops: “The HAC has a very long and respected history within the British Army and we are grateful to the British for sending such an experienced unit. Japan wants to deepen security cooperation between our two island nations who share so many values. We hope this is the beginning many joint exercises.”
It comes after a number of recent communications from the Japanese in which they have made it clear that they view the imminent British departure from the European Community as an opportunity to re-establish trade and other relations with the UK. A naval visit by a Japanese ship to a British port earlier this year as part of the process of building closer ties with the UK.
During a visit by the PM to Japan, local officials said they would welcome the UK into the Trans-Pacific Partnership as it would provide Britain with access to a trading-bloc of eleven countries rather than a bi-lateral trade-agreement with Japan alone. However, some have commented that Britain’s enthusiasm, for such a move has now left the Japanese uncertain as to how talks with a separate bi-lateral with the UK deal might now progress.
The exercises have so far involved drills and safety exercises on Japanese Chinooks prior to getting out on the ground. The HAC has also been working with their Japanese counterparts on planning the exercise.
The Surveillance and Reconnaissance role of the HAC
“The role of a Surveillance and Reconnaissance Patrol, which is a team of four/six specialist soldiers, is to conduct static covert surveillance at long range and in close proximity to the enemy. The patrols are trained and equipped both to collect highly granular information and intelligence and to deliver joint effects at range; be they kinetic (all patrols contain personnel trained in the delivery of precision and indirect fires) or non-kinetic. A pre-requisite of service in the Patrols is successful completion of the SR Patrol Course and qualification as a Special Observer. Training emphasises mental and physical resilience and a high premium is placed on well-developed self-reliance and self-discipline. Patrols are trained with a variety of skills to mitigate the dangers of operating in a high-risk environment and/or isolated circumstances. Unlike most Army Reserve units, who are only required to train at up to sub-unit (company or squadron) level, the HAC is required to train as a regiment.”