MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan --
An awaiting crew huddled along the deck of a ship as the whirring blades of an MH-53E Sea Dragon displaced the seawater below and landed on the helicopter pad of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force vessel JS Uraga.
This afternoon excursion between the U.S. Navy Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron 14, Detachment 2A, and the JMSDF Mine Sweeper Division One was part of the Mine Countermeasures Exercise 2JA that took place July 15 to 30, near the region surrounding Misawa Air Base, Japan.
The units came together during the bilateral exercise with a goal of strengthening interoperability and mine countermeasure capabilities in accordance with the rebalancing initiative throughout the Indo-Asia-Pacific area of responsibility.
“We’re close to operating in parallel,” said U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Tony Campigotto, the officer-in-charge of the HM-14, Detachment 2A. “Like us, [the JMSDF] has helicopters, surface mine countermeasure ships and divers. Everything we have been doing, the Japanese have also been doing during this exercise.”
By utilizing the strategic location of Misawa and operating out of the base, the U.S. Navy enabled their personnel to practice moving gear and people from one country to another.
“We’re a rapid-response unit and are expected to respond anywhere in the world within 72 hours,” said Campigotto. “It’s not easy to pick up and move your shop from one country to another, but every time we go on the road, we get a little bit better at moving overseas and being ready to operate.”
In addition to the HM-14, Detachment 2A, the Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship, USS Patriot, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit 5, Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 25, and Mine Countermeasures Squadron 7 participated in the annual exercise.
“It’s so significant that the U.S. Navy participated in this exercise because not only does it strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance, but also contributes to improving our mine warfare strategy,” said Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Capt. Kazuo Nishi, the Mine Sweeper Division One commander. “I’ve learned a lot about the U.S. Navy during this exercise, including their sincerity and aggressive attitude toward training.”
The U.S. Navy participated in the JMDSF’s annual exercise to integrate both service’s mine countermeasures training.
“When we get called about a mine, we rig up the aircraft with equipment in the back, fly out to the location and either detonate the mine by triggering them, or by bringing in EOD technicians to help,” said U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Pablo Castaneda, a naval aircrewman with the HM-14, Detachment 2A. “Since [the JMSDF] has the same mine countermeasures mission we do, it’s good for our militaries to come together to practice finding and clearing mines. We work together to stay proficient at what we do.”
During daily missions, units used remotely operated vehicles, sonar and other gear to practice tactics like sweeping, helicopter casting, hunting and neutralization.
“On a unit level, we have training scenarios for our pilots and our aircrew to complete every day,” said Campigotto. “Maintainers have a goal of ensuring the aircraft are prepared for flight on a moment’s notice. Pilots and the aircrew complete unit-level training requirements and qualifications, like deck landing and towing.”
To conduct these tasks in real-world scenarios, the aircrew must be proficient in mine removal procedures.
Campigotto said that through repetition, the sailors become more skilled at knowing what to pack, why they pack it and who to take with them when called to respond to a mine threat.
“It's great exposure and experience for the fliers to be able to navigate international airspace, talk to different controllers and navigate in new countries,” said Campigotto. “Our detachment’s ability to operate on partner nation’s ships deters the enemy’s willingness to place mines.”
Responding as quickly as possible to remove mines from waterways is necessary because they can cause major disruptions to maritime lines of communication and supports the U.S. Pacific Command’s commitment to assuring all nations have access to air and sea domains throughout the region.
“Mine warfare is a dynamic environment requiring maximum flexibility,” said Campigotto. “Think about how many resources and goods travel through the ocean. If you close an area, it stops transportation and disrupts the entire world – we cannot allow that to happen.”
Because the mine countermeasures mission operates alongside unpredictable circumstances, the U.S. Navy ensures its personnel are prepared for all possibilities by training and working with different nations.
“Our detachment’s ability to operate forward either on U.S. ships or partner nation’s ships, like the JS Uraga, improves our response to mine threats,” said Campigotto. “The more we refine our partnership and interoperability, the better we can work together should the need arise.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: While at Misawa, the MH-14, Detachment 2A, did more than exercise with the JMSDF. They were also able to provide transportation for the Pacific Air Forces F-16 Fighting Falcon Demonstration Team to the Sapporo Air Show, one of the largest domestic aviation events in Japan.