The Ground Self-Defense Force and U.S. Marine Corps held a ceremony on Sunday to mark the occasion of their joint exercises taking place in Hokkaido.

The drills began last Wednesday and will continue until Feb. 8. Two of the Marine Corps’ Osprey tilt-rotor transport aircraft, which are deployed at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa Prefecture, are slated to fly to Hokkaido on Monday to join the exercises.

It will be the second time for Ospreys to take part in Japan-U.S. joint exercises in Hokkaido. The first such drills were conducted in August 2017. It will be the first time for the prefecture to host Japan-U.S. drills involving the Ospreys in winter.

The ongoing joint drills are among the largest in Japan, bringing together about 1,600 members from the GSDF and some 2,500 U.S. Marines.

“The long-term drills utilizing the foundation of Hokkaido, a large prefecture, are taking place under tough conditions in the cold, snow-covered region, so I want you all to join the exercises by fully understanding the characteristics of the training environment,” Maj. Gen. Mikio Kose, head of the GSDF’s 5th Brigade, said at the ceremony, which was held at the GSDF’s Minamieniwa camp in the city of Eniwa, southeast of Sapporo.

Col. Jason Perry, commanding officer of the 4th Marine Regiment of the 3rd Marine Division, said that he looks forward to opportunities to boost the Marine Corps’ know-how in winter operations.

The drills are to be conducted at four locations in Hokkaido. During the exercise, participants will practice combat shooting and moving personnel and equipment between the locations by air.

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