Cope North 21 celebrates series of ‘firsts’ despite pandemic

Aircraft and members of the U.S. military, Royal Australian Air Force, and Koku-Jieitai are staged on the flight line at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, during exercise Cope North 21 Feb. 13, 2021. Cope North is an annual exercise that serves as a keystone event to enhance U.S. relations with our regional allies and partners by demonstrating our resolve to promote security and stability throughout the Indo-Pacific. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Duncan C. Bevan)
Aircraft and members of the U.S. military, Royal Australian Air Force, and Koku-Jieitai are staged on the flight line at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, during exercise Cope North 21 Feb. 13, 2021. Cope North is an annual exercise that serves as a keystone event to enhance U.S. relations with our regional allies and partners by demonstrating our resolve to promote security and stability throughout the Indo-Pacific. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Duncan C. Bevan)

Cope North 21 celebrates series of ‘firsts’ despite pandemic

by Tech. Sgt. Jerilyn Quintanilla
U.S. Air Force

Forty-three years ago, the U.S. and the Japan Air Self-Defense Force, or Koku-Jieitai, joined together for the inaugural Cope North exercise in Japan. In 1999 the operation moved to its current home on Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. News of it ending in ‘victory’ was splashed across local newspapers. Today, Cope North has grown to be the largest multinational exercise in the U.S. Air Force’s largest area of operations.

“Exercise Cope North 21 is an annual trilateral field training exercise, and it’s designed to increase the readiness and interoperability of the Pacific Air Forces, the Royal Australian Air Force as well as the Japan Air Self-Defense Force,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Jared Hutchinson, the Cope North 21 exercise director.

Cope North 21 operations are two-fold, combat air forces large force employment, which incorporated Agile Combat Employment (ACE), and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts.

The history of Cope North is paved with historic firsts for the U.S. and Japan, as well as the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) who came on board in 2011. This year was no different.

“We’re really proud of some of the ‘first’ things we’re doing this year in this exercise,” said Hutchinson. “The Koku-Jieitai has really stepped up this year, and they are leading the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief portion of this exercise for the first time. This is also the first time the F-35 from Eielson Air Force Base is attending this exercise.”

The F-35A Lightning II and the F-16 Fighting Falcon conducted ACE operations at nearby Northwest Field, becoming the first fighter aircraft to land on the austere airstrip since World War II.

Koku-Jieitai forces also incorporated live-bombing training with the Mitsubishi F-2, as well as an airdrop mission to Angaur, Palau from a Kawasaki C-2. This marked a first for Japan and Cope North according to Col. Daisuke Kadota, the 2 WG FG/CC and Koku-Jieitai exercise director.

The list of accomplishments is impressive under normal circumstances, but this year participants dealt with the added curveball in the form of a global pandemic.

“If we let COVID dictate how we train, our readiness will suffer, and we refuse to do that,” said Hutchinson. “We’ve taken every precaution to make sure that all the participants and their families are safe, all the populations that we visit are safe and also that we’re safe when we go back and re-integrate into our bases when we go home.”

RAAF GPCAPT Nathan Christie, the Australian exercise director, sees the team’s performance in spite of the current environment as evidence of the strength of our international bonds.

“The fact that we can undertake this exercise during a global pandemic proves that no matter what we face if we work together we are able to do so and combat those effects together,” he said.

Although COVID-19 brought unprecedented obstacles at every turn of the exercise, the three countries remained committed to the exercise, emerging stronger and more united.

“We are here to celebrate our similarities and understand the similarities between the three nations. More importantly we’re here to understand the differences between Japan, U.S. and Australia. It is our differences and understanding those differences that makes us stronger together,” Christie said.

“We only get stronger when we increase the strength of our relationships with our partners in the region and our overall goal for the Indo-Pacific region is peace and stability,” Hutchinson reiterated. “We can’t do that by ourselves.”

Feb. 19 marks the conclusion of Cope North 21, and with numerous milestones under its belt it ends as it did 22 years ago, in victory.

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