Saviors from the sky
CAMP TACHIKAWA, Japan – Senior leaders from approximately 20 military and civilian rotary wing organizations from Japan and United States converged at Camp Tachikawa in Tokyo Prefecture, Japan, to share best practices during the second Tachikawa Helicopter Conference July 26, 2016.
“This conference brings together representatives from the Japan Self-Defense Forces, United States military branches, and Japan’s civil aviation authorities to exchange information and develop policies to conduct helicopter operations during a major disaster,” said Japan Ground Self-Defense Force Col. Hikaru Sano, commander of JGSDF’s Eastern Army Aviation Group. “Air operations are inherently dangerous, especially when hundreds of helicopters from a dozen agencies fill the sky. We must create mutually agreed procedures now to maintain control of the air when disaster strikes our shores and cities.”
Among the scores of attendees sat five Soldiers from U.S. Army Aviation Battalion Japan, a rotary and fixed wing command headquartered in Camp Zama.
“We are the only [U.S.] rotary aviation battalion wing in Japan,” said Army Lt. Col. Bryan C. Jones, commander of USAABJ. “Our primary mission is to provide aviation support for U.S. Army Japan, though we have a long standing agreement with our Japanese partners to support them if they request it. Such agreements are made possible in party by our command’s 60-year partnership built on mutual respect and friendship.”
For three hours Jones and his counterparts from JGSDF, U.S. Air Force, Japan Marine Self-Defense Force, Tokyo Fire Department, All Japan Air Transport and Service Association, and other agencies discussed one another’s disaster response capabilities while learning about new procedures designed to enhance airspace coordination in the event of a catastrophic earthquake.
“A major earthquake could potentially kill, injure or isolate hundreds of thousands of people,” said Sano. “The victims will literally look up to us for salvation as we could very well be their best and only hope for survival.”
“Understanding procedural controls is paramount to safe flying,” said Jones, a native of Raleigh, North Carolina. “Identifying flight paths, using common [radio] frequencies and operating at specific altitudes are but a few ways to ensure we can quickly and safely deliver critical supplies and key personnel to disaster-stricken communities.”
During the conference, Sano and his Eastern Army aviator hosts gave their guests a tour of the P-20 System, the JGSDF’s newest mobile air traffic control platform.
“The P-20 System consists of three vehicles that work in tangent to provide radio communications, radar coverage and air traffic control for hundreds of aircraft,” said Sano. “Its crew of 10 soldiers can set up the entire system in less than two hours.”
“I was impressed with the [P-20’s] rapid mobility and extended range,” said Jones. “It enhances air operations by giving our crews confidence knowing that there’s a reliable system that monitors movements and prevents mid-air collisions.”
As Jones and his USAABJ team members boarded their UH-60L Blackhawk helicopter and bade farewell to their gracious hosts and fellow aviators, both sides expressed sincere interest in hosting future conferences.
“This is the second time the JGSDF has hosted a helicopter conference at the international, inter-agency level,” said Sano. “We have made much progress by discussing our capabilities and presenting new procedures. I believe we will soon be in position to transform these discussion points into training programs.”
“I hope the next conference includes a tabletop scenario that simulates air operations over a major disaster area,” said Jones. “Participants can play out the scenario the way their respective unit or agency would operate. That way we can identify potential problems and develop a course of action that maximizes our collective strengths and skillsets.”