Aviation Training Relocation at Tsuiki

Currently, Tsuiki Air Base of the Japan Air Self-Defence Force (JASDF), located in Fukuoka Prefecture, hosts current edition of Aviation Training Relocation (ATR) programme, being a part of the JASDF and the United States bilateral cooperation. The exercise involves F-2 and F-35A crews and is focused on familiarizing pilots of both aircraft with each other through joint planning and flight trainings.  

The ATR programme was established in 2006, as a result of the United States-Japan Roadmap for Realignment Implementation. Its three main goals are to increase operational readiness, to improve the US-Japan interoperability in terms of fighter aviation and to reduce local noise impact.  

Those goals are being achieved by dispersing jet fighter trainings to several air bases across Japan, thus allowing both air forces to better understand each other´s tactics and capabilities. Pilots from the United States Air Force, the United States Marine Corps and the JASDF participate in the ATR trainings with different types of aircraft, thus increasing the level of interoperability. In addition, rotating the exercises between different locations provides the crews access to a variety of locations with disparate conditions and training requirements.  

Reduced noise pollution is another important factor. The ATR programme changed the usual approach when aviation trainings have impact on just a few communities by distributing the disturbing factors to various areas in a balanced, bilateral approach. Within the ATR programme, the air forces are still able to conduct exercises and fulfil their training objectives but without disturbing noise impact.   

Initially, three American and six Japan air bases joined the programme – Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Kadena and Misawa Air Bases of the USAF, as well as Tsuiki, Nyutabaru, Hyakuri, Chitose, Komatsu and Misawa air bases of the JASDF. In 2011, further territories in the Pacific area that are under the US administration were added, such as Guam. In addition, the fighter aviation activities are being supported by MV-22B Osprey and KC-130J refuelling aircraft operating from bases on Okinawa Island. 

Tsuiki ATR – 4th Fighter Squadron flightline at Tsuiki air base (USAF photo by Tech. Sgt. Kyle Johnson)

The ATR programme is funded through a cost-share agreement between the governments of Japan and the United States. In January of 2007, during the Joint Committee meeting, both countries agreed on the abovementioned cost-sharing procedures, as well as modality of bilateral training plans.  

The first joint training within the ATR programme was organized in March of 2007, at Tsuiki Air Base. It involved the 8th Air Wing of the JASDF and the 18th Wing of the USAF, both participating with their F-15 Eagle fighters. The Air Combat Manoeuvring Training was the main goal of the first ATM meeting. 

The current edition of the ATR training is being held at Tsuiki airfield from 5th to 15th December 2023. It involves Mitsubishi F-2 multirole fighter aircraft of the 8th Air Wing of the JASDF and F-35A Lightning II 5th generation fighters assigned to the 4th Fighter Squadron, Hill Air Force Base in Utah. 

The crews participating in the ATR exercise at Tsuiki are given the opportunity to practice deployed agile combat employment operations while performing bilateral training in a joint environment alongside the 8th Air Wing. As part of the training, the USAF personnel integrates with their JASDF counterparts both in the air and on the ground, to maximize bilateral interoperability using only resources that are absolutely necessary for mission success. 

´We have eagerly anticipated this opportunity to train and integrate with members of the 8th Wing, to test our expeditionary capabilities, and to strengthen our ability to defend Japan together´, said USAF Lt. Col. Jondavid ‘Dok’ Hertzel, the 4th Fighter Squadron commander, and added that ´the Japan-United States Alliance provides critical deterrence to aggression in the region, and our deployment to Tsuiki strengthens this deterrence´. 

Tsuiki ATR – USAF airmen participate in an aircraft brief from JASDF pilots on the F-2 (USAF photo by Airman 1st Class Luis E. Rios Calderon)

Cover photo: Japan Air Self-Defense Force crew chiefs prepare an F-2 for takeoff during the Tsuiki Aviation Training Relocation event on the Tsuiki Air Base flightline, Dec. 12, 2023. (USAF photo by Tech. Sgt. Kyle Johnson).
All photos © U.S. Department of Defence (DoD). DoD and Japan Ministry of Defence information materials were used, in compliance with Public Domain licence. The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.