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Camp Courtney, Okinawa, Japan
Shoot. Move. Communicate. III MEF trains for the future during Keen Edge

By Maj. Brian Block | III Marine Expeditionary Force | January 30, 2020

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OKINAWA, Japan – Marines and Sailors from III Marine Expeditionary Force put future warfighting concepts to the test alongside their Japanese and Joint counterparts during Exercise Keen Edge from January 23 – 30. 

This year’s Keen Edge included a scenario that provided fertile ground for testing new concepts and processes, many of them directly relatable to the 38th Commandant of the Marine Corps’ Planning Guidance.  As the Corps’ main effort, III MEF seized the opportunity to experiment with designing and employing a force optimized to persist inside an enemy threat ring in support of our partners and allies.

“This exercise helps us answer an important question for the Corps: how do we increase the Navy-Marine Corps Team’s lethality and resilience and contribute to all domain access, deterrence, sea control, and power projection?” said Maj. Gen. Paul J. Rock, Jr., Deputy Commanding General, III MEF. “What we’re seeing is that forward-deployed and distributed Marine forces, and III MEF in particular, can be a key component in a Joint and bilateral maritime campaign.”

III MEF incorporated direction from the 38th Commandant’s Planning Guidance to “be trained and equipped as a naval expeditionary force-in-readiness and prepared to operate inside actively contested maritime spaces in support of fleet operations”, in planning for this year’s scenario.  Naval integration, the employment of expeditionary advanced bases, and tight coordination with Japanese allies and the Joint Force were key aspects of the training. 

              Battle drills and cross-command coordination drew out insights, both for the MEF and other participants, about how forward-deployed and distributed Marine Corps units contribute to Joint and bi-lateral forces’ efforts to limit enemy freedom of movement while ensuring our own.  While Keen Edge may be based in a simulated environment, the results of the exercise will have significant implications for how the MEF, and potentially the Marine Corps, fights in the future.

“The immediate value of this exercise is in increasing mutual understanding,” said Col Matthew W. Tracy, Assistant Chief of Staff, Plans, III MEF. “We need to understand how our Japanese partners will fight this fight.  We need to understand how the Joint force will fight this fight.  And we need to help all the other players on the field understand how the MEF will contribute to this fight so that we can synchronize our efforts to maximum effect.”

              In addition to enhancing the MEF’s own readiness and testing new concepts, Keen Edge also further developed the strong relationship between III MEF and the Japanese Self Defense Force.  Keen Edge is one in a series of Joint/bilateral command post exercises designed to increase interagency coordination, combat readiness, and interoperability of all participants.

              “The relationships we build with our Japanese counterparts in these exercises are strong and enduring,” said Col. Mark S. Coppess, Fires and Effects Coordinator, III MEF.  “And those relationships are just the latest in a history that has kept the U.S.-Japan alliance strong for the last 60 years.”

Keen Edge allows the United States and Japan to practice coordination procedures and improve interoperability in order to effectively defend Japan or to respond to a regional crisis.  The U.S.-Japan alliance plays an indispensable role in ensuring the security and prosperity of both the United States and Japan, as well as regional peace and security.

Ultimately, the lessons learned from Exercise Keen Edge will sustain the Marine Corps’ position as the preeminent littoral warfare and expeditionary warfare service for years to come.


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