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NEWS | Dec. 11, 2023

Yama Sakura 85: The Crucial Role of Multilateral Partnerships Among the US, Australia, and Japan

By Spc. Austin Robertson U.S. Army Japan

In an era marked by geopolitical shifts and evolving global dynamics, the significance of a free and open Indo-Pacific has never been more critical. One cornerstone of this pursuit is the ongoing partnership between the United States Army, the Australian Army, and the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF). To further bolster this partnership, the US, Australia, and Japan took part in Yama Sakura 85 at three sites across Japan.

A key theme of this year's Yama Sakura is interoperability. For the first time, the Australian Army took part in the exercise as a full partner, allowing all three nations to better understand each other's tactics, capabilities, and procedures.

Col. Mark Mankowski, the colonel of planning for the 1st Australian Division, said having Australia in this year's Yama Sakura truly strengthened the trilateral partnerships.

"It strengthens our bilateral relationships, which are strengthening politically, and our trilateral relationships with both the United States and Japan," he said. "This provides an outstanding opportunity to reinforce partnership at a military level."

The alignment of strategic objectives within this multilateral partnership amplifies the effectiveness of integrated deterrence against potential threats. Yama Sakura is an opportunity to pool resources and expertise and create a formidable front that discourages aggression and promotes peace and stability in the region.

“I think having the three nations of Japan, Australia, and the United States here exercising together in this open fashion, I think, really builds trust in the region, and our interoperability demonstrates that we are really committed to the region,” said Mankowski.

Lt. Gen. Jiro Hiroe, Commanding General of Training-Evaluation, Education, Research and Development Command (TERCOM), Japan Ground Self-Defense Force, said that Yama Sakura 85 is a demonstration of the firm will of the JGSDF's commitment to defending Japan.

"Yama Sakura has a long history and is the biggest land exercise in the Asia-Pacific Region, and that is very, very important, so not only can we demonstrate our strong will to defend Japan, but also we can contribute to the peace and security of the Indo-pacific Region," he said.

Yama Sakura 85 serves as a testament to the strength of diplomatic ties. It demonstrates a commitment beyond rhetoric, translating words into action through tangible cooperation and mutual respect. The three nations worked in a shared command post throughout the exercise, conducting meetings, developing plans, and executing operations together.

Hiroe said that the overall purpose of Yama Sakura, from a military perspective, is to improve interoperability.

"As for interoperability, there are three categories: the first one is the interoperability of sharing information among the Australian Army, US Army, and the JGSDF; the second category is the procedure of interoperability; and the third is the human interoperability and face-to-face interactions," he said.

Amid evolving regional dynamics and emerging challenges, the continuity and reinforcement of this multilateral partnership become imperative. Embracing emerging technologies, cybersecurity, and adapting to new security paradigms are among the evolving facets that require collective attention and collaboration.

"Exercises like Yama Sakura build interoperability and increase the integrated deterrence effort across the theater," said US Army Col. Stewart Lindsey, the officer-in-charge of operations for the 11th Airborne Division.

The multilateral partnership among the United States Army, Australian Army, and Japan Ground Self-Defense Force is not just about military cooperation. It symbolizes a commitment to the shared vision of a free, open, and prosperous Indo-Pacific. By strengthening these ties, the trio enhances regional security and lays the groundwork for a more peaceful and inclusive global order. As they navigate the complexities of the 21st century, their partnership remains a cornerstone in shaping a brighter future for the Indo-Pacific region.

"Having the Australians in this year's iteration of Yama Sakura after ten years of observation is great for the combined force," said Lindsey. "Working alongside partners and allies enables us to fill gaps in our tactical capabilities. As we fill gaps in tactical capabilities, we will build interoperability throughout these exercises."