An F/A-18E Super Hornet from Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 195 operates with Japan Air Self-Defense Force Phantom II's during a weeklong Benkyoukai exercise. (U.S. Navy/Cmdr. Ryan Jackson)

ATSUGI, Japan - The "Dambusters" of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 195 concluded their weeklong interoperability training with members of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) 302nd and 305th Tactical Fighter Squadrons (TFS) Benkyoukai Partnership Week on April 15.

The week-long exercise with the JASDF is designed to increase operational effectiveness between the United States Navy and JASDF.

Benkyoukai Partnership Week consisted of a JASDF visit to VFA-195's hangar at Naval Air Facility (NAF) Atsugi, three days of intensive Dissimilar Air Combat Training (DACT), and concluded with the Dambuster’s visiting the 302nd and 305th hangars at their home base in Hyakuri Air Base, located on Japan's east coast.

The week began when pilots from the 302nd and 305th TFSs made the three and a half hour trip from Hyakuri Air Base to NAF Atsugi to meet with their Dambuster peers. The pilots were greeted by VFA-195’s commanding officer Cmdr. Guy Snodgrass, who welcomed them and outlined the Benkyoukai initiative.

"While our two nations enjoy a meaningful strategic relationship, we rarely work alongside each other despite our close proximity," said Snodgrass. "This week's Benkyoukai opportunity is intended to strengthen the partnership between our squadrons, so that we feel confident when operating together and can continue to explore closer ties in the future."

"This is the first time in a decade we have worked with pilots from the U.S. Navy,” said Major Fujiwara, a pilot with the 305th TFS. “Participating in this initiative enables us to begin connecting the dots and is a first step towards greater cooperation."

After initial meetings, the JASDF pilots were given a tour of the flight line, a chance to view the cockpit of a VFA-195 F/A-18E Super Hornet, and time in the base's flight simulator. Dissimilar air-combat training flights began on Tuesday, starting with one-versus-one air combat maneuvering flights between VFA-195's F/A-18E Super Hornets and the 302nd TFS's F-4EJ Phantom II aircraft. The aircraft met off the East Coast of Japan, where the two squadrons faced off in the dynamic training.

Events continued throughout the week, with morning flights flown with F-4EJ's from the 302nd and afternoon flights conducted with F-15J Eagles from the 305th. VFA-195 pilots were visibly excited by the opportunity to work with the Japanese pilots, especially when flying events with the 302nd.

"This opportunity really brings my career full circle," said Lt. James Davis, a pilot from VFA 195. "My father flew the F-4, so the chance to fly with one up close and personal is a truly unique experience."

The final day of the Benkyoukai Partnership Week concluded with VFA-195 traveling to Hyakuri Air Base for a debriefing, a tour, and a barbecue hosted by the JASDF Seventh Air Group. The JASDF Seventh Air Group, which is the parent organization for the 302nd and 305th, hosted the events at their headquarters, where each squadron presented their lessons learned from the weeklong event.

"We have observed years of increasing aggressiveness in the Asia-Pacific by several neighboring countries," said Lt. Col. Watanabe, Commander of Japan Air Self-Defense Force 302nd Squadron. "The opportunity to work more closely with the United States Navy, developing our relationship while building confidence in each other, will bear fruit for years to come." Snodgrass said, that this, the exercise, is only the first step along the path to a more in-depth operational partnership with the 302nd and 305th.

“The interoperability we are developing and the friendships we are forging along the way will strengthen our squadrons while providing a very unique opportunity for professional development,” said Snodgrass. VFA-195 is currently coordinating subsequent events in August to foster the new partnership initiative.

VFA-195 is part of the U.S. Navy's permanently forward-deployed naval forces assigned to Carrier Air Wing Five at NAF Atsugi, Japan. They are sent out on board USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) in support of security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific.

Pilots and crew members from VFA-195 and the JASDF's 302nd Tactical Fighter Squadron post for a photo at Hyakuri Air Base. (U.S. Navy/Ensign Mobolaji Popoola)