By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Dec. 14, 2016) -- The bilateral command post exercise Yama Sakura 71 concluded Tuesday in Japan, where U.S. forces and Soldiers with the Japanese Western Army trained together to defeat a near-peer competitor.
This year's Yama Sakura -- a yearly exercise -- involved more than just Japan's Western Army and U.S. Army Soldiers with I Corps out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. Also participating were the 5th Air Force, the 7th Fleet, and the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force. Special Forces played a role as well.
Chief among the goals during Yama Sakura, according to I Corps commander, Lt. Gen. Stephen R. Lanza, was the enhancement of the bilateral decision-making process between Japanese and U.S. military partners.
"The Japanese have a different decision cycle than we do. They have a different way they make decisions than we do," Lanza said. "Overcoming those differences and finding common ground there was a top priority."
Increasing interoperability was also a priority, Lanza said, "so both U.S. and Japanese forces have the same picture of what's going on from an operational perspective and an intelligence perspective."
"What we've seen with the Japanese is that they have grown -- at least in the short time I've been in command," Lanza said. "[They've grown] in terms of not only their interoperability with U.S. forces, but their ability to apply joint resources to an Army operation."
The Japanese Army has enhanced their ability to call on air power, amphibious operations, and their navy, and Lanza attributed the vision of increasing joint interoperability to the Japanese leadership.
"It was really the vision of Gen. Kiyohumi Iwata, ... their chief of staff, who said we need to move in a different direction and break down the ability of services to work on their own and be able to do these joint operations," he explained.
"Any time you have the opportunity ... where you are actually training together as a headquarters, that forces that relationship and trust with the organization."
In addition to Yama Sakura, Lanza said that I Corps has undertaken a series of Pacific Pathways exercises over the course of three years. With Pathways, he said, I Corps has deployed on multi-month tours of multiple countries.
"The key for Pathways is that we want it to be additive to our home-station training readiness," Lanza said. "So as we train in other countries, as we go through the sustained readiness model, we're actually increasing more live-fire opportunities."
Right now, Lanza said, Pathways involves the U.S. Army and a few other U.S. military partners engaging with one country. In the future, he thinks, these Pacific Pathways could be enhanced through the inclusion of even more nations.
"Perhaps there are opportunities for multilateral pathways, where you have multiple countries working together," he said. "Right now it is just one country at a time."
Lanza suggested that including multiple domains of battle, including air, space and cyber, could also enhance Pacific Pathways. He nonetheless praised Pathways for increasing readiness for American Soldiers enhancing the partnerships between the United States and partner countries.
"The intrinsic value that we get, when you see the U.S. military operate in these different countries, is it enhances the professional militaries of these other countries as well, which then leads to better governance and better stability," he said.
"We see growth in their professionalism -- in their ability to be a professional military -- growth of their NCO corps, and growth of their leaders as well as ours."