June 26, 2017 (by Yasuo Osakabe) - Members of the 353rd Special Operations Group, from Kadena Air Base, Japan built on relationships with the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) Hamamatsu Air Rescue Squadron, based at Komaki Air Base and Komatsu Air Rescue Squadron, during Exercise Teak Jet, which took place June 9-21, 2017 at Yokota Air Base, Japan.
A USAF MC-130H Combat Talon II assigned to the 353rd SOG sits on the flightline after completing a mission during Exercise Teak Jet at Yokota AB on June 19, 2017. [USAF photo by Yasuo Osakabe]
“The primary focus of Exercise Teak Jet was working with our combined partners from JASDF’s Rescue Squadrons,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Altay Savrun, mission commander for Exercise Teak Jet.“We performed helicopter air-to-air refueling (HAAR) to JASDF UH-60J Black Hawk helicopters from our U.S. Air Force MC-130J Commando II and MC-130H Combat Talon II.”
Throughout the 10-day event, the Air Commandos flew over the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan to meet JASDF UH-60Js and execute HAAR training missions.
“The procedure of HAAR is standardized worldwide,” said Japan Air Self-Defense Force Maj. Hirotaka Nakamura, Komatsu Air Rescue Squadron UH-60J pilot. “Training with the 353rd SOG gave us an opportunity to train and to become familiarized with various types of refueling aircraft. The training allows us to understand each other’s method of operations, establish our standard procedures and improve our capabilities at the same time.”
A unique objective of this particular exercise was night HAAR using night vision goggles (NVG).
“This is the first time we’ve ever done a night time helicopter air refueling with JASDF Rescue Squadrons over mainland Japan.” said Savrun. “It’s big first step for us because disasters obviously go on day or night and we need to be ready to respond to whatever happens, 24/7.”
JASDF UH-60J crew members also had challenging opportunities during night HAAR trainings with NVG.
“The 353rd SOG members are highly trained with night operations capabilities and utilize them in the real-world.” said Nakamura. “For us (JASDF), having to communicate in English during the flight is an extra burden that we never have to worry about in our day-to-day routine. What’s more, a HAAR training with NVG is more challenging for us. It gave us a great opportunity to improve our comprehensive HAAR capabilities.”
HAAR mission sets can be used during humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HADR) operations. If any disaster hits mainland Japan, JASDF rescue helicopters can refuel quickly and directly from a USAF MC-130H or MC-130J.
“A helicopter is extremely range limited, so if there is any kind of disaster that occurs a great distance off-shore, they are not able to get there unless they either land on a ship to get gas or we provide air-to-air refueling.” said Savrun. “The bottom line is that refueling helicopters in the air allows them to fly longer and carry more, thus delivering more lifesaving supplies and providing medical evacuations (MEDVAC) as required.”
Mainland Japan’s unique mountainous terrain provided the ideal environment for the MC-130H Combat Talon II to conduct day and night visual low-level operations with their terrain-following radar, which enables the 1st Special Operations Squadron to infiltrate areas undetected and at night by hiding in the terrain and weather.
“The Combat Talon II is extremely capable in all kinds of weather and terrains,” said Capt. Kevin Jackson, 1st SOS MC-130H Combat Talon II pilot.
Low-level flights test the crew members’ teamwork and communication.
“It is a lot of fun and challenging work,” said Jackson. “It is a big crewconcept working with a navigator, electronic warfare officer, flight engineer and loadmasters to make sure the aircraft is flying safe and we are not getting close to the peaks of mountains.”
In addition to general flying operations, Combat Talon II’s crew members conducted low-cost, low-altitude, low-velocity, and high-velocity airdrops over the Combined Arms Training Center, Camp Fuji. Crew members also conducted low-level flights over the ocean.
“One of the other capabilities of the Combat Talon II is called ‘threat penetration,’ said Jackson. “We fly at 100 feet off the water and that allows us to operate under radar and fly along the coast so that we can be effective in hostile environments.”
The purpose of Exercise Teak Jet was to work closely with JASDF partners, share experiences and exchange skills.
“It was a great opportunity for us to train off the coast of Komatsu (in mainland) and improved our HARR skills,” said Nakamura. “We are looking forward to future training opportunities with the 353rd SOG.”
Exercise Teak Jet is a joint combined exchange training (JCET) focused on improving interoperability between U.S. Air Force and Japan Air Self-Defense Force.