Innovation and Adaptation


By Aaron Wright May 14, 2019

Ex SOUTHERN JACKAROO is a trilateral exercise conducted between military forces from Australia, Japan and the United States (US). Held annually, the Exercise rotates between the 1st, 3rd and 7th Brigade (BDE). This year was 3 BDE’s turn to host a combat team level training exercise under the new combat exercise simulation scenario, the Decisive Action Training Environment (DATE).

I became involved at the beginning of the final planning conference as lead translator and worked closely with the Japanese Ground Self Defence Force (JGSDF) along with my linguist team: Private (PTE) Alistair Mchray, who was with me from the beginning, as well as attached US Army Captain (CAPT) Hiro Shono, Craftsman (CFN) Wayne Vickery, and native Japanese speaker Officer Cadet (OCDT) Oscar Fowely, who supported at various times throughout the exercise.

Ex SOUTHERN JACKAROO involved four combat teams from the JGSDF Air Mobile 2nd Infantry Regiment, United States Marine Corps (USMC), Australia's 2nd Cavalry Regiment (2 CAV) (with US Army infantry assets attached) and the 1st Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (1 RAR). All foreign combat teams had armour and other assets provided by 3 BDE for the duration of the exercise, during which they conducted a gauntlet of Situational Training Exercises (STX), culminating in a large Live Firing Exercise (LFX) with artillery support provided by the 4th Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery.

The JGSDF main body arrived on the 10th May 18 and began a week of vehicle familiarisation with 3 RAR and 2 CAV in preparation for the deployment to the High Range Training Area. Being air mobile, the JDSF COY had little prior experience working with armoured vehicles and found the lessons conducted by Lieutenant Natasha James and her M113 troop to be highly rewarding. This in-barracks phase proved to be a test of our linguistic capabilities due to a lack of Australian Army Japanese linguists, which meant we only had myself and PTE Mchray for 127 Japanese personnel, stretching us to the limit.

Fortunately, the Officer Commanding, CAPT K. Wada, and his Second-in-Command, CAPT E. Ikenouchi, spoke excellent English, and the JGSDF had brought with them a significant linguistic capability which made the translation tasks for multiple simultaneous training serials feasible. Cultural and linguistic friction points developed throughout the first week, but together the Japanese and Australian linguist teams were able to overcome these and gained valuable insights about each other. Special mention must go to CAPT Darren Carter, who fulfilled the role of 3 RAR Liaison Officer to the JGSF, and worked tirelessly to resolve issues as they arose.

JGSDF deploying to the Ex assembly area

The JGSDF deployed to High Range Training Area on the 14th May 18 and began setting up their assembly area. At the same time our linguistic staff increased with the addition of Army Defence Force Academy OCDT Fowler, a native Japanese speaker who immigrated to Australia as a teenager. He quickly proved himself to be an invaluable asset, and within a day of deploying on the exercise, was already translating a trilateral live fire mortar activity between the USMC, JGSDF and the Australian Army.

A JGSDF DFSW soldier inspects a Panzerfaust

The JGSDF spent the first week on exercise making use of our live fire ranges, taking advantage of Australia's spacious areas. ‘We don’t have firing ranges this large in Japan’, remarked the Direct Fire Support Weapons (DFSW) expert CAPT Ikenouchi upon arriving at the DFSW Live Fire Range. The JGSDF displayed an impressive array of DFSW weapon systems, including Japanese built anti-armour weapons. They were even able to successfully engage targets over 100m beyond the standard effective range of the their basic anti-armour weapon system.

The elite JGSDF sniper section demonstrated their deadly craft during the live fire serials, conducting 500m leopard crawls in full ghillie suits before engaging targets at 600m with pinpoint accuracy. Their stealth was such that even the Australian soldiers didn’t see them crawling past. No surprise then that JGSDF regularly take home many medals each year at the Australian Army Skill at Arms Meeting (AASAM). A running theme throughout the JGSDF live fire serials was a paramount concern for safety, going even beyond the rigorous safety standards employed by the Australian Army. Utilising a series of coloured helmet covers, JGSDF personnel rotate through a variety of roles, often having one safety supervisor per shooter or pair of shooters. All spent ammunition casings were collected and returned by each individual soldier with punishments issued for any that went missing, making range clearance and clean-up a simple task.

The second week saw the Japanese combat team put through their paces, as they integrated with Australian Army assets to conduct a number of activities based on a variety of potential operational scenarios. First was a combined arms attack on an enemy position, supported by 3 RAR Armoured Personnel Carriers and 2 CAV M1 Abrams, with a cut-off targeting retreating enemy forces conducted by the JGSDF DFSW platoon and sniper sections in Protected Mobility Vehicles. CAPT Wada lead the attack from the command and control M113 alongside LTCOL Mick Kearns, Commanding Officer of 3 RAR. Of particular note was the speed and precision of the Japanese team who covered significant ground in their assigned Bushmaster vehicles to cut off retreating enemy Infantry Fighting Vehicles with their anti-armour weapons. “The cut-off was conducted perfectly”, remarked LTCOL Kearns during the activity’s After Activity Review (AAR).

JGSDF employ a variety of coloured helmet covers during live fire shoots to denote roles and responsibilities. Red – Instruction and command, Blue – Safety Supervisor, Yellow – Ammunition control, Red & White – Officer in Charge

The next activity saw a change of pace as the JGSDF took up a defensive position handed over to them from 2 CAV in order to practice their defensive operations. The day saw the JGSDF deal with simulated civilians wandering onto the position seeking aid as well as the enemy conducting probes and an attack during the night.

Withdrawing from the position under the cover of darkness, the JGSDF proceeded to the final activity before the LFX, Urban Combat Training. Simulating the complex and dangerous urban environments Australian forces operate in overseas, the Japanese demonstrated a slow and methodical approach. The Australian Army participants were able to offer excellent advice during the AAR to their Japanese counterparts, insights garnered from years of operational experience and training.

The exercise culminated in a morning LFX, which saw the Japanese combat team attack a prepared defensive position. Supported by four 155mm guns from 4 Regt, USMC mortars, Japanese mortars and 2 CAV armoured assets, the JGSDF successfully took the feature. For many of the JGSDF soldiers, it was their first LFX of such a large scale. They were thrilled to have taken part in it. The AAR was dominated by comments on the valuable insights section and platoon commanders had gained, and many were keen to update and refine their own operating procedures based on what they had learned.

Lead Linguist, CAPT A. Wright, JGSDF Combat Team OC CAPT K. Wada and 3RAR CO LTCOL M. Kearns.

The exercise wrapped up with a final week in Lavarack Barracks and the JGSDF forces were given a weekend off to explore Townsville and the surrounding natural area. Overall it was a rewarding experience for everyone involved. I personally walked away with a host of new friends that I will be keeping in touch with in Japan for years to come. While it was challenging speaking Japanese in a military context, myself and the rest of the Japanese translation team look forward to any future work with the JGSDF.

Click on the image to access the JGSDF Ex SOUTHERN JACKAROO official video



Aaron Wright

Aaron Wright is an Australian Army Education Officer who is currently posted as the officer in charge of the Puckapunyal Army Education Centre. Aaron has a Masters level Graduate Certificate in Cyber Security from Charles Stuart University. Before commissioning as an officer he spent five years living and working in Japan teaching English and karate.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

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